ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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The RSS and Its 'Liberalism'

What was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh trying to prove by inviting Pranab Mukherjee?

The invitation by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to former President Pranab Mukherjee, and the latter’s decision to accept and address the swayamsevaks has given rise to all kinds of conjectures by the media and opinion leaders. There has been speculation about who will benefit from the invitation, the RSS or Mukherjee. However, what is relevant is not who benefits, but the liberal justification that RSS spokespersons have been giving in favour of the invitation.

We also need to foreground the RSS’s claim to liberalism within a broader framework of liberalism itself. This would mean taking into consideration two sets of interrelated aspects that are important to assess the RSS’s efforts to defend the invitation on liberal grounds. The first aspect of the liberal framework is following the protocols of tolerance for a dialogue, democratic procedures, and reaching a positive conclusion through such procedures. The second set relates to sustaining the symbiotic relationship between a public personality and liberal principles.

Thus, there are two issues that must be posed before the RSS. First, even if it claims to use the first aspect of the liberal framework to defend its invitation, will it also share the consensus or conclusion from such a dialogue about the common good of the people? In other words, does the RSS’s love for democratic procedure lead to a logical culmination into a consensus on normative principles such as equal moral distribution of human worth? Second, if it believes it is justified in inviting a public personality for a dialogue, will it take the initiative on its own to frame normative principles as the basis for the proposed dialogue with the ex-President? These questions have an element of scepticism that has its origin in the RSS’s rhetorical commitment to liberal procedures as well as its principles.

The RSS spokespersons seem to be using democratic procedures and protocols as common resources in order to browbeat those who are either sceptical or openly opposing such an invitation by suggesting that the ex-President should not have accepted it. The RSS may appear liberal by asking its opponents to respect democratic procedures. However, using the rhetoric of procedures is not an end in itself. Procedures become meaningful when they help the involved parties to reach commonly agreed conclusions that have a serious bearing on universal values such as an equal concern for all human beings. These values are human dignity, friendship, freedom, as well as equality and justice. We need to create conditions within which the moral worth of a human being is considered proportionate and not less than that of a sacred animal. The need to insist on reaching a conclusion to any dialogue acquires particular importance when certain organisations, including the RSS, have already reached a conclusion. For example, the RSS repeatedly states that “those radicals who claim to be secularists are in fact pseudo secularists.”

We need to go beyond such conclusions on the ground that they are based on arbitrary judgments and hence lack the moral force of being universally valid. These judgments are one-sided declarations and hence bound to escape public scrutiny by people who are interested in engaging in open, transparent dialogue. We need to focus on the human capacity to make a judgment in favour of superior values of equal concern for all and not for one individual. Fortunately, the Indian Constitution does provide us with such ethical injunctions that seek to establish a harmonious social relationship between two individuals.

When principles are difficult to follow in practice, it then becomes strategically necessary for any organisation to separate persons from principles and treat the former as the sufficient condition of legitimisation. Principles such as egalitarianism, based on annihilation of caste, or taming of patriarchy, or removal of inequality and ensuring dignity to all human beings, are difficult to follow. Such principles pose difficulties because they demand that the organisation be truthful to the project of structural transformation of society based on layered hierarchies. B R Ambedkar, as an embodiment of fiery principles, tried his level best to burn down the social fetters wherever they existed in whatever form. Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar envisaged the possibility of such conditions that will eliminate the social conditions that produce such fetters. These thinkers embodied transformative ideas, thus making it difficult for any organisation to separate the individual from radical and vibrant principles.

Does the RSS need to undergo radical transformation of following principles rather than disembodied individuals? Focusing on symbolic accommodation of persons from the margins provides an escape route for such organisations. We are not sure whether the RSS would acquire the role of being an agent of social transformation that continuously questions and removes the fetters of caste and patriarchy. As of today, it has used the second option of symbolically accommodating some individuals from among the Adivasis, minorities and Dalits. As principles ignite the moral/intellectual fire in a person, organisations prefer persons whose moral fire has been doused. We also need to acknowledge the possibility that sometimes the right principles choose the wrong persons. For example, Ambedkarism has chosen the Dalits who have been vulnerable to right-wing ideology.  Co-opting morally emptied personalities or personalities stuffed with parochial principles will produce self-serving politics.

Politics in India is driven by discussion on personality and the political moves these personalities make from time to time. Is the RSS an exception to this rule? Let us wait and see.

Updated On : 11th Jun, 2018

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