Modern hindu

We dont bomb the country we adopt – Tarun Vijay

Mr. Tarun Vijay, a former editor of Panchjanya, the official publication of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is an old Hindu nationalist organisation, made a telling distinction between India and some of its neighbours at the last meeting of the Club.
Significantly, the meeting was held at the poolside of the Taj Mahal Hotel where the worst carnage by terrorists in
India’s recent history was initiated just a year ago, on November 26, 2008.
Mr. Tarun Vijay said that over the last few centuries Indian scholars, saints and seers went to several countries in
Asia carrying the message of love and compassion and of a caring and affectionate God. In return, those countries feted their guests, honoured them and adopted Sanskrit names for themselves and for their landmarks.
Not only were they proud of their heritage, they were often surprised by the modern-day Indians’ lack of knowledge about their glorious culture and heritage.
It was this respect for ancestry that had led to the new international airport in
Bangkok (the biggest and most sophisticated in the world) being named Suvarnabhumi, a chaste Sanskrit term. In fact, the first visual to strike one on entering the premises was that of a 150-foot-long mural of sagar-manthan, or the mythical churning of the oceans.
Similarly, the present King of Thailand was known as Rama Navam (or Rama the Ninth). A brief chat with the Rajguru, the King’s teacher, revealed that the country followed the legacy of King Rama and that all kings were known after him.
The full name of the present King of Thailand was Bhumidol Adulyadej, also a Sanskrit name, and it was he who had christened
Bangkok airport as Suvarnabhumi, showing that the Thais were proud of their heritage.

‘People in East Asia are often surprised that Indians are largely ignorant of their culture and heritage’

In complete contrast, said Mr. Tarun Vijay, the barbarians who attacked the city on 26/11 came armed with sophisticated weapons and other armaments to kill people – never mind that they did not know any one of the people whom they had come to kill, or the fact that among them were women, children and the aged, all of them unarmed and harmless, leading normal lives in their own country.
Mr. Tarun Vijay, who gave a talk on “Global mission of India”, was introduced by Tarjani Vakil who said that he was the Director of the Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Research Foundation, a centre for civilizational values and policy research and an ideological think-tank based on the nationalist school of thought at the headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi.
A prolific writer both in English and Hindi, he had written over 2,000 articles and was a regular columnist for The Times of India, Dainik Jagran, Maharashtra Times and so on. He had launched a peace initiative between
India and Pakistan along with the Daily Jung, a major newspaper in Pakistan. That initiative had been appreciated on both sides of the border.
And, as Nanik Rupani revealed later, it was Mr. Tarun Vijay who had put the ancient town of Ladakh on the tourist map by organising the “Sindhu Darshan” programme that had gone on to become a popular event. That one initiative had changed the entire economy of Ladakh.
Mr. Tarun Vijay started his talk by pointing out that it was a rishi from India who went to Cambodia 1,200 years ago, married a local and settled down there who gave the country a name, “Kamboj” (whence Cambodia), which later became a part of the Srivijaya Empire.
The biggest
temple of Hindus was not in India but in Angkor Vat in Cambodia. Even after the advent of communism, Communist Cambodia remembered its Hindu and Indian heritage with respect and honour.
A UNESCO publication on that country showed how Indians who left the shores of their land established their global footprint on the basis of love, friendship and scholarship.
After referring to the naming of
Bangkok airport as Suvarnabhumi by Thailand’s King Bhumidol Adulyadej, he said, “That is the footprint of your ancestors, a legacy of your forefathers who spread out and impressed the people with the power and the strength of knowledge and character, the two major aspects of the Indian footprint… That is the global vision of India, the global message of India even today”.
Mr. Tarun Vijay said that the third chief of the RSS, the late Prof. Rajendra Singh, who was the Head of the Department of Physics at Allahabad University, had said to him in the course of his last interview that he did not want to see India as a brutal military power or as a dehumanised, prosperous country. On the contrary, he wanted
India to be known for its knowledge and character.
Speaking about his experiences in
China where he is a Fellow of the Sichuan University, he said when he went to see the Leshan Buddha in Chengdu, he came across the largest Buddha sculpture in the world. It was about 250 feet tall and had been made from one solid rock – an entire mountain had been sculpted into a sitting Buddha.
And the very first statue visible on entering the campus was that of Samantabhadra, another Sanskrit name. When he asked about Samantabhadra, his interlocutors said it was surprising that he did not know about him.
The official accompanying him (in a China ruled by the Communist Party) then told him that Samantabhadra was a rishi from North India who crossed snow deserts and the Himalayas and survived to live in Chengdu some 950 years ago. He learned the Chinese language and started communicating with the King and the people.
Such was the influence of his brilliance, intellect and scholarship that everyone started believing in Buddha and he was able to inspire the people of
Chengdu to build the Leshan Buddha sculpture.

“Even in the year 2009, it is the biggest Buddha sculpture in the world. And it was done by your ancestors, by those Indians who were brave and courageous and who never wanted to subjugate or colonise other people.
“They took dharma with them. They were not ashamed of their civilization, they were not ashamed of their past, of their glorious heroes and of the great men and women who loved their language; they translated the entire literature of
China and East Asia into Sanskrit and from Sanskrit into their language.”
Mr. Tarun Vijay said the Rajguru of China was Kumarajiva whose father was from Sinkiang and mother from
Kashmir. When he went there, the Han King of Beijing gave him the title, “Teacher of China”.
It was Kumarajiva who started the finest method of translating the classics from Sanskrit to Chinese and from Chinese to Sanskrit with a 17-tier arrangement. It started with literal translation, followed by the first step of checking; next, ensuring that the main spirit of the text was conveyed, and so on. It was only after 17 steps that the final text of the original text from Sanskrit into Chinese and from Chinese into Sanskrit was available.
Recently, when visiting the Indian Embassy in
Beijing, he met a man called Vijay Choudhary, a small trader from Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. This man revealed that he employed 1,000 Chinese in his diamond-cutting factory in Kunming!
That was the distance that
India had travelled – from Samantabhadra to Vijay Choudhary – and neither of them had used a gun to befriend the Chinese. Rather, they had won them over with the help of mutual respect and understanding.
The Chinese cared for Vijay Choudhary because he was bringing a lot of money into
China and giving employment to the rural people there.
This case, too, represented the spirit of
India whose teachers, professors, technologists and engineers were respected icons of knowledge, scholarship, integrity and character.
And there was also the story narrated by Mr. L.K. Advani of a Malaysian whom he had met in
Kuala Lumpur. The man lived in New York where he had his office and establishment. But what was he doing in Kuala Lumpur?
He told Mr. Advani that he had to undergo a heart surgery. When he learnt that an Indian doctor in
Kuala Lumpur was the best in the field, he had travelled from the USA to be operated by that Indian doctor in Malaysia.
“We don’t bomb the country that we adopt. That’s what everyone says about Indians. Everyone loves and accepts Indians. Even if an Indian is a British, German or American passport-holder, they trust him 100% – that he won’t bomb their land. He will work for the country, fight for the country and will never ditch it.
“That is your achievement, the blessings of your ancestors; and that’s the Indian footprint all over the world, that of character, honesty, integrity.”
Turning to Nanik Rupani, Mr. Tarun Vijay said it was worth pondering over that several leaders from all over the world happily came to
India to accept awards presented by his Priyadarshini Academy. This was no mean achievement and an endorsement of brand India.
The speaker next referred to the aftermath of the “discovery” of
America by Columbus who had actually set out in search of India. He could not find India but reached the land that was now called America.
“What happened after
Columbus reached America? More than four crores of the original inhabitants of the land, who were known as American Indians, were brutalised, massacred. It was a holocaust. And the originator of that holocaust was Columbus.”
He had wanted to proselytise, to find gold, to grab land, to get slaves, to subjugate the people; to take over their land and to build his own buildings.
In comparison, the Taj Mahal Hotel was a symbol of the indomitable, invincible Indian spirit represented by the tricolour. For it was here that the mission of the barbarians who had attacked
Bombay on 26/11 was defeated.

Would we respect Rama or celebrate Diwali had he played peacenik and allowed his wife to be taken away? asks Tarun Vijay

“Ask yourself, what kind of people must they have been (those who attacked
Bombay on 26/11). Compare your civilization and the work done by your ancestors in the earlier years which gave you the Hindu civilization, the Indus civilization, which left imprints all over the globe, from Japan to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Korea, Brazil, New Zealand. (You will find) respect and understanding for a different viewpoint.
“You will find a solid belief in pluralism, in democracy and diversity. We are not those who want everything to be uniformly same, who want all people speaking one language, reading one book, wearing the same attire. No, we love diversity.
“Let a million flowers with a million fragrances bloom; if there can be any such place in the world, then that is
Hindustan. No other country can boast of this kind of legacy which is so supportive of pluralism, respecting different viewpoints. We never had a Galileo hanged for his beliefs.”
Taking a dig at the growing tribe of peaceniks, Mr. Tarun Vijay said Rama did not compromise with Ravana, telling him that he could take Janaki to
Colombo. And he, as a pace-loving person, would return to Ayodhya where the people would be so happy that he had played peacenik and left his wife behind, that they would welcome him and celebrate his return as Diwali.
On the contrary, Rama cautioned Ravana and when the latter remained adamant, he vanquished Ravana. That was the legacy of
India, that of not compromising with the wicked.
Narrating another experience, Mr. Tarun Vijay said that the renowned businessman and philanthropist, Mr. Bob Harilela, had told him that he never cared about
India when he was a little boy. In fact, he hated the heat and the poverty that he saw when he came here at the age of 13.
But his mother told him that whatever he did and wherever he went, he would not be able to erase the fact that he was an Indian – it was “written” on his face. In course of time Mr. Harilela bought an apartment in
Bombay and now his largest spend on charity was in India. He spent his vacations in India and had taught his children to respect their heritage.
The children would always remain Indian, but “not on the basis of a gun, or of gun powder” or colonisation.
“No one will remember a Gen. Dyer in
India with respect, or even Queen Elizabeth. But Bhagat Singh, who was only 23 years old when he went to the gallows? Yes… This land has always respected those who have stood with their heritage, with their civilization, and those who have stood up at times of crisis to fight the enemy, to fight the barbarians so that peace, pluralism and democracy can be saved.”
On a visit to
Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, he saw that not a single shop in the markets had a portrait of Osama bin Laden because violence, extremism and uncivilized behaviour never won respect. History only remembered those who spread the message of love and compassion and it was such people who were respected down the ages.
Buddha was “still alive” in spite of the fact that his sculpture in Bamiyan had been bombed out by the Taliban.
“The global vision of
India cannot be anything but to spread the message that the gun never achieves success or does any good for the people. It is the power of love, compassion and character that does so. And that’s what I have learned in my organisation, in the RSS.”
Finally, Mr. Tarun Vijay quoted a couplet by Akbar Allahabadi:
Tere lab pe hai Iraqo Shamo Misro Romo Cheen
Lekin apne hi watan ke naam se waqif nahin
Arre sabse pehle mard ban Hindustan ke wastey
Hind jag uthe to phir saare jahan ke wastey
(A loose translation: The names on your lips are those of Iraq, Egypt, Rome and China, but you don’t seem to be acquainted with the name of your own country; the first thing you need to do is to become a man for Hindustan, and once you rouse Hindustan, then become a man for the whole world.)

Answering questions, Mr. Tarun Vijay told Trilochan Sahney that he did not agree that India was always populated by invaders. In fact, even the theory of “the Aryan invasion of India” had been proved false, what with American scientists finding that the genes of the Aryans and the Dravids living in India since ancient times had a lot in common.
On the contrary,
India had always given shelter to those refused shelter elsewhere and to every persecuted community in the world. No other country could boast of such a record.
But he agreed that Hindu society was fractured by the caste system. In this context the speaker quoted Swami Vivekananda who had said that the only ideal before Hindu society was the ideal of Guru Govind Singh.
Sitaram Shah pointed out that the word Hindu did not appear in any literature. Where had the word come from? Secondly, all that the speaker had said in praise of Hinduism was being maligned by the very people who were talking of Hinduism.
Mr. Tarun Vijay said that the word Hindu came from the Greeks. At that time Indians were called “Aryas”, “Vedics”, or “Sindhuputras”. But since the Greeks had difficulty pronouncing certain consonants, it so happened that Sindhus came to be called Hindus.
However, changing the name of a city or a land could not change the basic character of the people who inhabited that place.
“And the basic character of this land, beyond the
Indus, is that they love nature, they don’t condemn it. When Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, she did not set foot on it till she had placed vermillion and rice on it as a ritual offering, thanking the goddess mother for giving her the strength to reach the summit.
“On the other hand, Western mountaineers write that they ‘conquered’
Mount Everest; the word ‘conquered nature’ does not appear in the Indian language. This is the basic difference in the worldview of our people. We have respect for parents, for family values, for pluralism. That makes us different people. You may call them Hindus, Indians, Bharatiyas, whatever, it means the same thing,” Mr. Tarun Vijay added.
The vote of thanks was proposed by Nanik Rupani.

Source: The Gateway-a publication of Rotary Club of Bombay (Nov. 2009) has this news item on its front page

Bharata maataa by Abanindranath

Depiction of Bharata as maataa

I am thankful to Naga Ganesan for a focus on this topic.

kalyan 12 Oct. 2009 Bharati made a terracota sculpture ca. 1915 (Tamil) பாரதமாதா வடிவ உருவாக்கமும், பாரதியாரும்

1920 -1930s - Bharat Maata poster:

1940s - Ahmedabad Textiles sticker:

Sadan Jha's "The Life and Times of Bharat Mata"

Sumathi Ramaswamy's "Maps and Mother Goddesses in Modern India"

Visualising India's geo-body

Globes, maps, bodyscapes

Sumathi Ramaswamy

Department of History, University of Michigan, 1029 Tisch Hall, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1003, USA

This article focuses on the national longing for cartographic form by exploring the deployment of globes, maps, and bodyscapes in patriotic visual practices in colonial and postcolonial India. I suggest that popular cartography is marked by the convergence of two modalities of seeing India -- a disenchanted geographic habit in which its territory is visualised as a geo-body, and an enchanted somaticism in which India is the affect- laden body of Bharat Mata. Patriotic cartography transforms the nation's territory into an object of visual piety, even as it makes more visible a hitherto unfamiliar entity -- the map of India. But most of all, popular patriotic cartography encourages the citizen- beholder to engage the nation's territory corporeally, affectively, and interestedly, so that it is not some empty social space, but the mother(land) worth dying for. Patriotism in modernity requires peculiarly novel technologies of persuasion. Maps of the national territory are among the most intriguing -- and compelling -- of these. Source: Indian Sociology, Vol. 36, No. 1-2, 151-189 (2002)

'Photos of the Gods': the printed image and political struggle in India By Christopher Pinney

Bharat mata: India's freedom movement in popular art By Erwin Neumayer, Christine Schelberger.

Patriotic fervour

At the end of the 19th Century, a printing industry devoted to the production of pictures of deities and mythological themes was established. Being mass produced, they were the most visually influential medium of visual communication of the then socially and culturally fragmented Indian society, subsequently becoming a vehicle for political propaganda as well. Exclusive extracts from a book that looks at the pictured social reality of India, appropriate for the 56th anniversary of independence.
 Bharat Mata", offset print, 1937, painting by P.S. Ramachandran Rao.

Bharat Mata's robe forms the contours of India. Her saffron, white and green sari _ the colours of the Indian national flag _ cradles the heroes of the national struggle and shelters the fighters still alive and leading the teeming millions. Among the heroes of the bygone years, one can identify Justice Ranade, Balgangadhar Tilak, and the founder of the Indian National Congress, A.O. Hume. The leaders of the masses are Kasturba and Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chandrasekhar Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Rabindranath Tagore, Abdul Gaffar Khan and others. The diverse pictorial traditions of India made it difficult to find a symbol of national integrity acceptable to all. To worship a geographical map of India seemed to be a way out of the dilemma of finding a symbol for the Motherland without antagonising the religious sentiments averse to the idea of bowing before an image of an anthropomorphic god or goddess. One of the earliest and largest temples of Bharat Mata was established in 1936 in the town of Varanasi, where a large relief map of Akhanda Bharat or South Asia lies enshrined. By this time, the practice of using a contour map of India to deify Bharat Mata had already gained popularity.

IT was not long before the visionaries of an Indian nation realized the potential that lay in harnessing popular mythological images for a nationalist cause. They saw, in these pictures, the portrayal of a glorious past, the propagation of which would induce in the beholders a sense of belonging to a great and once glorious tradition. India began to be projected as a country that had, over the centuries, been oppressed by foreign powers which had eroded and manipulated her traditional values; her culture was portrayed as one which, though failing in material advancement, had an inherent metaphysical strength and which enabled her to absorb past and present invaders. This was a rallying call to muster popular support for an independent India, the India for which gods and national heroes had struggled from time immemorial ...

... The nationalist movement armed itself with a past, its leaders making the most of a rich heritage replete with heroic legends from ancient epics, which were deeply ingrained in many layers of the Indian psyche. The sheer reverence and admiration for these legends could be readily manipulated into fervent nationalist passion. The transformation of this passion into uniform images that could be easily replicated and widely distributed became one of the most potent weapons in the hands of those leading the nationalist movement. In these pictures, the gods were equipped with nationalistic paraphernalia and national leaders were projected almost like celestial beings. The depiction of indigenous heroes was in itself a message, a message that could not possibly be censored. Goddess Bhavani was depicted handing over a sword to Shivaji, who successfully lifted it against the Deccan sultans and their suzerain, the imperial Mughals ... ... The personification of India as Goddess Bharat Mata or Mother India is particularly interesting. When first conceived in 1905 by Abanindranath Tagore, she was Banga Mata, the personification of an undivided Bengal that was soon to be divided to serve colonial administrative ends. It was only after the division of Bengal into the states of Bihar, Assam, Bengal, and Orissa, that the picture of the Goddess Banga Mata reincarnated itself as Bharat Mata (Hoskote 2000). Abanindranath Tagore painted Banga Mata/ Bharat Mata as Lakshmi, the Goddess of Plenty, clad in the apparel of a Vaishnava nun. Prior to that, Ravi Varma had painted the goddess standing against a halo of light dressed in a deep red sari, holding the paraphernalia of Durga and Britannia — the hook, the snare, the arrow, and the frond of victory — in her four hands. Lying at her feet were two African lions, suggestive of the goddess's powerful vahanaor celestial vehicle ...

... For reasons somewhat difficult to comprehend, individual leaders of the independence struggle only rarely used the popular medium of display prints and, therefore, portraits of Indian national leaders did not take the form of an obvious personality cult. This apparent demureness on the part of Indian politicians was certainly no inborn quality (politicians here are no different from those elsewhere!); it was in all probability due to an understanding that display prints were reserved for the celestial and market forces, leaving little scope for portraits of politicians. It was only the foremost representatives of the Indian National Congress who made it into the prints — Mahatma Gandhi for instance, whose political and moral credo was interwoven with religious and puritanical symbols that readily lent themselves to the popular medium of display prints. Gandhi appears adorned with the paraphernalia of a religious mendicant — his emaciated body in symbiosis with his walking stick, a dhoti tucked up well above the knees, his lean striding legs and simple sandals elevating him above other leaders whose clothes, though traditional and homespun, lent them a `folkloric' rather than `elevated' aspect. If Gandhi, with his bare feet, was the icon of the deprived and the downtrodden, other leaders in their polished boots signified the dignity of statesmanship. His eternally friendly toothless grin is accentuated by wire-framed goggles, and his short-cropped head is uncovered. This picture of an itinerant hermit is only mildly incongruent with an old-fashioned watch knotted in a fold of his dhoti. This self-chosen image united Gandhi with the teeming millions of the poorest, most deprived, and oppressed of his countrymen. He was the avatar of the have-nots, and in the display prints he was placed as such in the realm of the great gods.
 Mahatma Gandhi", oleograph, 1925.

One of the earliest socio-economic campaigns organised by Gandhi was the Swadeshi Movement. It started with the boycott of English textiles and the development of an indigenous cottage industry for textiles. Gandhi's concept of industrial development was based on the idea of labour-intensive small-scale industries, with the cotton industry playing a central role. This industry was to provide millions of unemployed and starving people with a source of livelihood. Hand-spinning and weaving therefore became a key symbol of the Congress, manifesting itself in the Congress banner, a tricolour of saffron, white, and green, with a spinning wheel at the centre.

Since the central plank of Gandhi's ideology was non-violence, it is not surprising that his icons borrowed their symbolism from Vaishnava iconography. He is portrayed as a provider, providing the nation with khadi — a homespun fabric — or offering beneficiation. The violence of bloody sacrifices or revenge from Shaivite iconography has never been associated with the Mahatma. His tragic death by an assassin's bullets was metaphorically depicted in the pictures — like Krishna slain by the shaft from Jara's bow, he is felled by three bullets, death carries him to the region of the gods when he is in congress with all the other freedom fighters, the gods, the Buddha, and the crucified Jesus. Other prints of the slain Mahatma also depict him in the lap of Bharat Mata — an Indian pieta — under the flying banner of an independent nation ...

* * *

Prints distributed during the last phase of the struggle for independence were printed using the half-tone technique. New developments in printing technology also resulted in a change of aesthetics. The size of the prints tended to be smaller than that of the oleographs. New techniques dispensed with the highly glossy quality of the earlier prints. Now printed in only three colours — a far smaller palette as compared to the fourteen or seven colours of the oleographics prints — they had a somewhat drab appearance, rather like newsprint. Since many of these prints were made in small workshops, the artists worked them like collages of newspaper picture clippings, introducing a fair amount of their own folksy iconography ...
 "Mahatma Gandhi", half-tone print, 1940.

Clad in homespun clothes, Gandhi once attended a round-table conference in London, where he brought along with him a milch goat to symbolise the selfsufficiency of the Indian people. His stubborn puritanical simplicity was sometimes dismissed as a publicity gimmick. In truth, however, it was also the chosen modesty of a person practising the morals he preached, and who had set out to give a voice to the voiceless of India.

... One of the principal reasons for the `indigenization' of popular imagery was the rise of many smaller printing presses all over India. Letterpresses in local print shops could now produce smaller pictures more inexpensively, and cater to popular taste with locally relevant designs ...

* * *

The real service that Ravi Varma was asked to perform for the country was, therefore, not for all his countrymen, but for a Hindu oligarchy which, in a diffused sort of way, sought to represent Hindu interests in the politics of national liberation.

Extracted from the chapter "Printing for Independence" from Popular Indian Art: Raja Ravi Varma and The Printed Gods of India,Erwin Neumayer and Christine Schelberger, Oxford University Press, 2003, vi + p.176, Rs. 2,500.

Moment of the moderniser


Prabhu Chawla

March 27, 2009                                                                                   


The man with a walrus moustache, framed and garlanded, is a customary backdrop to any stage show by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Now that Mohanrao Bhagwat has taken centrestage as the new boss (sarsanghchalak) of RSS, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founding patriarch of the Sangh Parivar, seems to have got a true inheritor.


They may be two Brahmins from Maharashtra, united by the shape of their moustache and the sweep of their vision about a Hindu Rashtra, but Bhagwat refuses to be a throwback to history. The 58-year-old bachelor from Chandrapur, born 10 years after the death of Hedgewar, is the 21st Century face of an organisation that has often been accused of being steeped in a mythological make-believe.


His new role as a moderniser (a word that doesn’t sit well with the image his organisation has acquired in urban India) is daunting, for he has to strike a fine balance between the challenges of future and the burden of heritage. When the generational shift took place in Nagpur on March 21, it was pretty evident that Bhagwat wanted to be different. The meeting began with Bhagwat’s request that, after nine years as general secretary, he would like to pass the baton to someone else.


But before the veteran pracharak M.G. Vaidya could start the election process, K.S. Sudarshan, the outgoing sarsanghchalak, intervened. He said: “My memory is failing. Recently I was unable to recognise the photograph of Mangal Singh who died after serving as our cook at the RSS headquarters for over 50 years.


 The Bhagwat effect

A non-interventionist, Bhagwat lets BJP and VHP leaders manage their affairs so that the RSS will not be blamed for their failures. Unlike Sudarshan, he has never been a political coordinator.


A smart networker, he has initiated dialogue with other spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev whom he has accepted as important members of the wider Hindu Family.Accepts that there is no singular way of championing the Hindu cause.

As general secretary, he promoted young volunteers at every level. The average age of pracharaks at district level has been reduced from 50 to 35-40 and those above 70 have been withdrawn from the field.


He has never made a hate speech or attacked other religions.


He prefers powerpoint presentations at important meetings.


Recently, I met Swami Vishwesh Tirth and he advised me to speak less. My responsibility requires me to study more and more but I can’t do that due to my poor health. I want to transfer my responsibilities as sarsanghchalak to Mohanrao Bhagwatji.” Then he vacated his seat and Bhagwat, after touching the feet of Sudarshan and other elders, took over.

His first appointment itself spoke a lot about the man. Many expected Suresh Soni, who works as a coordinator between RSS and BJP, would succeed him as general secretary. Bhagwat’s choice for the second-incommand and general secretary was Suresh (Bhaiyaji) Joshi.

It was a smooth transition at Nagpur where the old and the interventionist gave way to a new generation that puts culture above politics. Was it that the new boss didn’t want too much “coordination” between the Sangh and the party? Not surprising as he is the highest apostle of non-intervention.


Bhagwat thinks the BJP— or for that matter any other front organisation— should be left to its own devices. (His predecessor, though, was fond of giving sagely advice to leaders like L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.) Still, he wanted the pracharaks to be familiar with other family members like the BJP, VHP, ABVP and BMS. Under his initiative, some pracharaks were given six-month internships in these organisations. The RSS for him is essentially a cultural organisation with a social responsibility.


Bhagwat’s life so far has been a perfect blend of idealism and pragmatism. Born on September 11, 1950, in a Karhade Brahmin family in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, he began his career as a veterinary officer. His father, Madhukar Rao Bhagwat, was a close associate of Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak.


After spending five years as a pracharak in Gujarat, Bhagwat pére did something rarely heard of in the upper echelons of RSS: he got married and began a new life as an advocate. The son, though, would not be deviated from his path by such temptations. Bhagwat became a pracharak during the Emergency in 1975 and he has remained a strict disciplinarian ever since. At a meeting of state pracharaks, he said, “Our focus must be on quality, not on quantity.”


Quantity matters in the RSS, and Bhagwat is entitled to take credit for making the Parivar bigger. Look at the numbers: 43,905 shakhas (drills) are held daily at 30,015 venues; weekly shakhas at 4,964 and monthly shakhas at 4,507 places. The RSS has over 2,800 full-time pracharaks. And it has 58 front groups representing sections as varied as youth, teachers, Dalits, women, labour, students, and even overseas Indians.


There is one for Muslims as well: The Muslim Rashtriya Manch, which wants to send out the message that “every Muslim is not a fanatic”. Presiding over such an extended Parivar, Bhagwat has the mandate to be the final arbiter of “family values”. Will those values be in harmony with the spirit of the modern times? Or, will they make the existing cultural fault-lines more glaring? He has to kill so many stereotypes before he can play out the script of modernisation within the organisation.


He will have to disown and neutralise the army of rabble-rousers and demonisers who continue to manufacture enemies of the socalled Hindu Rashtra. The lathi-wielding cultural Gestapos running amok or the trident-waving demolishers atop a mosque are not images compatible with Bhagwat’s message of change. He has to redeem Hindutva from the politics of hate. He has to make it culturally and socially acceptable. And it has to be a time of introspection as well. RSS is an organisation which has produced leaders like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Vajpayee, Advani and Nanaji Deshmukh. Today it is only capable of offering us an atrocity like a Pravin Togadia or others who can only divide the mind of India.


He may not consider the pub-going girls of Mangalore particularly modern, but he doesn’t endorse the violent enforcement of culture either. Though he says that the socalled Hindu terrorism is an “illusionary and self-contradictory lie” created by “Hindu-hating political forces” desperate for votes, he is believed to be unhappy about some fringe Hindu groups taking the terror route. And some of his reforms are even sartorial.


Till 10 years ago, it was mandatory for the swayamsevaks to wear a uniform of khaki shorts and white shirts while attending the daily shakha. No longer. The uniform is compulsory only on special occasions. The new dress code is called “supravesh” (all white); it could be anything, even kurta-pyjama or dhoti and shirt. He was very much instrumental in recognising the importance of caste leaders in expanding the RSS’ base.


He doesn’t make a virtue out of rigidity masquerading as consistency. Following Advani’s controversial statement on “secular”Jinnah, Bhagwat was the first to tell the RSS top brass that they should take on the BJP leader. Three years later, the same Bhagwat realised that there was no better alternative than Advani to lead the BJP. So he himself went to meet Advani to announce that he was once again acceptable to the RSS.


A great admirer of Gandhi, he was the one who took the initiative in bringing Scheduled Castes and Tribes into the RSS fold. In one of the speeches he delivered after becoming the general secretary, he didn’t mention the name of Hindutva icon Veer Savarkar even once but Gandhi was a recurring hero. An agitated Savarkar supporter went to Bhagwat and complained. Bhagwat, always polite, apologised first and then took on the challenger: “But tell me whether you appreciate Gandhi’s contribution to society despite his mistakes.” The challenger just walked away in silence, most likely as a wiser man. And his soon-tobe-launched programme called Gau-Gram Sankarshan Yatra (a cow-protection journey across the villages) too is inspired by Gandhi.


Bhagwat, a Reader’s Digest junkie and a regular watcher of History and National Geographic channels, ended his speech in Nagpur with a call for facing up to new challenges: “Let all of us strive to expand and consolidate still further our already existing nationwide network to enable our society to effectively respond to all the challenges it is facing, by adopting appropriate strategies and techniques”.


What are Bhagwat’s strategies and techniques to keep RSS relevant as a cultural organisation? He certainly requires techniques other than powerpoint presentations (of which he is a new convert) and the emphasis on youth power (of which he is a tireless promoter). He needs a message that is in tune with the ideas and aspirations of 21st Century India where a brotherhood based on religion still evokes fear, no matter what the religion is called. “You can change everything , except our core belief in a Hindu Rashtra”, he says.


If such a civilisational definition of India makes some Indians the excluded others, the challenges of the man who aspires to be the moderniser become all the more daunting. It also provides Mohanrao Bhagwat an opportunity to become the Great Reconciler. 

—with Shyamlal Yadav and Uday Mahurkar