The Opposition on Monday latched on to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat's reported remarks on the Army, demanding that he apologise to the nation and Prime Minister Narendra Modi clarify if he was in favour of a ‘private militia’ guarding India's borders.
The parties charged Bhagwat with ‘insulting’ the armed forces and the country by claiming that in the eventuality of a battle to be fought, the RSS could mobilise itself in three days while the Indian Army would take six to seven months to do so.
Leading the charge, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted that Bhagwat's remark insulted the Indian tricolour.
‘The RSS Chief's speech is an insult to every Indian, because it disrespects those who have died for our nation. It is an insult to our flag because it insults every soldier who ever saluted it. Shame on you Mr Bhagwat, for disrespecting our martyrs and our Army. #ApologiseRSS,’ he tweeted.
The Congress attacked the RSS chief even as the Sangh clarified in a statement that Bhagwat had said, "If situation arises and the Constitution permits, Indian Army would take six months to prepare society whereas Sangh swayamsevaks can be trained in three days, as swayamsevaks practise discipline regularly".
Congress's senior spokesperson Anand Sharma said the RSS chief's statement insulted the Indian armed forces.
"The RSS chief should apologise to the country and the armed forces, as he has put a question mark on the capability and bravery of the Indian Army. Such statements and thoughts weaken the morale of our armed forces," he said.
Sharma called for a clarification from Modi over this.
"The prime minister of India will have to clarify his position on this, on whether he is thinking of allowing the work of national security to be handed over to the RSS rather than the Indian Army," he said.
The Congress also organised protests across the country opposing Bhagwat's statement.
Kerala Chief Minister and CPI-M leader Pinarai Vijayan slammed Bhagwat, alleging that the RSS wanted to ‘turn India into Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany’.
‘Statement confirms our worst fears about the Sangh that it has no respect for India’s institutions. His statement exposes RSS’s hidden agenda to float parallel militias to wreak havoc, crush national unity,’ Vijayan said on Facebook.
The Marxist leader said Modi should explain his government's stand on ‘Bhagwat belittling the Indian Army’.
Vijayan reminded the RSS chief that running down the Army amounted to treason and Bhagwat should apologise to the people for his ‘treacherous’ remark.
The Trinamool Congress attacked Bhagwat as well as Union Minister Kiren Rijiju for defending the RSS chief, alleging that it had become ‘even more evident’ that the government was being ‘remote-controlled’ by the Sangh.
"A minister of the government is supporting and defending the RSS. Kiren Rijiju is not a minister of state but a minister of Sangh," TMC leader Derek O'Brien said.
Referring to Bhagwat's remarks and the incident in Kolkata where Director General of Border Security Force K K Sharma had, in uniform, reportedly attended a conference on border security conducted by an RSS-affiliated organisation, the TMC said every constitutional institution was being ‘marginalised’.
"Raj Bhavans have now become shakhas and some governors have become RSS pracharaks. Tripura Governor has become another troll army of the RSS," O'Brien said.
After a political row erupted over Bhagwat's remarks in Bihar on the Army, Minister of State for Home Rijiju on Monday tweeted, ‘Bhagwat had only said it takes 6-7 months for a person to be a trained soldier and if Constitution permits RSS cadre has the ability to contribute’.
"After the tweet of Rijiju, it has become even more evident that this government is being remote-controlled by the RSS," the Trinamool leader said.
The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party also sought an apology from the RSS, saying Bhagwat's remarks were an insult to India's armed forces.
"The RSS should apologise over such remarks," NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.
Photograph: PTI Photo