Wednesday, 5 October, 2022
HomeOpinionPolitically CorrectBetween Vajpayee and Modi era, RSS has learnt many political lessons

Between Vajpayee and Modi era, RSS has learnt many political lessons

If during the Vajpayee government RSS showed its desperation to control its ideological protégé, the BJP, it now seeks to build on the political capital of Modi.

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Let me start this column with a teaser. Here is the itinerary of a prominent personality for the past 11 weeks, and you have to guess who he is:

Guwahati (2-5 December): A series of meetings, including with Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, during his four-day stay in a secluded ashram in Adimgiri Hills.

Guwahati (12 December): Visit to Kamakhya Temple before flying to Kolkata.

Kolkata (12-13 December): Meets intellectuals and young achievers excelling in space science, microbiology, medical sciences, etc. It was his fifth visit to West Bengal since August 2019.

Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram (29-30 December): Releases a book; meets Kerala governor.

Chennai (13-14 January): Celebrates Pongal; performs ‘gau puja’; recites a couplet from Tamil classic Tirukkural by celebrated poet Thiruvalluvar to a girl.

Coimbatore (17-19 February): Releases a book; he was in the city for three days last October.

Rings a bell? All these places are in poll-bound states. You must be wondering if it’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, or Bharatiya Janata Party chief J.P. Nadda. Given that there is so much travel in such a short span of time and that too, within the country, I guess you may have ruled out Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. All right, here is a big clue: Before leaving for Coimbatore, he visited actor and former Trinamool Congress MP Mithun Chakraborty in Mumbai.

Yes, we are talking about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. If you thought the itinerary looked like that of a busy, much sought-after politician in election time, you weren’t wrong. The RSS chief has been visiting poll-bound states as frequently as, if not more than, any politician.

It’s nobody’s case that the RSS has started indulging in politics. Because it always did and does— both directly and indirectly — notwithstanding Bhagwat’s repeated assertions that the Sangh has nothing to do with politics. There is no point starting the same RSS-and-politics debate for the millionth time. What Bhagwat’s itinerary tells us is that the Sangh has developed a better appreciation of the dynamics of political power and ideological agenda now than ever before.

Not that the RSS was ever detached from the BJP’s electoral politics. Its cadres at the grassroots have always lent a supporting hand to the BJP during elections, even if they have had strong grouses against some leaders — say, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan. But it’s also no secret that the RSS has been uneasy about Modi’s personality cult, which runs counter to its conviction that too much focus on an individual undermines the ideology in the long run. The RSS wasn’t very happy about the way it lost its veto in a government-run by its pracharak, Narendra Modi, on substantive issues.

But the way Bhagwat has thrown himself in the coming elections indicates a nuanced shift in its strategy — a subtle acknowledgment of the need for political power for its larger ideological mission.

Also read: Emperor Aurangzeb broke process of establishing Hindu-Muslim unity: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

Expansion of ideological agenda

In the current context, West Bengal and Kerala are constant reminders of RSS’ unfinished ideological agenda. MS Golwalkar, one of the principal architects of Hindutva and the second RSS chief, saw Communists, along with Muslims and Christians, as ‘internal threats’ to India and his idea of a Hindu nation.

The BJP might have decimated the Left in Tripura, but its mission remains incomplete in Kerala, where the Left is still a dominant force, and in West Bengal where the Communists, though marginalised politically, remain a force ideologically. It goes without saying that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, even without a hammer and sickle in her hands and Marx on her lips, is barely different from a Leftist. A BJP victory in West Bengal, if at all, may sound the death knell for Communists — a result that the Sangh and the BJP would treat as their homage to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the Jana Sangh founder.

The Sangh’s biggest peeve has to be Kerala where it has been fighting with the Communists since the 1940s. Way back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Golwalkar’s meetings in Kerala used to witness ‘violent disruptions’ by Communists, including one in Kozhikode where Bhagwat released a book on the RSS’ struggle in the state where hundreds of RSS-BJP workers have been killed.

Assam, of course, has a special place in the RSS’ scheme of things. The Sangh had established its base in the Northeast even before Independence. In a conversation with me last week, Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy recalled how an RSS pracharak, Ram Singh, had landed in Assam way back in 1948 but it took 68 years for the BJP (previously Jana Sangh) to come to power in the state. Incidentally, the MP’s father was one of the Jana Sangh corporators, who went on to become a two-term BJP MLA. Roy was instrumental in making the Citizenship (Amendment) Act a reality as he had initiated the legal battle against illegal immigrants in the Supreme Court and the political battle by bringing delegations of BJP leaders from Barak Valley to impress upon the central leadership the need for such a law.

As for Tamil Nadu, the RSS had its first footprints in the state way back in 1939. It couldn’t, however, gain ground in a state where Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement, with anti-Brahminism at its core, guided the political philosophy and discourse. The Sangh never gave it up though. It had the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Coimbatore, the first in its 92-year history, in 2017.

Also read: How BJP became TMC’s challenger in Bengal, wooing elite and working-class Hindus

RSS embracing Modi brand of politics

While these details explain the background for the RSS push in poll-bound states, there is also a larger narrative here. With all its reservations against personality-based politics, the Sangh is gradually realising the long-term benefits of it. If the BJP is seeking to break its image of a cow-belt party — an unfair description today given its dominance pan-India except southern states — why shouldn’t the Sangh synchronise its expansion plans in the south with the BJP? Bhagwat is doing exactly this.

The RSS has come to understand the power dynamics. If its first brush with power during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government showed its desperation to control its ideological protégé, the BJP, it’s now seeking to build on the political capital of another pracharak, Modi, for its expansion. It’s no longer snobbish about ‘outsiders’ who defected from different parties to join the BJP — as long as they help in the acquisition of power. The Sangh can reconcile itself with personality-based politics if it furthers its ideological agenda. It’s willing to let its pracharaks run the government the way they want although it can have its way on occasions, such as India’s walk out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The RSS won’t do more than making perfunctory noises about privatisation of banks or insurance firms, given how the Modi government run by its pracharaks is fulfilling its core agenda, like the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. In educational and cultural affairs, the government goes by the Sangh’s wish and command, anyway. Unlike Vajpayee’s time when Madan Das Devi, RSS joint general secretary, was the chief source of liason between the RSS and the BJP, the coordination between the two happen smoothly across verticals today— say, Mukul Kanitkar of Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal guiding education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal and Atul Jog of Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram holding the hands of tribal affairs minister Arjun Munda. Bhagwat has one-on-one meetings with Modi four-five times a year, though away from media glare.

As it is, much of the apprehension in the RSS leaders’ minds about their ideological mission getting subsumed in personality-driven politics is giving way to optimism. After all, between its two pracharaks — Vajpayee and Modi — the latter has been a much bigger ambassador of the Sangh ideology. Therefore, it makes more sense for the Sangh to synchronise its efforts with the BJP’s to ride on his popularity to expand its footprints. And that explains Bhagwat’s itinerary.

Views are personal.

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  1. With the latest imam a hind stand it has become absolutely clear the rank and file led be deshasht are depicting moribund state in their short term vision.

    They are stooping so low to be accommodating that they are condoning genocide of Hindus, asking Hindu to accept the tribal fundamentalism and creating false equivalence between dharam and majhab.

    With this mindset you become at par with gandhian philosophy which you were fighting all these years.

    Shame on you… what a travesty.

  2. This is a typical Congi/Commie commentary about RSS. The writer seems to have an accute pain in his unmentionable body part at construction of Ram Mandir at Ram Janma Bhumi in Ayodhya and dilution of Art 370 (which is nothing but rabid Islamism in disguise). The only aim of RSS is to regain the self-pride of Hindus that was lost during almost a thousand year slavery (I count the years of Congress rule also as mental slavery to expansionist Abrahamic ideologies). And thank God we are slowly regaining pride in our ancient civilisation which is far far better than the murderous desert ideologies.

  3. Mr Singh… Mohan Bhagwat was in Delhi on Feb 21, 22, 23, in Hyderabad on Feb 25, in Utnoor (Adilabad) on Feb 26. Are these poll bound states too?

  4. Excellent analysis. Nothing in it to label it as partisan. During its several decades work in the southern India, RSS and BJP tried to introduce Hindi culture in south. It’s workers also readily adopted the use of Hindi, or addressing people with the Hindi prefix Ji. BJP grew in the south only after adopting itself to recognise and respect southern languages, manners and culture. For succeeding in the TN and Kerala, RAA and BJP have to invent themselves as Tamilian and Malayalee avatars.

  5. There is a huge power vaccum after Jaya’s and Karuna’s deaths. Karuna’s son Stalin is a blithering incompetent nincompoop especially compared to his father. The people are aware of this. Tamil history, language and culture have had deeper ties with rest of the country than the Periyarists pretended to be. The recent Vel episode, and DMK furiously backpedaling on their anti hindu stand showed that their mask is slipping. Hindutva consciousness and BJP are on the ascendant. Having said all that, 2021 can go either way. But I doubt DMK will be the hegemon it used to be under Karuna. Not with a simpleton like Stalin, and loot-hungry cadres.

  6. As an organization it has been successful however idealogically it’s a mixed bag.

    To rewrite proper Indian history the first thing they should have done, fill the institutions with Indic values and centric person which till this day are dominated by community colonial slaves, tribal apologists.

    Secondly I don’t see a new vision of India coming from their ranks just a continuation of century old vision.

    Thirdly the outreach to marginalized Indic societies is minimal which can be reflected in its ranks.

    They would do well to remember the genesis of attack on jagganath temple and hope learn important lessons.

  7. People the world over are now reconciled to the fact that there are always some invisible forces/pressure groups/special interests working behind the ruling/governing structure. Those forces could be in the shape of an organization-institution or ideology (CCP-Xi Jinping; Military -Imran Khan; Business-Corporate-Donald Trump/Joe Biden; Shia Theology-Ayatollah and on and on and on). Even in countries where the rulers are absolute authoritarian, facing little or no challenges (Putin-Russia; Saudi-Kings) or very powerful and duly elected through a democratic process have to create and rely on a solid support base.
    In India, the RSS with its clear understanding of Hindu national identity have always realized that their culture and territory were run several times over first by the Islamist invaders and then by the European colonists mainly the British. Therefore, since independence, they have been working tirelessly for restoration of their stolen culture, distorted history and above all national pride. Although not declared in its manifesto, the BJP (and its earlier version Jana Sangh) has always been considered as the political wing of the RSS. The RSS cadre silently and very methodically fan out in the states where elections are likely to take place. They help build up organizations from the (election) booth level upwards — sometimes there’s no distinction between a BJP and an RSS volunteer. Now, elections after elections, the rich dividends of their hard work have been noticed.
    Visits of Mohan Bhagwat to the states where elections are forthcoming, his working relationship with the BJP big-wigs, therefore, don’t make major news. The BJP membership — with the help of the RSS — is by far the largest of any political party in the democratic world. The direct-indirect role or influence of the RSS on the BJP will always be there — with minor adjustments necessitated by the personalities of the leadership.

  8. Every member of the RSS and its affiliate is a supporter of the BJP but that does not mean that every BJP supporter is a supporter of RSS. Since NDA 1 was a coalition of 23 parties, the RSS obviously had limited roll. With Modi in power with own majority the RSS now need not be limiting itself. Modi probably has a more support on his own which makes him that much less dependent on RSS.

  9. @dksingh you are obsessed with BJP & RSS and the rest of India are not. Your obsession with BJP has blinded you to an extent that you have no other content to write other than BJP & RSS. Your OCD behavior has reached its limit.

    This means you are unable to see the world as they are and capable of thinking or worried only about BJP. Professional journalist life has lot more than BJP. Please understand.

    Please get treated ASAP and try to write something other than supporting BJP & opposing Congress.

  10. I don’t believe the RSS can ever help the BJP to gain power in Tamilnadu. Not even a single seat. The native Tamil people are too proud and acutely conscious of their own unique history, language and culture. It is impossible there to accept the RSS ideology which is Vedic-centric.

    In West Bengal yes they have good chances. The bhadralok can be influenced to jump over the fence. Money and muscle power also will work supremely in West Bengal. Kerala also not easy but it depends on how much RSS can influence the 40% Hindu population there.

    In any case it will be only election results that will tell how much the RSS has pierced through these states. And that will be interesting to watch.

    • and since when Tamil and Vedic culture became different. Is Maruthi your real name. you know the meaning or you are like Karunanidhi opposing sanskrit.

    • Too many Hindus including Tamil are stupid enough to not to recognize the threat to their culture & civilization from the Abrahmics & communists!!

      When these Abrahmic fascists will have more power, they will start killing Tamilian Hindus like Dalits, pandits & other Hindus in Pakistan/Bangladesh or even in Kashmir, Delhi or Bangalore!!

      ONLY Hindu civilization-al unity can protect them or else let them prepare for their total annihilation!!

    • One of the things people do not realize is that are large number of Tamil converts try to keep Hindu names to further their weakening of Hindus mission to facilitate soul harvesting. Siddharth Varadarajan, Venu, owner of Hindu newspaper etc. are examples of such people.

      A Shri Lankan Tamil friend of mine explained to me that people outside Tamil area don’t realize that in reality there are more converts among Tamils in Tamilnadu and Sinhalese than among Shri Lankan Tamils and many of them have obtained high profile in media & public life.

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