The manner in which the RSS poster boy in Haryana faltered in the face of the recent Jat agitation tells us a lot about the qualities of a swayamsewak
Recently, the Indian Express published its annual list of the hundred most powerful people in the country. Mohan Bhagwat, the sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is judged to be the forceful occupant of the number two slot, just a notch below Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but above the president of the ruling party, the BJP, and also above the very influential finance minister, Arun Jaitley. That should make Mohan Bhagwat the most potent extra-constitutional authority.
This is a welcome development.
No longer does the RSS or the BJP claim that the Nagpur-based outfit is just a cultural organisation. Though the saffron outfit has not yet subjected itself to the Election Commission of India’s jurisdiction, gone is the pious hypocrisy about its non-involvement in electoral politics. Now it is very deeply enmeshed in the intrigues and intricacies of power politics and all its unsavoury demands.
In the RSS-inspired theology, the khaki-shorts and black caps wallahs belong to a super-nationalist elite, driven only by undiminished idealism and unquenchable love for mother India; that this elite membership is in itself sufficient to infuse qualities of wisdom and sagacity; the tautological corollary is that its membership equips a swayamsevak more than adequately to undertake any administrative role and responsibility.
Well, last month this myth was shattered into a thousand pieces. When Haryana collapsed, the myth of the perfect “RSS Man” got buried deep in the debris of that man-made disaster.
Haryana has been left to the tender mercy of a gentleman called Manohar Lal Khattar. He is a first-term MLA. That in itself should not be deemed as a debilitating handicap. Narendra Modi was not even an MLA when intrigue and internal squabbling within the Gujarat BJP elevated him to the chief ministerial gaddi in Gandhinagar in 2001. When Khattar was handpicked to be the chief minister of Haryana, his biggest, perhaps only, asset was that he was a card-carrying member of the RSS. He was, and remains, to a very large extent a total stranger to the fine art of governance. He has turned out to be a very poor advertisement for the RSS and its claims of competence and calibre.
The collapse in Haryana in the wake of the Jat agitation was total, comprehensive and utterly destructive. Despite the presence of a swayamsevak at the helm, for days the streets belonged to the hoodlum. The challenge to the magistracy of the law was frontal. Not even the entire combined jihadi cadres of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed could have inflicted damage on this scale; the iqbal of the Indian state was rarely so flagrantly violated. All on a swayamsevak’s watch.
Misplaced priorities of a ‘nationalist’
As chief minister, Khattar’s priorities had been predictably prescribed by the limits of his RSS orientation. All imagination and initiatives have been squandered away in looking for a mythical river (Saraswati); corralling officers, teachers, ministers and MLAs for yoga classes; rounding up stray cows and building gaushalas; and prescribing Gita pravachans. When trouble erupted, the swayamsevaks got transfixed, like deer caught in the headlights of a motor car. It is reasonable to argue that within a space of one year, because of this antediluvian preoccupation of the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues, the administrative energies and impulses got dissipated on a massive scale. Consequentially, the officials simply lost their trained capacity to smell trouble.
District-level officers – police and civil – remained gloriously ignorant of the elaborate preparations the mischief-makers were making. These preparations were not taking place in some distant, remote border area. Just imagine, army personnel had to be airdropped! Rohtak is not Anantnag. Sonepat is not downtown Srinagar. Either there was collusion with the arsonists or, more likely, the officers had smelled the divisions and loss of nerve among the swayamsevaks in the cabinet.
It is a simple proposition. A chief minister is the designated institutional leader of the council of ministers; his mandate is to extract cooperation and compliance from his ministerial colleagues. Despite all his qualities as a selfless swayamsevak, Khattar neither inspired confidence among his ministerial colleagues and fellow-swayamsevaks nor got respect from them. That equation — between the chief minister and his cabinet — has worsened since the destructive Jat agitation.
It is possible to argue that the Jat agitation was a political conspiracy, probably hatched by the Congress and its state leader, Bhupinder Singh Hooda. But that precisely is the task of the political and administrative leadership – to sniff out such designs or nip them in the bud. Lament is an excuse not available to a ruler.
A chief minister is tasked with the key responsibility of marshalling the state’s administrative resources to restore people’s confidence in the institutions of governance and its laws. Instead, he has allowed himself to be guided – often, misguided – by this or that cabal among senior IAS and IPS officers. Take for example the Murthal episode involving allegations of gang rape. Any other chief minister with reasonable political skills would have seized upon the reports to whip up society’s disapproval of the agitation and its leaders; instead, he has allowed officers to sell him a lemon that nothing happened.
There is another serious fallout of this fumbling swayamsevak’s faltering stewardship: the institutional reputation of the army has been damaged. The army was deployed but not used because of political and administrative timidity. The result is that a most unfortunate misperception has been allowed to gather strength that it was reluctant to take stern action against the Jat arsonists. People are talking in whispers about the army chief, who hails from the region.
Like any other state, Haryana has a governor but he is from the RSS stable as well. Predictably ,he too failed to caution or warn the Khattar government. Whereas the governors in non-BJP ruled states have a habit of speaking up on the slightest of provocations, the Haryana governor kept his counsel. Perhaps he too lost nerve and his tongue.
And, what were the RSS commissars in Delhi doing? Another day and in any other dispensation, a joint-secretary level officer in the Government of India could have read the gathering signals; but, Jhandewalan has come to cast a debilitating spell on the official functioning of the instruments of governance.
What happened in Haryana could happen only during a marauder’s raid in medieval times. So much destruction, just a hundred miles away from another swayamsevak’s office on Raisina Hill. It was a conspiracy of incompetence on a grand scale.
Harish Khare is Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune
Courtesy: The Tribune