The Great RSS Image Makeover
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The Great RSS Image Makeover


It is fairly uncommon for the chief of the main right-wing nationalist Hindu group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to talk to Indian media outlets much less foreign ones. But last week in New Delhi, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the RSS, spoke to more than two dozen foreign journalists. Furthermore, he spoke in English when conversing with reporters despite the RSS's disdain for the language which it sees as alien and anathema to Indian tradition.    

Founded in 1925, the RSS has been advocating militant Hindu nationalism and claims to represent the majority Hindu community in India. During the freedom struggle its main focus was opposing Muslim separatism and its radical ideology is blamed to be behind the killing of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Although it claims to be a social organization engaged in running different educational and charitable institutions, the historian Aditya Mukherjee claims the RSS uses these institutions “to promote communal ideology.”  

Bhagwat's press conference implies that the RSS, which is the parent organization of the opposition party, Bharitya Janata Party(BJP), is trying to remake its image by adopting a softer tone and by reaching out to international audiences. For instance, during the recent press conference Bhagwat deviated the RSS's hardcore stand against Pakistan in not being overly critical of the current government's decision to initiate peace talks with Pakistan. He only said that the dialogue should not happen at the cost of self respect and that Pakistan should move against terrorist groups located inside that country. The RSS as a whole has been softening its anti-Muslim and Hindu Nationalist stances as of late.   

This 'soft power' campaign directed towards foreign media cannot be disassociated from Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi’s Prime Ministerial ambitions or the upcoming election in 2014. Modi, a member of the BJP, is known for his hardliner rightist beliefs and alleged involvement in the killing of roughly 1000 deaths of mostly Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.  

Nonetheless, Modi too has been trying to revamp his image and disassociate himself with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots by emphasizing the economic development his territory has enjoyed since he came to office. In fact, just last March he appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.  By portraying himself as an economic reformer that is friendly towards business Modi is seeking the type of recognition and acceptability that he has failed to get at home from international audiences.   
Indeed, at a time when the ruling Congress-led alliance is in disarray and losing international credibility due to the slow pace of economic reforms at home, the Hindu right-wing group is positioning itself to take the next elections by winning greater acceptability. Whether they succeed is something else altogether.   

September 20, 2012 at 07:05

What is the proof do you have that he allowed mobs to kill? This itself tells that you do not believe in supreme court of the country. You are trying to act as a secular person by bringing congress for the Anti-sikh riots, But you do not mention the role of congress party in the gujarat riots. People like you are the real problem, who are you to forgive Mr.Modi, He called in Army the very third day of the violence and still blame him for the riots. If you relly worried about the innocent people why didnt you mention your concern for the godhra victims. Just assume this happened in pakistan and what would be the status of the hindus there. I am sure Minorities in india much better than the minorities in the neighbouring countries. Ask christian missioneries to stop the conversion activities, ask muslim community to stop calling pakistan their nation,hositing pakistani flag, love jihad, bomb blast,islamization of india(go and see malappuram)

ajit vadakayil
August 18, 2012 at 02:37

punch into google search RSS- VADAKAYIL.
Find what RSS is all about.
capt ajit vadakayil

Vk J
August 14, 2012 at 06:33

It is very unfortunate that an old, unrealistic and increasingly irrelevant organization like RSS is being subjected to such bashing.
RSS has been involved a lot of charities and social work too, other than nurturing Janata Party and later Bharathiya Janata Party(BJP).
But in the present times, younger Indians are much more passionate about their beliefs and views than moderate RSS.
All other Sangh Parivar organizations are more aggressive about Nationalism, Hindutva, Kashmir,Ayodhya and other issues than RSS. It unfortunate to blame the old and inactive Head of the Family for the follies of his truant and unheeding sons and grandsons!.

August 14, 2012 at 02:42

As a fellow Indian, I ask you go read about the Gujarat Riots on any online news source. Some news maybe biased towards your views and other might be biased against it. Choose the most moderate one, that one is true and you will still see that rampaging mobs killed hundreds of our muslim brothers and sisters.
790 Muslims died along with 254 Hindus. The guilty parties from both sides should be brought to justice. Narendra Modi himself is a bit of an enigma. While I can't forgive him for what he allowed to happen in 2002, I will concede that he thoroughly modernized Gujarat. Roads, water, electricity supply and public transport services have definitely improved here (especially in Ahmedabad) during his tenure.
But it is still difficult to overlook the fact that he let the mobs run wild for so long after the Godhra Train Tragedy. Not that the Congress is innocent either, they aren't really in a position to complain since they are responsible for the massacre of Sikhs after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. 
Either way, being a minority is rather problematic here in India, whether you are Muslim, Christian, Skih or Buddhist. And it is militant Hindu organizations which are at the forefront of discriminating against them (counterpoint- Muslims have their own militant organizations as do the sikhs like the Khalistan Movement).
Our country is in a bit of a mess. We still have a long way to go before we can truly be called Secular. 

August 13, 2012 at 18:08

This is the worst article i have ever read on the diplomat. No reasearch work was carried out and complete article is based on hearsay and prejudiced and biased views. RSS in NOT a militant hindu nationalist organisation. I bet if  author of this article can prove it! Secondly number of muslims killed in Godhra was not 1000. Adding to it,proportionately Hindus were also killed in 2002 riots. Stop posting from ill informed authors!!

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