Thursday, November 12, 2009

A shift in position (November 13, 2009)

The RSS needs to rediscover the India of the 21st century

By Swapan Dasgupta

Last week, eyebrows were raised over yet another media appearance by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief, Mohan Rao Bhagwat. This time, the fuss centred on his categorical public announcement that the next national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be a Delhi-based leader, and that L.K. Advani would soon relinquish his post as leader of the Opposition. Fortuitously for the Indian foreign policy establishment, his prognosis that Pakistan and Afghanistan “are a part of us and will return one day” did not arouse corresponding attention.

That a person who is not a primary member of the BJP could presume to lay down the line and blackball the party’s four prominent second-rung faces has profound ramifications. It suggests that the RSS has not merely acquired control over the decision-making of the BJP but is no longer squeamish about saying so openly. The niceties and the elaborate protocol that earlier marked the RSS’s expression of interest in specific decisions of the BJP have been replaced by an in-your-face flaunting of the political role of a so-called “socio-cultural organization”. The whispered “request from the Sangh” that earlier influenced the odd selection of candidates and office-bearers has been replaced by a command-and-control regime.

Nor does the exercise of control depend on a three-line whip to professional politicians. Since the advent of Rajnath Singh in 2005, the RSS has strategically placed its full-timers in crucial organizational posts in the belief that politicians with an eye on electoral politics are incapable of institution-building. Whereas in the 1990s the RSS despatched only a dozen or so full-timers on deputation to the BJP, their numbers are in the region of 350 today. Apart from the state organizing secretaries whose identities are prominently displayed on the BJP website, these include large numbers of district sangathan mantri who form the nucleus of a parallel party organization in the localities. In the words of a BJP leader, many of those entrusted with organizational responsibilities are “unfit to be employed as primary school teachers.”

In the past, the RSS was very wary of involvement in the political arena, seeing it as a corrupting influence and a diversion from the organization’s priority of injecting nationalism into civil society. RSS old-timers were fond of comparing the role of politics in society to the toilet in a household: a necessity but hardly something to be showcased. Today, these inhibitions have been set aside and there now appears to be a marked enthusiasm among full-timers to be deputed to the BJP. Compared to the other ‘fraternal’ organizations of the RSS, such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, there is glamour and self-importance attached to rubbing shoulders with the political class. Predictably, some of the lifestyle distortions that come with exercising authority and hobnobbing with political power are evident among the full-timers. The joke in political circles is that the RSS full-timer is extremely malleable and is easily won over by modest ‘gifts’ that range from mobile phones, stitched kurta-pyjamas, air conditioners and a good, home cooked, vegetarian meal — a case, as one ‘fixer’ called it, of “low investments and high returns”.

What has compounded the problem is the RSS’s brazen non-accountability to the party. It is remarkable that despite holding positions of authority in the BJP, the pracharaks on deputation are neither appointed nor can they be removed by the BJP state and national presidents. A few months ago, the president of the West Bengal BJP did something inconceivable: he issued a show-cause to the local RSS-appointed sangathan mantri. The outcome was predictable: the state president was peremptorily sacked by the national president for his audacity. Likewise in Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje successfully secured the removal of a disruptive organizing secretary. But, as a quid pro quo, the RSS demanded Raje’s removal as leader of the Opposition, despite the fact that a majority of the members of the legislative assembly was backing her. She resisted her removal for nearly three months, but ultimately had to succumb. Once again, Rajnath Singh played the part of an obliging executioner.

RSS full-timers in the BJP are spared the obligations of ordinary members. A 2005 amendment to the BJP constitution stipulated that a sangathan mantri was ineligible to contest elections. Since endorsement by the electorate is the basis of politics, the RSS appears to have insulated itself from the principle of popular endorsement. It is this detachment from the numbers game, without which democracy is meaningless, that explains the RSS’s obsession with ‘ideology’, the shorthand for the pursuit of abstruse and cranky themes. It may also explain why mass leaders such as Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Narendra Modi, Vasundhara Raje and B.C. Khanduri have been at loggerheads with the RSS.

A small example may illustrate the distance that separates the RSS from the mass politician. In its manifesto for the Haryana assembly election held last month, the BJP included an assurance to ban “Western music and vulgarity” in the unlikely event it was voted to power. The manifesto, which had apparently been drafted by a local RSS ‘intellectual’, took the BJP completely by surprise. Confronted by the ridiculous imagery of motorists switching off alien sounds the moment their cars crossed the Gurgaon toll bridge from Delhi, a red-faced BJP had to issue clarifications and denials. Later, when some national leaders enquired from the state unit why the absurd promise had been inserted in the first place, they were given an ingenuous explanation. The production of milk in Haryana, it was claimed, had suffered because cows were disturbed by loud disco music in villages!

There is a huge gulf that separates the RSS’s priorities and the BJP’s perception of politics — though there are moments of convergence. The world view of the RSS leadership is shaped primarily by interactions with its own full-timers and lay swayamsevaks. It’s a relationship shaped by two factors: unflinching faith in the sangh’s role as the vanguard of Hindu resurgence and timeless certitudes. A remarkable degree of group solidarity— including a very distinctive use of language — has contributed to a ‘groupthink’ and discouraged scepticism and inquiry in the sangh. The RSS has nurtured an enviable degree of loyalty and dedication among its followers but its efficacy has been tempered by an inability to engage with ‘non-believers’. From being an instrument of Hindu re-awakening, it has become a variant of the Freemasons, a self-aggrandizing brotherhood.

This distortion is at the heart of the RSS’s desperation to control the BJP. In the past 15 years, the BJP has outgrown the RSS. It is the country’s premier Opposition party with a stake in at least eight state governments and umpteen district bodies and municipalities. Its social reach far exceeds that of the RSS’s. More important, the BJP has acquired relevance at a time the RSS is declining in its traditional catchment areas. Lifestyle shifts fuelled by prosperity, cosmopolitanism and leisure have made the daily bout of callisthenics less appealing to pre-pubescent Hindu boys. And yet, there is no direct correlation between the RSS’s diminishing appeal and the fortunes of the BJP. It’s only after the RSS decided the BJP was its exclusive charge that both graphs showed a southward incline.

It takes decades of good politics and sensible leadership to build a national party; it takes a few well-publicized acts of misguided zeal to demolish it. Bhagwat has got his diagnosis wrong. It’s not the BJP that needs either chemotherapy or surgery; plain detoxification will be sufficient. It’s the RSS that needs to discover the India of the 21st century.

The Telegraph, November 13, 2009


psudo said...

Without RSS , BJP is just like another congress, most of the Non RSS leaders are massively corrupt and responsible for current state of BJP. I don’t know on what basis you say BJP is independent entity. Most of the people support BJP because of RSS ideology( if any one supports BJP because of ideology)

psudo said...

You Say It may also explain why mass leaders such as Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Narendra Modi, Vasundhara Raje and B.C. Khanduri have been at loggerheads with the RSS.
I dont think Modi is at loggerheads with RSS. I think Modi would be propped by Bhangwat for RSS chief.
You sayBut, as a quid pro quo, the RSS demanded Raje’s removal as leader of the Opposition, despite the fact that a majority of the members of the legislative assembly was backing her. She resisted her removal for nearly three months, but ultimately had to succumb. Once again, Rajnath Singh played the part of an obliging executioner.
So people should ignore corruption charges , just because she has support for 70 odd MLA's. Why dont you guys in BJP undersatand CORRUPTION is your biggest enemy.

Common Hindu said...

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Sumanth said...

Yes sir I agree with you,Eventhough I am from RSS and I even attend the regular week end shakhas.RSS must act as an independent entitiy it should not involve in BJP's day to day affairs.I fully agree with you Swapan das ji. Why BJP is still sleeping I don't know.India needs a good and modern BJP .

Truth Hurts said...

I'm a BJP supporter but I've the same views abt frozen-in-the-past chaddiwalahs..ek toh intellectualy duffer hai..aur apne barwi pass dasvi pass gao ke gawar pracharako ko party par thopte hai...these Neanderthals have gone mad..but BJP has itself to blame for RSS takeover coz they created such a situation that RSS has no option left..with the likes of ideological-for-votes, morally bankrupt, publicity hungry netas likes Jaitley, Sushma, Rajnath, Rudy, Prasad, nauseating Advani BJP has no short rationality suggests a bad news for India, Hindus and Indian right: BJP is over, it's dead.

Pradeep said...

Swapan da, Your position on issues related to BJP's internal issues that are linked to the political survival of your friend Arun Jaitley and a few others is completely against the ground realities and opinions of BJP Workers.
Firstly, you have been arguing that BJP is not in touch with 21st Century new and young India,
I have a few questions to ask you on this.
1. when BJP led NDA was in power at Centre, it introduced new Cabinet Ministry " Disinvestment Ministry" was this keeping the views and aspirations your 21st century India, or old, struck in 1990's RSS?
2. BJP executed Golden Quadrilateral Project,was this keeping the views and aspirations your 21st century India, or old, struck in 1990's RSS?
3. BJP setup many new IITs and IIMs, was this keeping the views and aspirations your 21st century India, or old, struck in 1990's RSS?
4. Pokhran 2, was this not hailed by new young India, was this the pet project of RSS?
5. Sarva Saaksharatha Abhiyan's "School Chale Hum" was the most popular non film song in those days, was this in favor of New India or a hidden agenda of the Sangh?
6. Dis BJP's Shining India campaign created and led by your so called prominant second rung leaders depicted RSS ideology and priorities, or depicted the aspirations of 21st century India?
7.Did RSS at anytime oppose all these above mentioned achievements of BJP?
8.Mr Advani started his own blog 1 year prior to 2009 General elections, was this an effort to reach out 21st century of India, ot teach out to RSS activists?
9. BJP's Menifestos for 2004 & 2009 Elections targeted 21st Century India's Urban middle class or RSS supported middle class?
10. Arun Jaitley led Friends of BJP during 2009 elections an effort to reach out to 21st Century India, or time stuck RSS Pracharaks?

Anonymous said...

SD is now an HMV of Arun Jaitley - so sad.

Rajarshi said...


A beautiful article and I agree with you about the trouble starting from RSS rather than the BJP. In my opnion, the issue ultimately boils down to effectiveness at what you are doing.

I am convinced that people voted for BJP in the 90's not so much for its "Hindutva" but because it promised a better outlook of the country - strong sense of nationalism and lesser corruption and pandering to privileged classes. Advani and others had a image of "gettings things done".

What has led to the current disarray is the lack of smart people in the RSS/BJP. Look at Bengal. Noone gives a damn about Hindutva in Bengal because traditionally Bengali Hindus have been highly secular and non-religious. Here, if the BJP/RSS uses issues of governance, getting stuff done on time, it would help the cause of RSS a long way.

It seems that both RSS/BJP is having to fight to showcase their own ideology; trouble is non-Hindutva inclined people dont give a damn for that. So what is the alternative ? Talk sense and get jobs done. In BJP ruled states, you cannot have people fighting like BSY and the Reddy's. Same with RSS - you have to talk sense. Half the time they talk in Sanskritised Hindi that few Indians follow. Now, people with RSS leanings will understand the beauty of Sanskrit - what about others who hardly cared. They'll instantly be put off by the use of highly pretentious languauge. This is the primary grudge youth have about the RSS.

Ultimately, it boils down to doing the simple things right, and leave the rest in God's hand. At the present moment, it seems the secular Congress is following the Gita to a greater extent than Its original practitioners...