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Mudda panellists feel that political leaders should be careful before shooting off remarks that can be hurtful, many feel that all he meant to say was that the RSS members are physically and mentally resilient

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that his organisation had the capability to raise a force whenever the country needed it “within three days” as compared to the Army which would “take six to seven months” to accomplish the same task. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been quick to criticise the remark. RSS’ Manohan Vaidya later issued a clarification regarding Bhagwat’s statement. The BJP president, Amit Shah, refused to comment on the issue. APN’s popular TV debate Mudda discussed the controversy. Anchorperson Anant Tyagi asked questions to panellists including RSS’s Jitendra Tewari, BJP’s Ashok Thakur, Congress’ Hilal Naqvi, defence expert Col PK Sehgal, and APN consultant Govind Pant Raju.

Tewari said that the statement has been “deliberately made controversial”. He said he saw nothing objectionable in Bhagwat’s statement. He said that just as there are so many Sainik schools in the country, the RSS members, too, are fully trained to help the army.

Naqvi said it’s a shocking statement. “When did Sangh get the permission to handle weapons? The nation is now scared, how come these people have the authorisation and the ability to handle serious weaponry? The army is fighting the enemy in J&K and the Northeast; such statements are demoralising the forces.”

Tewari said people are needlessly trying to look for different meanings.

Col Sehgal said he knows Bhagwat, all he meant to say was that the RSS members are physically and mentally resilient. Bhagwat’s statements are frequently criticised, he added.

Tewari said Bhagwat has qualified his statement with the words, “if needed”, and hence has not belittled the army. Naqvi interjected to say that Tewari should listen to the statement again. Tewari said, “Col Sehgal has already clarified Bhagwat’s statement, so why should we keep going round and round in circles?” He said help is required not just in weaponry but in many other tasks, and that is where the RSS members can pitch in. Naqvi said, Bhagwat mentioned a “war situation”, so how can RSS help in war?

Raju said that it’s a boastful remark. Bhagwat is a hugely competent and intelligent person; he was addressing an RSS meeting so he must have got carried away. He should have limited his speech to RSS work, and not thrown up a remark that now looks like a challenge to the army. “If his statement was so simple, the BJP spokesperson should not have said that he needed to listen to the remark to comment on it.  The remark may be innocent or it may be deliberately insidious,” he said, adding that “statements of this kind affect the morale of the army”.

Tewari said Bhagwat has not indulged in any “boastful or loose talk” and his remark has been politicised.  He said in 1962, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had himself lauded the Sangh.

Naqvi said it was Bhagwat who made the controversial remark, so how come Tewari is accusing the opposition of raking up a controversy.

Col Sehgal said the army is ready and fully competent but if the RSS offers help, even they would take about six months to learn the army artillery systems and so on. It is just that they have the mental resilience that is an important prerequisite. He said Bhagwat should not have made such a remark, or should have carefully worded his remark, so that there is no room for controversy. He said that in three days, no country can prepare a modern force that needs cyber-training, field craft and training on other such technicalities.

Thakur said Bhagwat had no intention to lower the army’s morale, on the other hand his intention was to boost it. He said the Sena can provide back-up force and reinforcements. What about strategic skills required for the job, Anant asked. Thakur shot back: “I was in the Indian Air Force and have been in the Kargil war, so I know what I am saying.”

Naqvi insisted that Bhagwat had compared the army’s competence with that of the RSS, and that this is objectionable

Col Sehgal kept saying that it is a non-issue. Naqvi said that being in the army, Col Sehgal should not be supporting the statement. Col Sehgal added that Bhagwat probably meant that the RSS had disciplined manpower in an emergency.

Raju lamented what he described as “below-the-belt tactics” used by panellists on the show. “Why mention Rahul Gandhi’s degree? This is not a platform to settle political scores. Bhagwat’s remark was not a simple statement, and political leaders should know what they are talking about,” he said.

Compiled by Niti Singh Bhandari

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