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Bhagwat feels RSS can do the Army's job: Political storm erupts over remark

Archis Mohan and PTI/New Delhi/Srinagar 12 Feb 18 | 10:20 PM

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

The Congress and other Opposition parties on Monday demanded an apology from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat for his reported remarks on the Indian Army, while the Sangh issued a statement where it said the remarks of its chief had been misinterpreted.

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In Jammu & Kashmir, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti reiterated her appeal for an India-Pakistan dialogue to end the violence in the state, even as a gunfight raged between terrorists and security forces in Srinagar. The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba has claimed responsibility for the attack on the CRPF camp. The heavily armed militants tried to strike the CRPF camp, located very close to SMHS Hospital, from where Lashkar-e-Taiba militant Naveed Jutt alias Abu Hanzala, was freed from police custody by terrorists on February 6. The incident comes two days after Jaish-e-Mohammad militants attacked an Army camp in the Sunjwan area of Jammu, killing six people, including five soldiers.

As for the controversy over Bhagwat’s remarks, RSS publicity chief Manmohan Vaidya said in a statement its chief’s remarks at an RSS workers meet in Bihar on Sunday were made as a comparison between common people and Sangh volunteers (swayamsevaks) and were in “no way a comparison" with the Indian Army.

Bhagwat's reported remarks that the RSS could “prepare" military personnel faster than the Army were criticised by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the Trinamool Congress and other Opposition parties. The Trinamool also slammed Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju for defending Bhagwat’s remarks.

In Agartala, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) General Secretary Ram Madhav, who has served in the RSS, said Bhagwat might have made the comments to highlight the Sangh’s state of readiness. “RSS volunteers are always willing to stand with the Army for the nation’s security," Madhav said.

Asked about Bhagwat's comments at a press conference, BJP President Amit Shah said he had heard of them only through social media and would react after getting to know what Bhagwat had said exactly. Shah rejected the Opposition’s criticism of the Centre and the J&K governments, following a terror attack on an Army camp in Sunjwan. He said more terrorists were killed under the Narendra Modi government’s tenure than any other over the same period of time. 

Targeting Bhagwat for his remarks, the Congress president tweeted, “The RSS chief's speech is an insult to every Indian, because it disrespects those who have died for our nation. It is an insult to our flag because it insults every soldier who ever saluted it. Shame on you! Mr Bhagwat for disrespecting our martyrs and our Army. #ApologiseRSS." 

In Bhagwat’s defence, MoS for Home Kiren Rijiju tweeted that, “Bhagwat had only said it takes 6-7 months for a person to be a trained soldier and if  the Constitution permits RSS cadres have the ability to contribute."

“A minister of the government is supporting and defending the RSS. Kiren Rijiju is not a minister of state (MoS) but a minister of Sangh," Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien said. He said it had become “even more evident" that the government was being “remote-controlled" by the Sangh.

O’Brien also drew attention to the incident in Kolkata where the DG BSF K K Sharma had, in uniform, reportedly attended a conference on border security conducted by an RSS-affiliated organisation. 

"Every constitutional institution is becoming marginalised. Raj Bhavans have now become shakhas and some governors have become RSS pracharaks. 

The Tripura Governor has become another troll army of the RSS," O'Brien alleged. He said his party would give notices in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on what it called the "breakdown of constitutional institutions" in the second half of the Budget session of Parliament. O’Brien said the BJP had realised that they had "lost the narrative on real issues, they are trying to capture the constitutional institutions, including the government and Parliament".

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said nations that had allowed private militias and military outfits independent of the country's armed forces to fight for it had come to grief. He pointed to the examples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Congo, and said India could not allow such a development.

"The RSS chief's statement is a direct insult to the Indian armed forces by claiming that in the eventuality of a battle, the RSS can mobilise itself in three days while the Indian Army will take six to seven months," Sharma said. He asked the Prime Minister to clarify on the issue.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said the Army should be kept beyond politics. “Let us not compare a bunch of young people with bamboo sticks and khaki shorts to the Army," he said. 

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