New Delhi: One out of five BJP MPs associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were appointed as ministers in the Narendra Modi cabinet 2019 but this ratio is 1:14 for party MPs who do not have a Sangh background.
Simply put, parliamentarians with an RSS background had three times better ministerial prospects than the others, a fact that aspiring ministers should bear in mind amid speculation about a possible revamp of Team Modi.
It should come as no surprise, though, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a former RSS pracharak himself. The No.2 in the government, Home Minister and former BJP president Amit Shah, was also associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the RSS’ students wing. It also explains the influence of the Sangh ideology on government policies.
Of the 53 ministers from the BJP in the Modi government, 38 have a Sangh background — 71 per cent of the total. This figure stood at 62 per cent in Modi’s first term when 41 of the 66 BJP ministers who had taken oath in 2014 were from the RSS.
The prime minister has, however, assigned several key portfolios to ministers who don’t have an RSS background, including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman, Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Power Minister R.K. Singh.
A senior BJP leader played down the connection.
“Having an affiliation with the RSS is not a criterion to become a minister,” the leader said. “The PM and senior leadership take a call on this. To say someone is being promoted merely because they have links with the RSS is not a fair comment.”
The view was echoed by an RSS functionary. “The RSS has no role in deciding tickets for the party or deciding the portfolio. At the same time, RSS only believes in two things — there are those who are already with us and those who are yet to come under the fold,” the functionary said.
“As far as BJP leaders are concerned, Sushma Swaraj had no RSS background but she held important positions and even Jaswant Singh didn’t. So these categorisations are not correct.”
The Sangh footprint
Despite such protestations, the Sangh’s footprint on the Modi government is evident.
Of the 303 BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha, 146 or 48 per cent have an affiliation to the RSS. In the Rajya Sabha, of its 82 MPs, the BJP has 34 with links to the Sangh.
Such links are increasingly visible in the decision-making of the government as well.
For instance, a separate Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries was created in Modi 2.0, a suggestion that has chiefly emerged from the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). Besides, the National Education Policy (NEP) also lists numerous suggestions in the draft policy from Sangh-affiliated organisations.
Prior to the Lok Sabha elections last year, after pressure mounted by the RSS and VHP, the BJP government had asked the Supreme Court to expedite the Ayodhya title dispute case.
“The government wants to promote those who have ideological integrity. Compared to the previous Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, which didn’t enjoy a full majority, the Modi dispensation has made it quite clear that it is a government that has no qualms in furthering the Sangh agenda,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a writer and journalist based in Delhi.
“Right from the PM, home minister and defence minister, all have an RSS background. The fact that there are more ministers from RSS background is also because this is the government’s way to integrate the Sangh Parivar in a better way so that there are no divisions,” added Mukhopadhyay who has written the books The RSS — Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times.
Suhas Palshikar, who taught political science at Savitribai Phule Pune University, said the situation at the time of the Vajpayee government was very different because it was a coalition.
“I believe if we compare this with the Vajpayee government the situation might be different probably because it was a coalition government. As far as Modi government is concerned, we see a very specific relationship with the RSS, and their agenda is taken up by the government,” said Palshikar.
“As far as ministers are concerned, one may see those with an RSS background occupying important portfolios too. It is this unique situation between an organisation and a party where it is difficult to say who is controlling whom, but their agendas are definitely complementary and so are their political projects.”
In the cabinet
The most important panel in the Modi cabinet, the cabinet committee on security (CCS), is dominated by the Sangh but does have two non-RSS members — Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. The committee is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and also has Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath, all from the Sangh Parivar.
The cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA), the second most important ministerial panel, is also dominated by those with RSS backgrounds. The committee consists of Rajnath Singh, Shah, Nitin Gadkari, D.V. Sadanand Gowda, Narendra Singh Tomar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan all of whom have links to the RSS. The only exceptions are, once again, Sitharaman and Jaishankar.
Where the link is really evident is in the RSS’ core interests of education, culture and labour. All of these portfolios are handled by ministers with close ties to the organisation — Ramesh Pokhriyal, Prahlad Singh Patel and Santosh Gangwar respectively.