On April 26, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak (head) Mohan Bhagwat addressed swayamsevaks for the second time in a month. While not unusual, this time it was different. He called India’s 1.3 billion people his own. Critics may think this was just a convenient turn of phrase. But his sentiments are a true reflection of the Sangh’s thinking.
People who heard the three-day lecture series at Vigyan Bhavan two years ago will know that this is no new development. Bhagwat expressed similar thoughts in his annual Vijayadashami address as well. The Sangh considers every Indian to be a Hindu. Since this is the foundation of its thinking, then the mistakes of a few shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on society as a whole. And those who have made mistakes should accept them, and move on.
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Bhagwat spoke of swadeshi (indigenous) and self-reliance. Sangh-inspired organisations such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch have also been making efforts to realise these objectives. Recently, in his Panchayati Raj Day address, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi also spoke about being self-sufficient right from the village level. On May 12, the PM spoke about Aatmnirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). RSS ideologue, Dattopant Thengadi, who was instrumental in creating these organisations, was one of the most vociferous proponents of swadeshi and Aatmnirbhar Bharat. Thengadi, in his book Third Way, laid out a road map for a self-dependent India.
Most critics of swadeshi are confused about the concept. For them, swadeshi implies turning the wheel back to the 19th century. Thengadi said, “we require computer chips and not potato chips”. Swadeshi is the practical manifestation of patriotism. Patriotism should not be seen as isolationism. Patriots are not against internationalism. He added, “Their pleas for national self-reliance are not incompatible with international cooperation, provided that latter is on equal footing — with due regard to the national respect of every country.”
In his lectures, he quoted the effect of Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on Motilal Nehru’s lifestyle that was initially considered lavish by that era’s standards. But Motilal Nehru switched to khadi at the Mahatma’s request. In his address to the nation, the PM also emphasised the use of local brands.
The origin of the coronavirus disease in China and the subsequent news about the supply of substandard Chinese goods to different countries have given India a big push to become self-reliant. On the other hand, India has given appropriate aid and assistance to many countries following the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family). Indian scientists and industrialists have also contributed towards making India self-reliant.
The Sangh chief also urged the government to fulfil its obligations in this regard. He said that the administration will have to become more responsible and people-oriented. Recently, the Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal, an organisation inspired by the Sangh, also announced a competition for an indigenous video conferencing app.
Both the Sangh and the PM are unanimous about the economic direction of the country. According to the PM, in a post-Covid-19 world, the country should head towards self-reliance, organic farming and a swadeshi-based economy. These are issues that the Sangh chief mentioned in his Vijayadashami speech. He also mentioned that foreign investment should also come to India only on India’s terms. The government has rightly made recent changes in its foreign investment policy in this context.
The lockdown has resulted in huge improvements in the quality of the environment. The clear air and clean flowing rivers are proof. The need for a lifestyle based on the conservation and the protection of nature is imperative for India. The sarsanghchalak has also emphasised the need for society to move forward without exploiting nature.
At this crucial time, the swayamsevaks are engaged in several services to help all Indians, irrespective of differences, who are vulnerable at this time. Today, more than 340,000 swayamsevaks are offering services at about 67,000 locations across India.
Apart from delivering ration kits to more than five million families, they have delivered over 300 million cooked food packets to people and have made over 22,466 blood donations. The government and administration can maintain the lockdown in the country only for a certain amount of time. Society can emulate the practices of the Sangh to maintain disciple post the lockdown.
Even after the lockdown is lifted, people have to learn to stay away from crowded places. Similarly, the State and the administration too will have to change according to the needs of society.
Overall, we must move towards a new nature-based self-reliant society and governance.
Rajiv Tuli is a member of the RSS’s Delhi state executive
The views expressed are personal