It’s been more than a week since firebrand Hindu leader Yogi Adityanath was made the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. He hasn’t uttered a word on Ram Temple, a hugely popular yet polarizing election pledge on which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got elected in Uttar Pradesh.
Narendra Modi stopped talking in black and white terms about Hindus and Muslims since long, more so after being propelled to limelight as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the lead up to 2014 national elections. Modi has in fact so carefully veered to the centre of Right since becoming the Prime Minister that a vocal, Hindutva-driven ally, Shiv Sena, threatened in February to break ranks with the BJP for deviating from religion-oriented politics that the world’s largest political outfit has championed over the years.
The idea of making Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s (RSS) head Mohan Bhagwat as next president of India may be a daunting proposition for India’s secularists and minorities, but there may be a silver lining to this dark cloud of an idea as well. If recent history of India’s Hindu nationalists venturing into politics is anything to go by, mainstream politics has had a moderating influence on leaders that were considered on the fringe of Indian polity.
The 67-year old sarsanghchalak’s name for India’s next president has been floated by Shiv Sena, which of late has been disgruntled by its senior coalition partner. A Sena parliamentarian in Rajya Sabha and the executive editor of Shiv Sena’s hawkish mouthpiece Saamna, Sanjay Raut, was quoted by media as saying on Monday, “We hear that the name of Mohan Bhagwat is being considered and if so, I think it is right and the BJP should consider his name.”
Several political commentators and social media reactions have indicated that Sena’s proposal on Bhagwat is aimed at putting the BJP in a spot, as rejecting Bhagwat’s name for the highest constitutional post may not go down well with the core Hindu nationalist supporter base of the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. But accepting Bhagwat as president is problematic too, if one just looks at his track record, which in itself makes minorities including Muslims uneasy.
Bhagwat as president would also be the final nail in the coffin of development-themed politics that Modi is seen preferring during election campaigns. The BJP is already attracting a lot of negative attention for appointing Adityanath as the chief minister of UP, as the saffron-robed, shaven-headed saint’s political history is marred with making incendiary speeches against Muslims.
At the same time though, nominating the Bhagwat as president would signal a seismic shift in Indian politics in a sense that leaders who were considered as religious rabble-rousers on the political fringe would be seen getting their own political space. The political histories of Bangladesh and Pakistan show that hard-Right is better off in the mainstream than sitting at the fences, which leads to radical politics getting more vindictive and bloody.
What has Mohan Bhagwat done for India?
If we overlook Bhagwat’s ideological leanings that clearly overwhelm his other records in public life, the RSS under him has continued to be involved in social and rehabilitation projects like it has been for most part of its history. Bhagwat is known to be a staunch advocate of bringing Dalits in mainstream Hinduism and quashing the discriminatory caste system that’s still widely adhered to in the countryside. The RSS also spearheads literacy and other social campaigns in some of most backward and tribal areas.
The RSS was also involved in rehabilitation efforts in the wake of destructive floods in the hill state of Uttarakhand in 2013, which had resulted in more than 5,000 deaths. The right-wing volunteer outfit had set-up a relief organisation, Uttaranchal Dyvi Aapada Peeditha Sahayata Samithi, with 10 offices in the worst-hit areas to help the government and security agencies.
Clearly, there’s more to Bhagwat and the RSS than just their ideology.
Is Bhagwat a good choice for next President of India?
The main job of the President is to “preserve, protect and defend” the constitution and the law of India. While Bhagwat’s past comments on Muslims, rape and Mother Teresa may not stack up against qualities required of President, there is no questioning his patriotism towards the country.
So, can Mohan Bhagwat be entrusted with protecting the Indian Constitution?
Well, the history of Hindu nationalists say he just may be a formidable contender as India’s next President.