In his annual Vijayadashami address at Nagpur, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat focused primarily on population control, “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, and the ideology of Sanatana Dharma. Even as the RSS chief touched upon several current and emerging issues, he also returned to familiar recurring themes from his earlier speeches. Here’s a look at the highlights from Bhagwat’s past five annual Vijayadashami speeches, which give us a peek into issues the RSS considers important.
Last year, the Nagpur-based event was held in the open after a year’s hiatus caused by Covid-19 related restrictions. Bhagwat had focused on India’s pending talks with the Taliban, cautioning against Russia, Turkey, China, and Pakistan’s support for the Taliban government. He pushed for a population policy for the next five decades, highlighting concerns about the population imbalance in the nation. He also cautioned against a possible third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic while extolling Ayurveda as an effective method of fighting the virus. Most importantly, he urged schools and colleges to opt for online classes and boost the use of cellular technologies. He, however, proposed greater regulatory controls on OTT platforms.
In the middle of a raging pandemic, Bhagwat’s 2020 speech was addressed to a much smaller congregation of RSS members and primarily directed against China. He encouraged strengthening ties with other neighbours to present a more powerful counter to the Chinese, strongly decrying the border incursions in Ladakh. He also urged for fearlessness, but caution in the face of the pandemic promoted “ancient agricultural practices” and lauded the New Education Policy introduced by the Narendra Modi government. Finally, he reiterated the RSS ideology that Hindutva is not a religious stance but a cultural “way of life”.
A year before the pandemic hit, and only a few months after the BJP had secured yet another victory in the 2019 elections, Bhagwat praised the Modi government’s move to modify Article 370 and claimed that the election victory was a sign of India’s trust in the Modi-government’s efforts. He also commended ISRO for the Chandrayan-2 mission. Bhagwat’s speech was most notable for his emphatic reification of the idea that India is a Hindu Nation and only the descendants of “Bharatiya ancestors” are welcome to live in the country. Keeping to this argument, he propagated an education system that focuses on swa bhasha (our language), swa bhoosha (our attire), swa sanskriti (our culture), and swa purvaj (our ancestors).
In his 2018 speech, the RSS chief pushed for toughness in foreign policy. In a pointed attack on Pakistan and China, Bhagwat had urged India not to give in to diplomatic arm-twisting and instead brace itself for continuing border attacks. He also referred to the Rafale deal controversy. He lashed out against those who “sow and grow the seeds of doubt, detachment, imprudence, rebellion, hatred, and violence in the weaker sections of the society that are severely affected due to the deprivation, injustice, and negligence” to use them as “cannon fodder for anti-national activities”. Finally, Bhagwat pushed for speedy enactment of laws to begin construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and reiterated that the Supreme Court verdict on the Sabarimala case was misguided.
In 2017, Bhagwat claimed that many Muslims were Gau Rakshaks (cow vigilantes) too and argued that protecting cows is essential to protecting the rural agrarian economy. He also argued that Rohingyas would put pressure on jobs and emerge as a threat to national security. He claimed that there were emerging links between Rohingyas and “jihadis”. Among other issues, Bhagwat urged that constitutional amendments were urgently needed for Kashmir and that India’s economists — especially those working in NITI Aayog — must come up with “nation-specific unique models of development.”