With the BJP’s electoral defeat, the idea of Hindutva has come up for a lot of debate. Has it become a liability? Is it time to articulate it differently? Should the BJP jettison it? As Jaswant Singh exasperatedly said on one television discussion: “What is all this hard Hindutva, soft Hindutva – what is Hindutva?” Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) spokesman Ram Madhav talks to Shoma Chaudhury about some of these issues — he has been instructed by the RSS to defuse negativity — but evades all questions about the future of the BJP

Which reasons is the RSS counting for the BJP’S loss?
I would not like to comment on this. We are not political experts, it’s for the party to analyse its defeat.

Did Hindutva became a political liability for the BJP?
So far, some sporadic statements have come, but only one person [Sudheendra Kulkarni in TEHELKA] has written about it. Others have other grievances, not about Hindutva per se. We’ll see what issues come up in the executive meeting.

You once told TEHELKA the RSS has got too closely aligned with the BJP and would like to extend its influence across parties. Does the RSS want to offload the BJP as much as the BJP wants to be rid of the RSS?
(Laughs) One of our people has answered that question anyway — MG Vaidya. He said they should go ahead and abandon Hindutva and listen to the Sachar Committee report if they want to win back power — basically, he was ridiculing that view (laughs).

Do you think the BJP has a future without incorporating Hindutva?
I can’t speak for the BJP.

There is a sense the RSS influence is lessening in society.
It is not true that the RSS’ influence in Hindu society is lessening. Our experience is that there is a growing influence of Hindutva in its real sense. Sometimes in our activities — take the urban shakhas, for instance — we have a little less attendance. But that’s a problem with the programme, not the ideology.

What is the “real” Hindutva?
First, you must understand Hindutva is not something the RSS has created for us to be able to rethink it, change it, or remodel it. We have borrowed it from Swami Vivekanda, Sri Aurobindo and Dayanand Saraswati. This country has a particular identity which we describe as Hindutva — not just us, it has been described as such for millennia. We are trying to strengthen that identity.

But what is this “identity” everyone is supposed to bow to?
It is very positive. Today, nations are looking for their true historical identity, which may have been camouflaged by other historical developments. People are writing about reinventing entire nations. In 2003, Samuel Huntington asked the question, “Who are We?” America is rethinking its identity as a nation: is it just a melting pot or is it more? Hindutva has been misunderstood. We want to remove these misconceptions. That’s why I am interacting with you.

What are these “misconceptions”?
To project Hindutva as a narrow, fundamentalist ideology is misrepresentation. We welcome everybody. I can only accommodate an exclusivist thought by transforming it into an inclusive one. But when I say that, I’m branded as anti-something. Sudheendra wrote in TEHELKA that Hindutva has a very small base even in Hindu society. That is the beauty of India — there is no one “age-old” idea you talk about. We accept diversity as the core value of this country. But there are unifying cultural mores, a unifying identity, which people have described since time immemorial as Hindustan, Bharat, Vedic, Sanatan. It is this identity in which we believe.

Where do minorities, who swear allegiance to the modern Indian nation state, but have myriad cultural mores, fit into your world?
They fit in like any other Indian. For us, whether he is a Muslim, Vaishnavite or Sikh, it doesn’t really matter. In a real secular country, everyone is equal. But, so far, our secular establishment has only seen people in terms of religious identity. That is the problem, we are not.

What Hindu cultural oneness do you want Muslims to fit into?
I’ve not said anything about Muslims, but you’re repeatedly asking about them. You have a problem in your mindset. I’m talking about even Hindus who don’t accept the culture. I’m talking about leftminded intellectuals who don’t accept that there existed an ancient identity. Even people like Mohammed Iqbal said, “Kuch baat hai ki hasti mitati nahi hamari”. This cultural oneness is what Hindutva talks about.

I don’t think anyone would argue if you left it at that. But why then is so much violence practised in the name of Hindutva? Gujarat 2002, Kandhamal, Sadhvi Pragya, Varun Gandhi. The RSS has justified them all.
You are wrong. We have condemned these issues. There is no question of us supporting any violence – be it in Kandhamal or a Mangalore pub. But anytime anything happens, it is attributed to us. In Kandhamal, we don’t even have many shakhas. It was a conflict between converted scheduled castes and practicing Hindu tribals. With Varun Gandhi, we said we should have dignified public discourse, and not talk about cutting up hands. We only objected to the National Security Act being invoked against him.

The RSS ideologues say they’re against violence, but they create an environment that fosters violent reactions. For instance, you always invoke Aurangzeb as a black mark against Muslims. How does he pertain to 21st century Muslims?
If we say Raja Jai Singh — who joined hands with Akbar to defeat Maharana Pratap — is a traitor, does it mean Hindus get offended? Just because Muslims get offended, should we project Aurangzeb as a great secular leader? Muslims should identify with Dara Shikoh. As far as vocabulary is concerned, ours is not an academic activity, we are a popular movement and some people’s articulation might be found wanting. See what the main organisation supports, and whether that is objectionable.

‘Our secular establishment has only seen people in terms of religious identity. That is the problem. We are not’

MS Golwalkar, who was the head of the RSS, wrote that Nazism was something Hindustan needed to learn from. That Nazi Germany was proof that a nation cannot accommodate races of different cultural roots.
You have frozen your mind in a 1938 book. Have you read what Guruji Golwalkar said in his 1972 book, India and the Minority Question? In 1938, people were glamorising Hitler. Golwalkar never said a word admiring Hitler. He only said that Nazism shows that through one nationalist sentiment you can mobilise people as one nation. But after the holocaust, Guruji didn’t subscribe to it. Nazism has nothing akin to RSS ideology. We praise how the Jews rose as a nation after Hitler’s crimes against them. We teach our people about Israel as the experience of how a nation can reemerge. You understand this but still use it as propaganda against us.

Would you hold the Bajrang Dal and VHP as integral wings of the RSS?

TEHELKA has just been to a Bajrang Dal camp where 14-year-olds are being taught the language of hatred. Is that also our propaganda?
I would like to know what was actually being taught in the camp. You should not expect our language to be like that of TEHELKA. We have our own language, and yes, if that is promoting violence, we will object to it. For example, we will continue to say Aurangzeb was a bigot, which you may not say. What’s wrong with that? He is not representative of Muslims of India. He was a foreign aggressor like the British.

Do you agree that our young people are less involved with identity politics?
Today, there is a large following for newage gurus. This is the new form of Hindutva that is coming up. Its cultural traits are yoga, meditation, peace of mind, and rising above the temptation of material life. We don’t see irreligiousness, rather a shift from small religious identities to a larger spiritual identity, which is good for our country and very much in line with our thinking.

You keep talking of national interest. But here you have a competitive programme going where you say Hindus should have more children so they can take on Muslims!
No, no, no. We only said if there is a government policy, like a two-child norm, it should not be bogged down with issues like whether Muslim Sharia law agrees with it or not. But we respect individual choice. But there is no programme. No “pogram” (laughs heartily).