Winds Changing Direction?

Winds Changing Direction?

K.M. Chandrasekhar

K.M. Chandrasekhar

Yesterday, I read a news report in The Hindu of a video Press Conference by RSS Joint General Secretary, Dattatreya Hosabele on evolving a new model of Swadeshi development in the post-Covid era. He was talking to the foreign press, including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, AFP, the German media ARD and Deutsche Press Agentur.

He said that the time has come to write “bright new chapters of the new world as one without any discrimination.” This new world must have no “feeling of ‘otherisation’ and ‘exclusion’.” He further went on to clarify that the RSS stands for communal harmony. “Muslims,” he said, ”are a part and parcel of our nation and RSS volunteers helped them during the lockdown without any discrimination. The RSS looks at all communities, including Muslims, as brothers.” Emphasising the point, he talked of the common fight against Covid and said, “It is time to fight the enemy of humanity successfully and write bright new chapters of the new world as one people without any discrimination. However, we have to be cautious against such forces as they are inimical and antithetical to this oneness…”

He talked also of a new economic model, based on self-reliance. “In this indigenous model, “ he said, “local resources, workforce and needs would be integrated into economic activity, taking into account ecological considerations.” The pandemic, he said, had exposed the limitations of both global capitalism and global communism.

These are not new thoughts, but they constitute a significant departure from the manner in which the offspring political party of the RSS has been functioning in the past few years, both at the Centre and in the States that they govern, particularly in its new avatar since 2019. This is not the way their shakhas have been perceived to have worked, their functionaries having unleashed at different times an atmosphere of unmitigated violence, particularly in areas where the Muslims constitute an insignificant minority. We have repeatedly read stories in the media of lynchings, murders, violence perpetrated by extremist elements amongst them and, in some cases, instigated and encouraged even by civil servants and Police officers, desiring to secure scraps of office by pleasing their masters and by MPs and MLAs. This violent, blood thirsty streak was exposed in all its naked ugliness during the CAA agitations. In fact, the CAA agitations clearly underscored the fact that India is moving towards oneness, regardless of the separatist mindset of a few, because the youth of all communities fought resolutely, shoulder to shoulder with the Muslims. That the wind has changed direction is also evident from the fact that the Shiv Sena, hitherto considered a bastion of Hindu extreme thinking, is now running a successful and cohesive government in Maharashtra with the Congress and the NCP.

Was the statement on unity and communal harmony merely a conciliatory response to concerns expressed in foreign countries on progressive erosion of India’s commitment to secularism, democratic principles and basic human freedom? This interpretation is not farfetched because the video conference was addressed, according to the newspaper, only to foreign media. However, when we take this in conjunction with other statements made by the PM and the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, we could hope that there is a course correction in the offing, which augurs well for the country. In a talk to professionals on LinkedIn, the PM said, “Covid 19 does not see race, religion, caste, creed, language or border before striking. Our response and conduct should, therefore, attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.” This is not the first time the PM talked about unity and harmony. Way back in October 2015, in a Mann ki Baat talk to the people, he had said, “India is a diverse country. People of different castes, religions, different languages, different cultures, and this diversity is the strength of this country. The message is unity in diversity.” RSS Chief Bhagwat, addressing Sangh members, talked clearly in terms of non-discrimination. “The RSS”, he said,”is active during lockdown. Serve people without discrimination as all who need help are our own. It is our duty to help in this time of crisis.” On April 26th, in his first Baudhik Varg speech, he said explicitly, “1.3 billion Indians are all Bharat ma ke putr aur apna bandhu.” The sentiments of these leaders must reach loud and clear to the rank and file. Until now, the message has been mixed, confused, different voices speaking in different tongues. The country now has the chance to go back to its ancient traditions of tolerance, intellectual and cultural openness and assimilation. Many more messages have to percolate down, much more work remains to be done but in oneness lies the way ahead.

The other point made by the BJP spokesman that of self-reliance, is equally important. This again is not new. Self-reliance has, in fact, been the bedrock of the economic philosophy of the ideologues of the Jana Sangh. Many decades ago, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya said categorically, “We should not be able to solve our problems without the ‘Swa’ (self) identity of India.” Upadhyaya, even now considered the father of the economic thought process of the Sangh Parivar, resembled very closely Mahatma Gandhi in his economic thought. He believed strongly in creating employment opportunities, raising levels of well being, reducing inequalities in incomes and property as basic tenets of policy. “We do not know Nehruji’s socialism,” said Upadhyaya, “but at least this much we understand that socialism must reduce the wide gulf of inequality between the rich and the poor, particularly with regard to income and property…” Both Mahatma Gandhi and Upadhyaya believed in the principle that the uplift of the struggling masses at the bottom and middle layers of the pyramid was more important than the creation of wealth. The concept of an economic philosophy built on the principle of accumulation at the top trickling down to the bottom would have horrified both of them. Indeed, Upadhyaya was unsparing in his contempt for leaders looking for quick fix solutions abroad. “They”, he said, “ hypnotised by the prospects of foreign aid, support of foreign specialists, the attractive appearance of public life abroad and the anxiety to show quick results have made them invulnerable to their problems [of the people].”

Modi now speaks the same language. Speaking to Panchayat heads recently, he said, “The most important message from this pandemic is that we need to be self reliant. This self-reliance should be at the village, district, state and national level in terms of our needs and our ability to satisfy them within the country. We should not look to other countries to satisfy our needs.” Bhagwat, speaking to RSS members, said, “We have to come up with a new model of development which makes us self reliant. As much as possible, use indigenous goods and try to live without using imported items.”

If there is serious thinking on a significant change in our economic policy, the time has come to put some heads together and work out a new economic blueprint. This would involve laying down new parameters for evaluating economic growth. We should once more begin to judge ourselves not by how much the GDP has grown, at what rate it has grown, how much foreign investment has come into the country, what foreigners think of us, how foreign agencies rate us. Seventy years after Independence, we must have the self confidence to lay down our own path, set our own goals, judge our progress solely on parameters designed to measure growth in the welfare of the largest number, on amelioration of poverty, on creation of employment opportunities. Or, as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya put it, lay down parameters for evaluation of progress such that “roti, kapda, makan, padhai and dawai of everyone should be fulfilled.”

In the meanwhile, our economy continues to struggle with the consequences of the economic slowdown, followed by Covid. We seem to be unable to break free of the shackles we have placed on ourselves. The Sangh ideologue, S. Gurumurthy, speaking at the Vivekananda International Foundation in 2018, summed up our predicament thus: “When we passed the FRBM law in 2002, the whole world thought there should be no printing of currencies and that it should be taken care of by banks in the market. That has become outdated economics because Americans themselves have printed $ 4.5 trillion. The Japanese began printing the equivalent of $ 40 billion every month from October 2015. Today they have increased the size of printing to $ 70 billion per month.” In another interview on the economic slowdown published in The Times of India on October 22, 2019, he said,”The concept of counter cyclical financing has disappeared.”

We have chosen to build a prison around ourselves. Will we ever break free?

The facts and views in the article are those of the writer.