New Delhi: Ultimately, Asaram is answerable to his devotees, and they should take issue with his grossly insensitive comments against the gang-rape victim, who shall continue to remain nameless for this magazine. Among the so-called god-men who infest modernizing, urbanizing India, he is one of the more unsavoury, with vast holdings and a vaster following, and it is imperative to keep the media spotlight focused on his dark doings.

The case with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha chief, Mohan Bhagwat’s untimely and nasty utterances in the context of the rape and murder tragedy is different, and altogether more serious. As the progenitor of one of the two of India’s mainstream parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party, being also its ideological overseer, all-powerful controller, and arbiter of its destiny, the RSS has national responsibilities which are ill-served by the regressive disposition of the Sarsanghachalak and other senior functionaries. An expression of regret from the RSS to the people of India and particularly to women is overdue.

Whilst the RSS, rightly or wrongly, is often pilloried on the minority question, this papers over gaps in its ideology, orientation and thinking on some other issues, including economics and gender matters. Aside from its wooly-headed Swadeshi preferment and demands for autarchy, the RSS has not arrived at a cogent understanding of the correct mix of economic policies for India with a great pool of entrepreneurs. It has, of course, not helped matters that a government headed by a star economist has marched the country headlong into a financial and economic crisis from which early redemption seems impossible. And despite the RSS’s and the liberal intelligentsia’s worst attempts to run him down, A.B.Vajpayee gave India one of its best runs of growth and prosperity, and it did shine, whatever the critics might say.

The tragedy is that Vajpayee is no more in public life to guide the country out of its present economic wretchedness, nor is he in any position to counter the misogynistic poison of Mohan Bhagwat. In his gentle, inimitable style, Vajpayee would have put the RSS chief in his place without giving offence. You would have had a retinue of RSS leaders going up to placate Vajpayee, and it would have ended with the inevitable photo-opportunity with Bhagwat, with one of them looking humbled. The message would have gone out loud and clear that the RSS was contrite. It would have served as an apology.

The RSS’s domination of the BJP today is on account of absent tall statesmen like Vajpayee. It was said when Rajinder Singh retired and V.S.Sudershan took over that Vajpayee and L.K.Advani by virtue of being senior to him in the Sangha Parivar would tip the balance. Till Vajpayee was active, that was the case, although he had to make tactical withdrawals now and again in the interest of his government. But by his overweening ambitions and his failure at the 2009 election, Advani conceded BJP to the RSS in ways unheard of when Vajpayee was in control, which is why you witness the spectacle of BJP spokespersons defending the indefensible of Mohan Bhagwat. Embarrassed and perhaps horrified by his statements, BJP central leaders like Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have gone into silence mode. Unless the BJP fights back, it will be an uphill task to restore its moth-eaten mainstream status especially among the urban young, who are anyway estranged from the party for its failure of direct street engagement on the rape tragedy.

Fulltime RSS volunteer-leaders are forever crisscrossing the country, enduring the cheapest second-class railway journeys to distant corners of India in their organizational work. Most likely to shun hotels, they stay with families, which strengthen Sangha bonds all across, and aims at giving a rounded view of society to these bachelor-leaders. In a small way, it compensates for the RSS being a brotherhood where women are not admitted. The RSS does not have a women’s wing although the unaffiliated Rashtriya Sevika Samiti has lately been represented as such. At the least for a RSS chief who has presumably extensively travelled throughout the country, it is unconscionable and unacceptable to insert the India-Bharat distinction into the rape issue. Rape is rape. There is no justification for it. The issue in all its myriad complexities has been wonderfully summed up by the feminist activist and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, Nivedita Menon, in an interview today.

The RSS never wanted the BJP’s forerunner, the Jana Sangha, to be conceived. The unwanted child of the Parivar must have to fight for its life and identity now.