Skip to main content

Extent of BJP's 'dependence' on RSS for communal polity as it turns into mass party

By Anand K Sahay*

Recent observations on India’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic emanating from the highest levels of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -- praised by many as a selfless, nationalist outfit given to social service, and denounced as a “fascist” or “militarist” body by a range of critics -- have left the country mystified. This is because the RSS is the inspiration behind the founding of the BJP.
RSS can obfuscate, speak assertively, but also as a ventriloquist, when needed. It works in a bamboo curtain kind of an inner culture. As is the case with China’s power pyramid, words coming out of the RSS headquarters lend themselves to multiple plausible meanings.
Probably this is because the organisation has been suppressed in certain periods like after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, but also because before the rise of BJP to power, it had sought to play down its ambition that its creation should proceed to capture power.
Now that the BJP is at the pinnacle of political power and not any rival, the RSS should no longer have to deploy the artifice of stealth in negotiating relations with the holders of national power. But here lies the irony: although the BJP, the election-fighting instrument it created, is in power in New Delhi, the RSS still appears to be careful in the way it says things out aloud. Reasons are up for speculation.
However, in the context of the Modi government’s conspicuous failure to deal with Covid phase two, as well as its striking failure to offer the country hope- with crematoriums and graveyards becoming increasingly out of reach, oxygen, medicines and hospital beds running short, and hundreds of (presumably Hindu) corpses floating downstream from UP in the holy River Ganga- the top RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat’s piercing words- although couched in calm delivery- may give the regime cause for anxiety.
On May 15, winding up the several days long lecture series entitled “Positivity Unbounded” sponsored by the RSS, its chief Mohan Bhagwat gave a pep talk on “collectively” facing the present “difficult” times, when there might be a death in every family one may know, and go into a fight-back mode against the virus instead. But he also said, “The people, the administration, the government each got into gaflat!” In other words, they goofed up; they failed to gauge the situation and respond appropriately.
These may have been the words of an opposition leader, except that they weren’t. The RSS no doubt intends that the Modi government regain its composure, and is ready to help to that end. But perhaps there is also something else implied here: There is no immediate rush. But should there be a run on the bank, the RSS may prefer to be forearmed.
Some state elections are due next year, including in UP, the biggest state in the country where the BJP did far from well in the recent panchayat polls. If popular disenchantment surfaces in a big way in voting behavior in the Assembly election early next year UP, which sends up the largest contingent of BJP MPs, the RSS is not likely to settle down to regard the situation with equanimity.
And the way to prepare for any eventuality may be to start cultivating the ground from now to be able to guide key changes in the top tier of government if push came to shove. All of this must be done in good time and none of this can be spelled out. But it is hard to miss that a new particle now hangs in the air.
Through one policy disaster after another -- demonetisation, GST roll-out, the sapping farmers’ agitation (which continues), the disconcerting unemployment graph -- the RSS stood four square behind the present dispensation. But the Covid disaster, leading to corpses being floated down the holiest river for Hindus, is a different matter- indeed a different kind of matter.
In a recent newspaper article, a senior RSS figure, Ram Madhav, who until not long ago was a BJP general secretary, asked the “political leadership” -- which now means the top government leadership-- to show “a little more transparency, a little more engagement with the public, and a little more openness to constructive criticism and enlightened expert opinion from outside the government… After all, the lives of millions of people are at stake.” It does seem that the RSS is signalling that all is not well.
Wearing BJP colours, two RSS “pracharaks” or full-time volunteers dedicated to the spread of Hindu nationalism in a country of many religions and spiritual mores, have made it to the top. But Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, had framed a very different relationship with the mother organization- the RSS- upon becoming Prime Minister.
PM Modi has been on the whole solicitous, his BJP predecessor in office was more correct, rather than deferential. A part of the reason may have been that his government had to depend on a host of secular coalition partners for survival. Speculation still abounds on this issue, but it’s evident that the relationship between the BJP and the RSS is not a carefully studied subject.
While well-known research studies exist on the RSS itself, the sociology of the organization, its inner workings, and the way it seeks to articulate power in relation to the BJP (earlier the Bhartiya Jan Sangh) and influence in Hindu society more generally, has not been adequately studied. The extant literature is mostly in the nature of self-serving propaganda, hagiography, or trenchant criticism from critics.
The Jana Sangh was created under RSS aegis in 951, and the BJP in 1980. Both were the same thing in spirit. However, at no point did the Jana Sangh wield national power or become a mass party. The RSS, its creator, was the shadow that loomed over it. The spirit of the RSS is the fountainhead of the culture and organisation of the BJP too.
But the BJP has become something of a mass party. It has acquired power at the Centre for which it does not depend on allies. Therefore, its government and leadership may not be a pushover if the RSS showed displeasure.
On the other hand, BJP cannot fail to notice that it is the spread of the RSS itself in a communalized polity that has ineluctably promoted BJP’s rise as a mass party. At every level of the party and government, the levers are in the hands of RSS personnel.
It is evident that the RSS-BJP leadership is shot through with contradictions. What factors give one the upper hand and not the other, at a time when the BJP holds national power, is a complex subject and needs attention. Which entity will prevail is a matter of great interest to the country.
---
*Senior journalist based in Delhi. A version of this article first appeared in Asian Age

Comments

TRENDING

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Inaccurate gender-relevant data 'spoiling' government policy on Covid social impact

By Simi Mehta*  The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across vulnerable groups. They were hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it was accessibility to medical treatment or financial support. The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where one can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Flamboyant 'demagogues' adjust politics, personality in shadow of democracy

Modi, Erdogan, Bolsonaro By Ajit Singh The terms dictators and demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts, but there is a difference. The former rule over a totalitarian states where governments are able to exercise complete influence over every aspect of citizens’ life, whereas the latter are a "wannabe dictators" but due to the system of checks and balances they are are not fully capable to create police states.

2002 riots: Gujarat assembly 'misinformed' about dereliction of duty, says ex-DGP

By Rajiv Shah  Former Gujarat topcop RB Sreekumar, an IPS officer of the 1971 batch, has alleged that the Gujarat government gave “totally false information” on the floor of the State Assembly regarding the appeal he made to the Gujarat governor for the “initiation of departmental action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of public order and investigation of genocidal crimes” during the 2002 riots.

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk  A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catholic women warn: Kerala Bishop turning Church into puppet in political games

Counterview Desk A group of Catholic women under the banner Concerned Catholic Women of India has said that they are deeply concerned over "a bishop’s controversial statement" which may threaten communal harmony in India. As many as 89 Catholic women from across India have urged the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and its Kerala unit to take special steps to "foster peace and avoid strife."

Odisha bauxite mining project to 'devastate' life of 2,500 Adivasi, Dalit farmers: NAPM

Counterview Desk  While the public hearing on mining in Mali hills has been cancelled due to protests by Adivasi and Dalit farmers of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, Odisha, who have been protesting against the proposed bauxite mining project, India’s top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said it is “deeply concerned” at the decision of the Government of Odisha to push the project in a Schedule-V Adivasi-belt Koraput district against the interests of the people and environment.