When ‘apolitical’ Bhagwat gave a political speech

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Nagpur, October 15:  At a time the political role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is under scrutiny, its chief Mohan Bhagwat declared that the Sangh “does not do politics … and keeps away from it”. But he admitted that “politics comes in the way”. The Sarsanghchalak said this in the course of a speech on Sunday salient for its political remarks, where he attacked the government on economy and foreign policy, and urged voters to turn out in full strength for the elections.

Mr. Bhagwat was delivering his annual Vijayadasami address in Nagpur, the Sangh’s headquarters. The address is supposed to provide ‘margdarshan’, guidance, to its cadres, and is the most important public event in the organisation’s calendar. It gives a glimpse into the RSS world view, current priorities, and its expectations from government.

Men in traditional RSS khaki uniform performed exercises, a band played, and a special guest — historian Lokesh Chandra — spoke at the event, which was attended by former BJP president Nitin Gadkari.

Swadeshi economics

Devoting a substantial section of his speech to the economy, Mr. Bhagwat said that from discussing how to become an economic superpower, India was now discussing how to get the rupee back on track. “Development has stalled, foreign reserves have dipped, and current account deficit has increased.”

Diagnosing the problem, he claimed productive areas have gone into “foreign hands”. “Earlier, we produced cement, now 70 per cent cement production is in foreign hands. Our economic policies are making people not maalik (owners) but mazdoor (workers).” He attacked the decision to allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail. “How can someone with no weapons fight a full army? Our entrepreneurs have not been trained, strengthened to compete.”

Mr. Bhagwat claimed that since Independence, India had adopted models from other countries, but now needed to create its own model. “We will have to create our own swadeshi parameters to judge economy.”

China and Pakistan

The RSS chief alleged that China was “testing the waters” with its recent alleged incursions into Indian territory. “It does not want war, but it wants to check how India will react. There must be a strong reaction.” Claiming that China wished to bring the Indian economy under it, Mr. Bhagwat said, “We need to save the Indian markets. We will boycott Chinese goods. Why should we use the Ganesh idols from China when they can be made here?”

The Sarsanghchalak alleged that the government was deliberately trivialising reports of Pakistani infiltration and attacks. “Instead of responding, the government hides it from the people, says these incidents are usual.” He criticised Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s policy of rehabilitating surrendered militants as part of a plan to make the “demographic imbalance more acute.”

In a direct attack on the Centre, Mr. Bhagwat said, “Those who are at the helm of affairs in the government … are treating Hindus with discrimination and blatantly appeasing and pampering the so-called minorities.” Among other instances, he cited the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill as a product of a “mindset to heap insult on Hindu society.”

While refraining from endorsing any party officially, the RSS chief urged citizens to get enlisted on voter rolls and ensure “100 per cent polling”.

Sudhir Pathak, former editor of Tarun Bharat, a publication sympathetic to the RSS, told The Hindu that the speech was notable for its almost “unprecedented, in-depth” focus on the economy. Asked if the RSS’s focus on swadeshi parameters would clash with the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s perceived proximity to corporates and market forces, Mr. Pathak admitted that problems may come up. “We had seen during Mr. Vajpayee’s term that the Akhil Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh led by stalwart Dattopant Thengadi had opposed the then government’s reform measures. The RSS will not give up its commitment to its agenda.”

Mr. Pathak said the calculation was that a higher voter turnout would benefit the BJP. “If we can get the middle class, our supporters to the polling booth, it is obvious they will vote for the BJP.”

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