A recent incident of a group of priests forced to offer worship to Lord Shiva on the roadside has rekindled the debate over whether the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh truly represents the Hindu society because of reports that it is a Sangh-supported group, which apparently enjoys the patronage of the Yogi Adityanath government of Uttar Pradesh, that pushed them out. Along with the debate has resurfaced the proposition of floating a new organisation ‘truly’ representative of the community. The dispute dates back to the time when the issue of menstruating women’s entry into the shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala was the talk of the nation. To drive a wedge in Hindu unity, the detractors had reminded the RSS that in 2006 it had positioned itself in favour of feminism but now, in the wake of tens of thousands of Ayyappa devotees hitting the streets in protest against the Supreme Court verdict, it was changing its stand — as was the BJP government at the Centre in what was seen as a politically expedient move. In between, the then Maharashtra government led by Devendra Fadnavis, whose wife embarrassed Hindu society time and again with her overt promotion of Abrahamic faiths, had interfered in the religion by forcing women into the Shani Shingnapur shrine. Then, recently, the Sangh took a stand that a Muslim student could not only study the Vedas but also preach from the teachings — these are separate courses in the Banaras Hindu University — against the wishes of the Hindu activists of Varanasi. While the RSS and, by extension, the BJP, might have many things to learn about the diverse sects within the Hindu fold, the demand to erect another edifice to challenge the representation is misplaced at several levels.
Examples ranging from the disarray into which the Hindu Mahasabha fell after the death of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar to lesser efforts that fizzled out like the Sri Ram Sena in the Karnataka-Maharashtra belt and Karni Sena in Rajasthan prove that putting in place a behemoth like the RSS and sustaining it is no child’s play. In the interregnum, the enfant terrible Subramanian Swamy had floated his own Virat Hindustan Sangam that nobody talks of anymore within a few years of its inception. In electoral politics, every breakaway outfit carved out of the Indian National Congress, established during the reigns of Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao, as well as every faction of the Bharatiya Janata Party that split away — from one group led by Shankersinh Vaghela in Gujarat to another for a while by Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh until her return to the parent party — at best qualified as an also-ran. Perhaps there is room for the sentiment or temptation to float a fresh organisation, but the adrenaline that pushes the idea soon gives way to endorphins that make the realisation dawn on the activist that says founding, building, running and turning successful an organisation is an onerous task.
What happens in the process of such efforts is, however, not to the liking of even activists who made the initiative. In elections, they are used as ‘vote cutters’. Worse, in society, they give an opportunity to the adversaries to get even and then assume once again the role of the rulers. Assuming that the RSS/BJP does not understand Hinduism fully, the opposite camp that the parallel Hindu forces end up helping inadvertently is downright anti-Hindu. The day they grab power again, they will begin the exercise of subjugation of the majority community with gusto — falsifying their history, creating or occupying institutions to build narratives that show Hindus in poor light, constructing a legal regime where the majority are given the status of second-grade citizens, etc. That undesirable fallout can in no way be facilitated with impulsive reactions by those who are otherwise appreciably concerned about the fate of the ancient civilisation. There is, on the other hand, a saving grace that all Hindu forces can work on. With all their failings, the Parivar is responsive to the cries of its constituency. If one way to deal with the difference in the RSS’s stands on Sabarimala in 2006 and 2018 is to scoff at its knowledge of Hinduism, the other way is to look at the revision as that by an organisation that cares for the emotions of the people it purports to stand for. It is this second way adopting which alone Hindus can prevail. This leads to the idea of what is known in parliamentary discourses as a “common minimum programme”, which varied Hindu forces must work on.
This CMP will aid another process, which was a part of our glorious civilisation that receded to oblivion, unfortunately, in the course of time. While a ritualistic centre was at the core of a temple in the ancient era, there were peripheral activities like running schools and libraries, promoting arts, etc around most temples, making them vibrant hubs of the indigenous culture. If any centralised institution, NGO or government wishes to play a role, it is this periphery where it can participate to revive the nation’s heritage. Interference by the state in spirituality is beyond the pale as it is also unintelligible for any regimented organisation. The sanctum sanctorum of a temple must remain accessible for all times to come only to the spiritually qualified. It’s a merit that does not come even from an academic course and examination involving multiple-choice questions, passing which makes one a priest. The well-being that the divine bestows upon a place can be invoked only by masters of communion who have developed their competence through traditions of ages. Bureaucrats, flag bearers of isms, politicians and quasi-political outfits must stay away from that core while they may be permitted a field day in the outer circles.
Such an exposition to segregate the roles would, of course, not be needed if the Indian state were to allow Hindu practices to be as free as it allows centres of Christians, Muslims and Sikhs to function freely through autonomous bodies like Archdioceses, Waqf Boards, Gurudwara Prabandhak Committees respectively. Freeing Hindu assets from state control is the demand that must now take the shape of a clarion call so that the passing mention that it had received in the BJP manifesto for the last Karnataka election becomes an agenda of the Narendra Modi government. As said earlier, being responsive, the current union government is likely to accede. Heckling or embarrassing it or trying to build an alternative, contemporary history suggests, will not succeed in bringing the desired result.