Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, in a recent interview, spoke of something that would have broken a particular stereotype that the Western liberal space—specifically media and academia—has of this organisation as well as of the ruling party of India. The stereotype of “anti progress, radical, right-wing nationalists of the Hindu variety”. The reference is to Mr Bhagwat’s assertion that the LGBT community has the right to have its “private space” and be a part of Indian society. “People with such proclivities have always been there; for as long as humans have existed… This is biological, a mode of life. We want them to have their own private space and to feel that they, too, are a part of the society. This is such a simple issue. We will have to promote this view because all other ways of resolving it will be futile,” he said. “Without much hullabaloo, we have found a way with a humane approach to provide them social acceptance,” he added. Coming from the chief of the RSS, the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, this statement is immensely significant. Even though homosexuality is legal in India, the LGBT community is still struggling to find acceptance in a society that is largely conservative. Homosexuality is still regarded as going against Indian family values and cultural ethos. Ironically, the LGBTQ community was an accepted part of India’s ancient culture, as depicted, for instance, in the epic Mahabharata through the character of Shikhandi, or through temple sculptures. What was considered natural thousands of years ago, has come to be considered unnatural in our “enlightened and modern” age. Hence, given the opposition that exists to this community in the 21st century, for Mohan Bhagwat to express such views is not only progressive and reformist but also courageous. He is giving a clear direction in which society should move. Lest it be forgotten, even the BJP government at the Centre has opposed same-sex marriage in court. Now that the government is getting ready to reply to the Supreme Court on petitions seeking the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is hoped that by taking inspiration from Mr Bhagwat, it will reverse its stand on the subject.
Now contrast this with what the American right is doing about LGBTQ rights in the United States. Post the overturning of abortion rights by the US Supreme Court, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is getting more pronounced among elected Republicans, some of whom are now seeking to roll back the law allowing marriage between homosexuals. While what the US does is its problem, it becomes India’s problem when the mainstream media and commentators who occupy the so-called liberal space in the West, start boxing the Indian right and India’s majority community—because they are voting for the “right”—into a preconceived template they have about what the right (or even centrist) side of the spectrum is supposed to be. The result is the spinning of a toxic narrative that is meant to hurt India globally, by portraying it as a medieval nation which is a cauldron of hatred and always on the brink of violence. Take the example of abortion, which is a hugely contentious issue in the US, and divides Americans along ideological lines, with the right-wing largely against it. Contrast this with India, where abortion is a non-issue. Women in India were given the right to safe and legal abortion over 50 years ago and till date there is no opposition to it. Then take the example of science. The left-liberals in the West would have the world believe that those who are socially conservative are also anti-science and anti-vaccine. No wonder, transposing that template to India, some western journalists were busy searching for an anti-vaxxer movement here, while poring over every statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to find anything remotely anti-science, during the Covid waves. That India couldn’t be more different from the West became clear during the vaccination drive piloted by PM Modi, when over two billion doses were administered in India, which went a long way in helping Indians develop immunity to SARS-COV2. That India’s humungous population, with near-zero fuss queued up at vaccination centres, was largely because of the strong leadership of the Prime Minister—the “right-wing Hindu nationalist” according to the West. In fact, if there is one thing that can be described as one of the main pillars of Prime Minister Modi’s governance, it is the focus on science and technology. A manifestation of this is Digital India, because of which India is the leader in digital payments worldwide, registering 20.5 billion transactions in just one quarter in 2022.
That the western liberal opinion makers and information disseminators do not understand this, shows how ignorant and tone deaf they are to the transformation taking place in India, as it rises on the global stage. Stuck in their convenient and lazy groove they are missing out on the India story—the story of a country whose time has come. As for Mr Bhagwat, kudos to him for making such progressive thoughts public.