Politics

India’s Prime Minister Should Be Careful About the Company He Keeps

What makes the axis between the government and the RSS so problematic is not just its extra-constitutionality but the sheer incompatibility of the sangh and its ideology with a democratic, inclusive polity and society

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat . Credit: Vijay Verma, PTI

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat . Credit: Vijay Verma, PTI

A bizarre political spectacle took place in Delhi this week that no amount of sophistry can square with the principles of a modern democratic republic.

A ‘cultural’ organisation known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh held a conclave for which it summoned top ministers of the Narendra Modi government to present themselves and provide an account of the official work they have been doing over the past 15 months. Among those who turned up were the Prime Minister himself, as well as the Defence Minister and the Home Minister.

This axis between the government and the RSS is unhealthy for the obvious reason that it represents a classic case of what con artists call ‘bait and switch’.

Millions of men and women, especially the young, voted in 2014 for Modi and his promises of development and not for a shadowy, all-male, all-Hindu organisation that has never presented itself for election in the 90-odd years it has been in existence. Modi asked for votes in the name of vikas and not in the name of Hindutva, but the RSS clearly has a lot more on its mind.

Voters are entitled to ask who these secretive little men are who appear to be wielding so much clout from behind the scenes. What is the extent of their hold over the government? What is the nature of the remote control they clasp so firmly in their hands? What is the agenda they want the government to pursue?

During the Manmohan Singh period, the Bharatiya Janata Party went to town over the “extra-constitutional” authority Congress president Sonia Gandhi wielded in the United Progressive Alliance government. They attacked her hand-picked team of associates – the National Advisory Council – for involving itself in matters of policy. The NAC was at least established through an executive order. Where does the RSS draw its sanction from?  The September 3-4 forum is arguably the most visible association between the government and the sangh parivar we have seen to date but we know from the functioning of various ministers and ministries that RSS functionaries are “consulted” on an almost continuous basis.

What makes this axis especially problematic is not just its extra-constitutionality but the sheer incompatibility of the RSS and its ideology with a democratic, inclusive polity and society.

Consider the following, for example. The RSS organ, Organiser, carries an article this week on the census and religion by Pravin Togadia, the working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The article is vicious and poisonous – even by the toxic standards of the Organiser. Togadia indulges in the usual fear-mongering about Hindus going extinct if urgent steps are not taken to curb the growth of the Muslim population in India. (That this is utter rubbish has been well demonstrated here, here and here.) Among the steps he proposes to fight this so-called ‘population jihad’ is to ban Muslims from having more than two children:

“[The government] must also implement the two-children norm irrespective of the political pressures. Rather than subsidising each birth of a Muslim kid, it is must that after two children, there has to be the strictest curb. Perhaps a punishable criminal offence and stopping the ration, jobs, educational facilities will streamline the population facilitation towards better development.”

What Togadia is advocating through the pages of the RSS newspaper – the imposition of “measures intended to prevent births within [a national, ethnical, racial or religious] group” – is nothing less than an act of genocide as per Article 2(c) of the Genocide Convention, to which India is a signatory.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his senior ministers flock to an event organised by the RSS – an organisation that publishes articles advocating genocide of a section of the Indian people – what does this tell us about their own political wisdom and moral compass? Can one think of a single example from a modern democracy in which elected leaders will allow themselves to be seen in the company of a ‘cultural’ organisation that publishes and promotes such incendiary filth?

Is the Prime Minister not embarrassed to associate himself with such an organisation? Or does he accept the RSS division of Indians into ‘Bharatiya Religionists’ – i.e. Hindus, Sikhs, Jain and Buddhists – on the one side, and Muslims and Christians on the other, and share the fears the sangh clearly has that Hindus will soon be reduced to a minority?

We know that in his earlier avatar, Modi was not averse to a bit of a demographic scaremongering himself.

Back in 2002, in the run up to the Gujarat assembly elections that year, Modi, as Chief Minister went to the temple town of Becharaji in Mehsana district for a rally. In his speech, he made fun of Muslims living in relief camps – they were there, ironically, as a result of the communal violence he failed to prevent – and made a crude, inflammatory reference to Muslim men having four wives and producing 25 children:

“When we allocate funds for Becharaji, [the Congress] do not like it. And if we bring Narmada waters in the month of Shravan, then too they say they dislike it. So what should we do? Do we go and run relief camps? Should we open child-producing centres?

“We want to firmly implement family planning. Hum paanch, humare pachees (We five, our 25) (laughs). Who will benefit from this development? Is family planning not necessary in Gujarat? Where does religion come in its way? Where does community come in its way?

 “The population is rising in Gujarat, money isn’t reaching the poor? What’s the reason? They make a beeline, fix cycle punctures (Audience laughs).”

This speech was delivered on September 9, 2002. When reports appeared in Delhi and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) asked the Gujarat government for a transcript, it was told that there was no record. However, an upright police officer by the name of RB Sreekumar, who was ADGP (Intelligence) at the time, obtained a transcript and sent it on to the NCM. He paid for his ‘disloyalty’ with a transfer; later, false cases were foisted upon him. In a curious coincidence, the Gujarat High Court on Friday cleared the decks for Sreekumar’s prosecution by the Gujarat government on charges that include, you guessed it, leaking sensitive information! But that’s a story for another day.

Since every saint has a past and every sinner a future, the electorate in 2014 made a tactical decision to ignore  whatever Modi did or did not do in 2002. But that wilful act of mass amnesia was underwritten by an implicit social contract – give us economic growth and jobs, and do not let India be dragged back to the divisiveness and violence of the previous decade. That is why the election campaign Modi fought, with minor exceptions here and there, stuck closely to the rhetoric of development. The RSS agenda and mentality – which people recognise as a recipe for violence – was kept tightly under wraps. As soon as the results were out, of course, the sangh parivar emerged out of the woodwork. Since then, it has  been doing its best to sow divisions under one pretext or the other – love jihad, conversions, ghar wapsi, the beef ban, and now ‘population jihad’.

The Prime Minister hates to talk about the past and who can fault him for that. But if he makes the mistake of allowing his government to be freighted with the agenda of the RSS, he will drag not only himself and his government down but the country too – into the quicksand of bigotry, division and strife.

  • Ramana

    Brilliant piece! It’s a crying shame that the 31% seemed to have completely ignored / disregarded the huge behind-the-scenes influence of RSS, while casting their vote. India will pay a heavy price for the next 4 years for this folly :-((

    • Rohan

      Its not 31%..BJP won 31% votes pan India though it contested in only around 400 seats out of 545, which means BJP won approx. 45% of votes from the seats they contested..Where BJP didn’t contest, NDA allies contested who won approx.12% of votes..So like i said whichever way you look at it, Modi won 45% of votes and not 31% but then these columns are exactly the reasons why Modi became PM in first place..People hate media for the way they twist facts..

      • concernedobserver01

        This is true.
        But it is also true that many of the BJP’s allies became part of the NDA based on the premise that the BJP would keep its distance from the RSS. For example, there are already tensions between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP over the RSS’s Ghar Wapsi program which the Akali Dal says directly contravenes several core tenets of Sikhism.

        The point also is that it was the NDA which won 45%, the BJP won 31%. In the current Government, there are only 4 non-BJP ministers (out of a total of 66) – 1 each from the Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena and the TDP. The fourth, is the most amazing politician in India – Ram Vilas Paswan, who ends up a minister no matter who wins the election!

        So the extra 14% votes from the non-BJP members of the NDA have accrued only 4/66 ministries.

  • Ankur Tripathi

    Firstly Neither Modi nor any of the ministers deny their association with RSS, if not positively assert it, hence why ‘suspect’ the link? It is not a crime neither it should be to join RSS, so what is the foul play being alleged?
    As political leaders the ministers are and would ‘present’ their work and achievements to their supporters, if not detractors as well. Why is it a problem and not a legitimate political activity? NAC was an unelected body doing work of elected govt and legislature in official capacity, even providing oversight . This is different from elected MPs going to internal political or apolitical organisations and individuals to hold consultation.
    An example would be AICC decision to go ahead with creation of Telangana state before the UPA govt implementated it . Did Mr Varadrajan allege any unholy nexus then?

    The funny thing about quote from article by Pravin Togadia is that for once Mr Togadia is NOT writing anything about family planning limited to any specific community. He is suggesting 2 children norm for ALL including Hindus. Is it journalistic laziness? Failure to find a quote which actually says the claimed things and still putting out the quote seems like one..

    The other quote from Mr Modi again talks about many things e.g Narmada dam, helping poor, unemployment, and yes family planning among these.. given that 3/4 topics couldn’t have been community specific (e.g Narmada Dam wouldn’t provide or deny water to any one community), it is hard to conclude that family planning is also about any one community going by the quoted section.
    Unfortunately the entire piece smacks of author’s prejudice with regards to an organisation, certain people and communities. It maybe so that there are some real issues that need to be highlighted, as with any government, however what has been highlighted here is the fixated thought process of the author which reads and hears things which wouldn’t pass the test of neutral, un biased observation.

    • Abhinav

      Firstly no, holding a meeting with the RSS is definitely not ‘technically’ foul play. Sure, it could have just been a simple consultative fireside chat with some prominent personalities as regards to the initiatives and performance of the government. But then the EXACT same thing could be said about the NAC and Sonia Gandhi and it’s influence on Manmohan Singh, and both statement sound equally naive and gullible.

      Secondly, the very mention of population *jihad* and a ‘fast thinning Hindu majority’ is evidence enough as to which community he wants his 2 children ban to be applicable to.

      Thirdly, talking about development for 3/4 of a speech and concluding with it with ‘and Muslims have too many children’ is as condemnable as a whole spech on Muslim fertility rates. And it’s not just the phrasing the author is highlighting, it’s the retributive action taken against the officer who exposed it.

      All in all I think the author is going a little overboard too, as have many authors on the wire, in proclaiming some incoming fascist transformation of India’s political landscape. It is frankly immature to underestimate so easily the solidity of our democratic institutions and think the whims of some bigot could bring the whole system down. However, what it does attest is that this government is no different from the previous one in respect to being unduly influenced by an unelected body of inidividual

  • Simpson

    Political Parties when given massive mandates by people, tend to misinterpret them as a wholehearted endorsement of their past political actions. It does not mean that the voters give a blanket approval of their ideologies and affiliations. Such huge mandates are meant to punish the incumbent for incompetence and also on a hope that promises made by the party in opposition before election is fulfilled.
    While we all know BJP-RSS+ relationship, the mandate of 2014 was not a thumbs up to their ideology. None of the BJP leaders went to the voters seeking votes in the name of their ideology, because they knew it would get rejected. Instead they went asking for votes in the name of ‘development’ and ‘jobs’. But once they are elected, it is only foolish to assume otherwise.

  • Shamsul Islam

    Constitutionally India is a democratic-secular country and every government which gets majority to rule India has to take oath
    to uphold the Constitution of India. The present PM of India and hos Council of Ministers must have taken the same
    mandatory oath. In a bizarre and shockingly development this government presented itself before RSS leadership sharing governmental policies with them and get clearance from the RSS. It is patently illegal and unconstitutional as
    RSS does not believe in a democratic- secular India. MS Golwalkar demanded India to be governed by “one flag, one leader
    and one ideology of Hindutva in each and every corner of this great land.” RSS denigrated National Flag; Tricolour in the following words: ” [Golwalkar at Nagpur 1940] The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.” [Organizer, August 14, 1947]

    When Constituent Assembly of India passed the Constitution in November 1949 the RSS organ Organizer (November 30) complained: “But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.

    The RSS-Modi government conclave means that days of a democratic-secular India are numbered.

  • Shamsul Islam

    Constitutionally India is a democratic-secular country and every government which gets majority to rule India has to take oath
    to uphold the Constitution of India. The present PM of India and hos Council of Ministers must have taken the same
    mandatory oath. In a bizarre and shockingly development this government presented itself before RSS leadership sharing governmental policies with them and get clearance from the RSS. It is patently illegal and unconstitutional as
    RSS does not believe in a democratic- secular India. MS Golwalkar demanded India to be governed by “one flag, one leader
    and one ideology of Hindutva in each and every corner of this great land.” [Golwalkar at Nagpur 1940] RSS denigrated National
    Flag; Tricolour in the following words: “The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours
    will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.” [Organizer, August 14, 1947]

    When Constituent Assembly of India passed the Constitution in November 1949 the RSS organ Organizer (November 30) complained: “But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.

    The RSS-Modi government conclave means that days of a democratic-secular India are numbered.

  • concernedobserver01

    The author says nothing about the Indian voter. In fact, it seems to be his point that
    (1) By the standards set by the BJP for the previous Government’s consultation with the National Advisory Council (which was set up by the Government, and whose members were all elected MPs), this type of consultation is odd and corrupt.
    (2) That this was not what Mr. Modi fought the election for. Already, he’s had trouble with CII because business is complaining about the swadeshi crowd etc. In fact, in the election campaign, Mr. Modi expressly downplayed the Hindutva angle.