Ram Madhav
June 21, 2024

Misreading Bhagwat

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

(The article was originally published in OPEN Magazine on June 21, 2024. Views expressed are personal.)

DEFINE YOUR WORDS, Jesus appealed to Pontius Pilate, before we engage in an argument. Words carry different meanings for different people. They are understood differently in different contexts too. That’s why the great Indian grammarian Panini advises: “Ekah Shabdah Samyak Jnatah Samprayukah; Loke Swarge cha Kamadhuk Bhavati”—meaning, “one word, understood correctly and used appropriately, can yield good results in this world and the other”.

There is never any dearth of gossip mongers and kite flyers who pass off as political pundits in our country. We live in the world of political wordsmiths who are experts in dissecting and deciphering, if not distorting and misrepresenting, each word spoken by people who matter in public life. ‘Political correctness’ has become the watchword in this era of pundits. One cannot use words like ‘consensus’, ‘civility’, ‘humility’ or ‘arrogance’ in any context without running the risk of pundits interpreting it as criticism of some leader or the other.

Something of that sort is happening once again. The pundits are at it again, dissecting and distorting every word uttered by one functionary or the other. “The great man does not think beforehand of his words that they may be sincere, nor of his actions that they may be resolute; he simply speaks and does what is right”, said Aristotle, who lived in a totally different world. But you only do that at your own peril today.

Mohan Bhagwat, the statesmanlike chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had said certain very fundamental things in a recent speech in Nagpur. He, and all his predecessors, had said such things so many times in the past as well. Those were essentially lessons in ‘virtue-building’ for the RSS cadre in particular but extended to society in general. “We must always strive to serve the motherland. But should never arrogate it to oneself claiming that ‘I have done it’,” Bhagwat told participants in the annual training programme in Nagpur. Similarly, he made a statesmanlike observation that at crucial times like elections, everyone should guard against using language or rhetoric that could be divisive.

He also talked about how democracy should function in the Indian context, emphasising that it should mean consensus-building. This was essentially a philosophical position that Deendayal Upadhyaya, the ideological anchor-leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its erstwhile avatar, the Jana Sangh, took in his thesis of Integral Humanism, differentiating between the Western concept of democracy as the rule of the majority versus the Indian concept of consensus-building. Elections help determine majority in a democracy, Deendayal averred, but once elected on the basis of a parliamentary majority, the government in India should always strive to build consensus as the basis for governance. Bhagwat was merely reiterating this ideological position and conviction.

Given the nature of the mandate this time, it is possible that commentators tend to read different meanings into these statements. RSS-BJP relations have always been an attractive subject for political kite flyers. Every statement coming from an RSS functionary, written or spoken, is fodder for their rumour mills. Xunzi, the Chinese philosopher of Confucianism, had once quipped that “almost always, the problem with people is that they become fixated on one angle and are deluded about the greater order of things”. Something of that sort happens with pundits fixated on their own understanding of the RSS-BJP relationship. They jump to the conclusion that a huge rift is building up between the two.

Some statements, made innocently or incompletely, from both sides, could have led to some misunderstanding. It happened many times in the past. Recall the episode involving LK Advani’s noting about Jinnah during a visit to his mausoleum in Pakistan in 2005. It kicked up a storm at that time. A recent statement attributed to the BJP president in an interview about the role of RSS in BJP’s scheme of things, too, created a similar storm in a teacup. I vividly recall a visit by George Fernandes to the RSS office at Jhandewalan in Delhi during the controversy about Advani’s Jinnah remarks. He candidly told the RSS leadership that politicians make statements in the morning keeping some political objectives in mind. They sometimes become controversial by noon. By evening, the leaders either clarify or disown those statements, or blame the media, trying to put the controversy to rest. Such prompt action helps in mitigating the confusion created occasionally due to statements by leaders. Not doing so may perpetuate that confusion and the statement may remain in history for future generations to derive the wrong conclusions.

That said, those who watch the Sangh Parivar closely, “the greater order of things” as Xunzi called it, understand that it is futile to reach conclusions like a “great rift”, “falling apart”, etc. The Sangh Parivar is a family in its true sense, bonded strongly by an ideological umbilical cord. There is a divergence of roles, as in any family, and there could be occasional divergence of views too. But that doesn’t mean disharmony. Mencius describes five bonds of humanity that require different qualities to maintain harmony: “between sovereign and subject, there should be righteousness; between husband and wife, attention to their separate functions; between old and young, a proper order; between friends, fidelity”. Finally, “between father and son, there should be affection”.

It is this affection that manifests itself in the Sangh Parivar in its occasional cautioning and scolding, which always ensures that ‘harmony’ is never disrupted. There is a famous story in the Confucian wisdom in ancient China about a prime minister in the Song dynasty, Chang Kung-ni, who lived with nine generations of his family under the same roof. Tang Kao-chung, the emperor, wondered how such a household could maintain harmony and asked his prime minister about the secret. Kung-ni called for a pen and a paper and wrote the word Jen hundred times. The word meant ‘patience’ or ‘endurance’. Po-jen—‘hundred patience’— became a common idiom in Chinese society since then.

Po-jen guided the Sangh Parivar for a century. No marks for predicting otherwise now.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

India and the Global Right Turn

India and the Global Right Turn

June 21, 2024
Towards a Conservative Consensus

Towards a Conservative Consensus

June 21, 2024

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 × five =