For over half-century, it has been an axiomatic tenet of Indian politics that the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoys a decisive advantage over its rivals because it has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh watching its back. That is what L.K. Advani meant when he used to say that the BJP was “a party with a difference”. That statement may have been intended as a moral assertion but it reflected the organisational realities of the BJP.
In practical terms, the RSS-BJP relationship can be broken down to at least five working propositions:
(1) the Nagpur commissars demanded – and were granted – the right to oversee the BJP’s morals and manners;
(2) that the authority, and sometimes the active intervention, of “Nagpur” could always be invoked to sort out intra-party disputes and enforce a certain kind of discipline;
(3) the RSS arrogated to itself the right to ensure that the BJP did not stray away from whatever dogmas and prescriptions Nagpur dished out under the Hindutva rubric;
(4) the RSS would provide foot-soldiers at the election time; and
(5) on this account, the RSS input has increasingly become so critical to the BJP’s success that the Nagpur commissars insist on sending senior operatives on secondment to man key organizational positions, at the BJP national headquarters and in all state units.
Yet the RSS continues to maintain and internalise the myth that it is a “cultural organization”. This myth not only generates a collective mojo for the RSS establishment, it also enables its swayamsevaks to give themselves an air of superiority vis-à-vis the BJP’s cadres, who are supposed to be mired in the unclean business of seeking political office.
Historically, all BJP leaders have been obliged – as were those of the Jan Sangh earlier – to concede to the RSS the status of a ‘barra bhai (elder brother)’. The Jan Sangh ministers would rather walk out of the Morarji Desai government when Madhu Limaye and others demanded that Vajpayee and Advani severe their links with Nagpur. Again, in 2005, Advani had to step down as the BJP president after his “Jinnah” speech because Ashok Singhal, on behalf of the Sangh Parivar, demanded his head; and, in 2013, various BJP leaders had to bury their prime ministerial ambitions once the RSS indicated its preference for Narendra Modi.
After seven years of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s rule, the conventional assumptions about the RSS-BJP relationship stand patently diluted. And, if the Nagpur commissars were to audit their own performance over this period, they would find their moral and ethical capital, such as it was, stands vastly depleted.
On the plus side, the RSS bosses can take satisfaction on many counts. Firstly, Modi is not Sonia Gandhi – who, along with her family, in the books of the right-wing has been declared the implacable foe. Secondly, Modi is “our” man, who does not feel the need to indulge in ‘liberal political correctness’, which demands a certain respect and deference for the minorities, especially the Muslims’ sensitivities, as well as Dalits and Adivasis. Thirdly, the Modi arrangement has turned out to be a visibly Hindu-friendly regime; as Prime Minister, Modi has no qualms in demonstratively performing Hindu rituals and rites. Lastly, a Modi government has translated into massive patronage and perks for the RSS men – and, as all cultish organisations do, these loaves and fishes have been seen as a just reward for all the tapasya (hard work) and tyag (sacrifice) the swayamsevaks have done all these years.
Of course, there is a downside to this intimacy with state power, as co-option is never without a cost. And, we do know power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In their mind, however, the RSS hierarchy has solved this conundrum by resolutely pretending that the parivar remains immune to the corrupting and corrosive effects of power. And that their swayamsevaks remain uncontaminated even when they traffic with BJP operatives whose sordid ethics are a matter of record.
That as a political party the BJP of ‘New India’ now joyfully resorts to chicanery and corrupt practices so familiar to ‘Old India’ is no surprise; but, what is surprising – and should be deeply disappointing for the Sangh’s adherents – is that the self-styled keepers of the flame of ‘Hindu Renaissance’ are also totally at ease with the ongoing debasement of public affairs. Whatever the gloss, the new Hindu rashtra, in its attitude towards money and politics, looks just as shabby as the old Nehruvian India that Nagpur rails against.
Not only has the RSS abandoned its supposed role as a watchdog of the BJP’s morals and manners, it has also become an active accomplice to Modi’s personality cult. It can no longer recognise that this overloaded personality cult has already soured whatever promise and charm its ‘Hindu revolution’ once held for the faithful.
Nothing better personifies the cumulative toll these seven years have taken of Nagpur’s presumed moral guardianship than the RSS’s stance during the COVID-19 crisis. The Sangh bosses lack the personal courage, or the moral stature, or the intellectual acuity to acknowledge that a prime minister’s megalomania has caused unprecedented pain and grief to millions of Hindus. To be sure, he has caused pain to millions of non-Hindus too, but then that has never been a concern for the RSS.
And, when Mohan Bhagwat goes on the national television to preach the message of “positivity” and national resolve, who does he cite? Winston Churchill! The man who was brutally contemptuous of India’s nationalist aspirations; the very colonial overlord whom Savarkar – had he actually remained in the freedom struggle after his release from Cellular Jail in the Andamans – would surely have kept in mind as Mother India’s eternal enemy. What havoc seven years of Shahenshah and Shah have wreaked on the sarsanghchalak’s imagination.
No wonder Mohan Bhagwat and his senior associates have joined the Prime Minister in his bunker. Even after seven years of new India, these Nagpur commissars are discovering and blaming “the system” – just when we all had thought that this very rotten, creaking “system” had rejuvenated under the prime minister’s transformative leadership, and it was precisely this transformation that had enabled the prime minister to proclaim “victory” over the pandemic.
The RSS stands guilty of sullying the promise of Ramraj in a ‘Hindu rashtra’. The Indians, an overwhelming majority of whom are Hindus, are being told to give in to a civilisational weakness for resignation, and come to terms with disease, deprivation and destitution. To publicly talk about the loss of their loved ones is to be accused of spreading negativity and helping India’s enemies.
Instead, the grand objective of a glorious and prosperous nation safeguarding the prime minister’s image has become the sole national purpose and preoccupation. It is a sad day when an RSS spokesperson argues that reports of bodies floating down the Ganges are part of an “agenda”. The RSS’s fall from grace – even according to its own definitions of divinity and sin – is total and complete.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi.