RSS-BJP synergy is ruling the Indian political system and is at the zenith of its political career. Since the proclamation of the idea called ‘Congress system’ by an eminent political theorist, Rajni Kothari, Indian political system is witnessing the emergence of a similar political formation which can be likewise termed as BJP system. The important characteristic of the Congress system according to Kothari was its ability to accommodate the forces of opposition within the massive organizational structure of Congress which was ruling the scene during the second half of the 20th century. This was the unique feature of the Congress system in an extraordinarily large and diverse society like India.
As the above-mentioned synergy is tasting this large-scale success for the first time, it’s showing some maturity in its formal etiquette. The invitation to the former president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, by the RSS has caused a huge uproar among the political and the academic circles after he decided to share the stage with them. The acceptance of the RSS’s invitation by the former president can be conceived in two ways: firstly, RSS is making an important initiative similar to the characteristic of the Congress system of allowing space to its opponents in the form of ex-congressmen like Mukherjee to assimilate the discourse of the forces of opposition and thereby trying to establish its democratic credentials. Secondly, on the part of Mukherjee, it can be an attempt to resurrect the Congress which is at its lowest political career. Also, the former president may want to rectify the mistake of the liberal elites within the Congress party of considering RSS as political untouchables. Hence, his purpose was to recognize the growing strength of the Hindutva forces and to enter with them in a kind of dialogue or negotiations related to various concepts. Obviously, a closure which is still predominant in this country among the varied spectrums of the political system can’t be the solution in the long run in a democracy.
Both the RSS’s as well as Pranab Mukherjee’s intentions overlapped in an interesting manner, both the fronts were successful in making their point as much as it becomes difficult sometimes to separate Mukherjee’s and Mohan Bhagwat’s speeches. This overlap has caused the dilution of the history of the oppressed that has become the major concern under this current political dispensation. Quite astonishingly, the former president did not mention even once any of the Dalit – Bahujan – Feminist leaders, as it is these oppressed groups which are facing the heat of this current regime and are at the receiving end of the public policies of various sorts. The former president might have thought that by historicizing some of the events he would be in a formidable position to give RSS a lesson of India’s secular history. It would not be wrong to assume that Mukherjee is grossly mistaken in his approach of setting terms and condition to RSS for specifically two reasons. Firstly, about all the thinkers Mukherjee mentioned like Gandhi, Tagore, Patel, they have already been very firmly co-opted within the discourse of RSS-BJP through their shrewd political machinery as well as whimsical political rhetoric. Obviously, they don’t care for Nehru that much. Though Nehru banned RSS he was the same person who called for their help during 1962 Sino- India war. Also, Nehru’s highly idealized and romanticised hermeneutics that he used in one of his most celebrated works ‘The Discovery of India'(1946) is rather weak to pose an effective challenge to the discourse of Hindutva forces. Secondly, though these thinkers were antagonistic toward RSS’s thought in various ways, but through their theories as well as political practice they weren’t able to shape any trajectory to withhold the forces of Hindutva which have taken a huge form at present.
It is in this context that Ambedkar’s entry into the picture of national movement acquires importance as one who attempted to elaborate on Indian history (here, it is relevant to note Mukherjee’s stoic silence regarding any oppressed leaders). This becomes more interesting when the political wing of RSS i.e BJP tries its best to saffronize Ambedkar and by doing so they are eventually digging their own graves. The intervention of leaders like Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, become profound and polemical in any debate of nation, nationalism, patriotism which Pranab Mukherjee tried to contextualize because their approach toward tackling these concepts is very different from the thinkers whom the former president mentioned in his speech. The debate about these three concepts has always remained at the forefront after the BJP government took charge of this country since 2014. Universities, intellectuals, activists, marginalized are being decimated day after day under the huge burden of these so-called noble concepts. Pranab Mukherjee lost an important and golden opportunity to make the RSS cadres feel guilty about their conception of these concepts by bringing Ambedkar, as well as his charged up theoretical tools like maitree, Prabuddha Bharat, state socialism, graded inequality and most importantly, social justice. These sharp and strong formulations are sufficient enough to push RSS into their excavated graves. In trying to historicize our glorious past what Mukherjee forgot was the blot of caste which is still evergreen and prospering with flying colors in the larger social-political processes in this country. Though he once mentioned Buddhism, but again readily fell into the trap of linking it with Hinduism.
For Ambedkar, just like Jyotirao Phule, India was never a nation: “how can people divided into several thousands of caste be a nation”? Indian independence was no doubt an important juncture in the life of this country but there is nothing to celebrate in such an extravagant manner by glorifying our past which according to Mukherjee doesn’t consist of hostility and antagonism. If this was true then Muhammad Ghori would never have been successful in defeating Prithviraj Chauhan during the second battle of Tarain (1192). The defeat of the last Hindu ruler of Delhi can simply be attributed to the fact of hostility and self-interest that existed between Prithviraj Chauhan and the king of Kannauj, Jai Chand, whom Ghori killed in the battle of Chandawar (1194). So it can be understood that any debate on nationalism always consists of an urge to paint our nation as good (whereas in reality, it is Indian history which is full of competitive of malice, treachery, jealousy, accumulation of wealth among the Indian rulers) and the others as inferior and problematic. Babasaheb’s idea of nationalism ‘is not based on the positive affirmation of the distorted history but the negative scrutiny of Indian history and to establish the idea of justice by providing the dispossessed their material as well as cultural due’. Hence, the best way to take recourse to nationalism is to go back to the sacred document i.e constitution. From this constitution emerges the idea of constitutional patriotism, which was once mentioned by Mukherjee, though in a very reluctant manner without any emphasis. He would have done better by simply situating the three concepts (nation, nationalism and patriotism) on the pages of our constitution, which is the ray of hope and trust of the oppressed of this country.
In 1939, Ambedkar made his stand clear in the legislative council of Bombay Presidency: “whenever there is any conflict of interest between the country and the untouchables, so far as I am concerned, the untouchable’s interests will take precedence over the interest of the country”. The whole gamut of patriotism can be extracted from this emphatic line in which there are compassion and sense of concerns for the oppressed. A country’s progress, happiness can only be assessed when the deprived sections in the form of Dalit, Bahujan, Minorities, Females and LGBTQ communities live a healthy and prosperous life. It is indeed unfortunate that though the former president mentioned the requirement of healthy and prosperous life, he forgot to mention those who require this life the most, the most deprived who are in a dire situation and are struggling hard to get a sense of self-respect and dignity.
Shiveshwar Kundu is nterested in Indian Politics, Western Political Theory and is pursuing research from the centre for political studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi