There is more to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s decision to recall Ram Lal — on deputation in the Bharatiya Janata Party as national general secretary (Organisation) — than meets the eye.
He was there for over a decade and enjoyed a very good rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. The decision to replace him with B.L. Santosh has come at a time when the party is in the process of electing a new president. If insiders are to be believed, the line between the RSS and the BJP was getting increasingly blurred under Ram Lal’s watch, with the party’s electoral compulsions taking precedence over the Sangh’s ideology. The BJP’s ideological fountainhead wanted this line to be more distinct. Santosh is known to be an unyielding ideologue who, when he was in Karnataka, minced no words against state BJP president B.S. Yeddyurappa’s questionable ways and means in his pursuit of power.
The BJP couldn’t have missed the message in Ram Lal’s recall by the Sangh. But it should be equally mindful of the other messages coming from the Vijayawada conclave of prant pracharaks, or full-time RSS workers from states, who met for three days last week. Their deliberations in the Andhra Pradesh city give rise to a big question: by giving the entire credit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the 2019 Lok Sabha election victory, is the BJP ignoring the RSS’ contributions?
The answer is yes if one were to hear what the Sangh wanted to convey. On Saturday, RSS sah sarkaryavah or joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya told reporters that during the Lok Sabha elections, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had given a call for 100 per cent voting. “To increase voting percentage and make voters aware about voting on the basis of national issues, the Sangh’s swayamsevaks (volunteers), too, were involved in jan jagran abhiyan (public awareness mission).”
“The swayamsevaks made house-to-house contacts and held small meetings. The swayamsevaks made contacts in 4.5 lakh out of 5.5 lakh villages in the country. The swayamsevaks reached 50,000 out of 56,000 mandals (in the country) as per the Sangh’s organisational structure. Eleven lakh swayamsevaks and brothers-sisters of the society got involved in the public awareness mission…,” said Vaidya.
Read between the lines. The message is unmistakable. The RSS was detailing its contributions to election results — it deployed over a million volunteers in almost every nook and cranny of the country to tell voters about “national issues”. Now that’s only as far as a “social and cultural” organisation could go. The RSS has repeatedly asserted that it has nothing to do with politics.
BJP credits Modi for wins but RSS feels differently
What makes Vaidya’s statement so significant? It came on the concluding day of the first major meeting of the RSS after the Lok Sabha elections. The Sangh has been consistent in not giving any one person the credit for an election victory. On 23 May, when BJP leaders were frantically trying to outdo one another in crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for getting the BJP a renewed mandate, RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi issued a tepid statement: “Crores of people of Bharat are fortunate to once again have a stable government. This is the triumph of the national forces. Many compliments to each and everyone who have contributed to this victory of democracy….” The Sangh was obviously not taken in by BJP leaders’ hero-worship.
It was no different in 2014. When both BJP and opposition leaders were unanimously crediting a ‘Modi wave’ for the BJP’s unprecedented electoral success, the RSS chief chose to set the record straight, attributing it to ‘the common man wanting change’ and not to ‘some individuals’.
It’s another matter that Modi, formerly a full-time RSS pracharak, didn’t share Mohan Bhagwat’s views. In an interview to Lance Price, British author of The Modi Effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign to Transform India, the Prime Minister said that the people were chanting for “a trusted name, not a party name” and that people believed that “Modi was the only hope and wanted to see him win.” The book that contained the Prime Minister’s interview was released in 2015.
RSS-BJP equations better now than during Vajpayee rule
It’s nobody’s argument that the RSS and the BJP are at loggerheads. No, definitely not. With an RSS pracharak at the helm in the government and a former leader of its students’ wing, the ABVP, heading the party, the Sangh couldn’t wish for more. It has its volunteers posted in every minister’s office and its activists holding most of the ministerial positions.
In his Vijaydashmi speech last year, Mohan Bhagwat lamented how time was running out for the new education policy. And, hey presto, the draft policy document is presented to the new human resource development minister the day he takes charge. Right after the BJP-led government had taken over in 2014, it wanted to push labour reforms. The labour ministry started the process of amalgamating 44 central labour laws into four codes to be approved by Parliament. The moment the RSS objected, these codes were put on the back-burner.
The RSS imprint is everywhere in the government — in all its words and actions. The relations between the BJP and the RSS are far better than what it was during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. The coordination between the two is also seamless.
Timing of RSS message
Yet, the RSS’s decision to highlight its contributions to the BJP’s victory — as suggested in Manmohan Vaidya’s unambiguous statement — is significant. It’s the Sangh’s way of reiterating that the election verdict is not about an individual, but about a larger cause. Who would understand the RSS’ point of view better than Modi? The Sangh’s message, many insiders believe, is meant for the burgeoning tribe of rootless-yet-powerful BJP leaders who try to be more loyal than the king.
The message from Vijayawada has come as Modi government is taking a fresh guard, expressing willingness to bite the reforms bullet, including in the labour sector. It has come at a time when the BJP has got an aura of invincibility and an impression has been created that the RSS is feeding on the BJP and not the other way round.
It may probably also be the Sangh’s way of reminding its ideological protégé that it’s time for the fulfilment of the core agenda — the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. Bhagwat had reignited the debate on the issue last September, saying that he wanted the temple “very soon”.
The RSS’ annual report presented at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Gwalior on 8 March this year was critical of the Supreme Court for not expediting a decision on the Ayodhya land dispute case. “That the Supreme Court should find no priority for this sensitive subject associated with deep faith of Hindu society is beyond understanding. We are experiencing that Hindus are constantly being neglected,” it said.
With a former pracharak as the Prime Minister, the RSS has been playing along with the BJP and has been mindful of its political compulsions. The BJP has also reciprocated, accommodating the RSS’ concerns and interests — but, obviously, not enough.