Following a controversy over the alleged denial of government jobs to candidates linked to the RSS, Minister of State in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, said last week that “the central government has not issued any such order (prohibiting government staff from joining RSS activities) recently”, and “if any old order exists, we will review it.”
The following day, RSS Prachar Pramukh Manmohan Vaidya said, “Banning RSS members from joining government service is unjust and undemocratic. Such bans hardly affect RSS work and morale of swayamsevaks.”
So, how do Indian governments at the Centre and in the states look upon employees’ association with the RSS? Are they allowed to have Sangh links? Have governments’ positions evolved over time in any way?
From the Sixties, doors shut
Rule 5(1) of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, said, “No Government servant shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any other manner, any political movement or activity.” After clarifications were sought on whether the RSS was a “political party”, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a circular on November 30, 1966: “Certain doubts have been raised about Government’s policy with respect to the membership or any participation in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Jamaat-e-Islami by Government servants, it is clarified that Government have always held the activities of these two organisations to be of such nature that participation in them by Government servants would attract the provisions of sub-rule (1) of Rule 5 of the CCS (Conduct) Rules, 1964. Any government servant, who is a member of or otherwise associated with the aforesaid organisations or with their activities, is liable to disciplinary action.”
In January 1980, Indira Gandhi returned to power after the Janata experiment, of which the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was a part. On October 28 of that year, a circular was issued, which reiterated the contents of the earlier circular of November 30, 1966, with reference to the RSS. It said, “In the context of the current situation in the country, the need to ensure secular outlook on the part of Government servants is all the more important. The need to eradicate communal feelings and communal bias cannot be over-emphasised.”
No change under Atal, Modi
The situation remained unchanged through the Eighties and Nineties, when Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao, and the National Front and United Front governments were in power. Government servants were prohibited from having links with the RSS even during 1998-2004, when the “swayamsewak” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at the helm. In response to an application filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Department of Personnel and Training under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh informed on November 21, 2012, that “these provisions” (of 1966 and 1980) were “still applicable”.
Six months after coming to power, on November 27, 2014, the Narendra Modi government amended the Conduct Rules to add a few clauses to Rule 3(1). One of these said, “Every government employee shall at all times maintain political neutrality.”
Thereafter, The Indian Express, in another RTI application, asked whether the government had taken any decision to withdraw circulars identifying the RSS as a political entity (and thus putting it in the purview of the CCS (Conduct) Rules). In its reply dated January 5, 2016, the DoPT replied that “No such orders withdrawing the OMs (Office memorandums) dated 1966 and 1980 has been issued.”
In its reply, the MHA said, “Any government servant who is a member of or is otherwise associated with the organisations (RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami) or with their activities is liable to disciplinary action.”
However, Jitendra Singh has now said that the government would review its longstanding position.
The ‘problem’ with joining RSS
The essential problem is that despite the repeated RSS claim that it is a cultural organisation with no interest in politics, the state has always considered it to be a political organisation. These days, because the Sangh’s ideological child, the BJP, is in power at the Centre, government employees are often seen inclined to join RSS activities. But under the prevailing rules, doing so may invite disciplinary proceedings, including the termination of service.
RSS itself banned only rarely
In March, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke in Parliament equating RSS with the global terrorist Islamic State, which was quickly endorsed by his party colleague Digvijaya Singh. The “Islamic State/Islamic State of Iraq and Levant/Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Daish, and all its manifestations” are banned under Section 35 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 — and is one of the 39 organisations currently banned in India. Since the founding of the Republic, Congress governments have banned the RSS thrice — the longest of these bans has been shorter than two years. It was first banned on February 4, 1948, following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by the Hindu fundamentalist Nathuram Godse; the ban was lifted on July 11, 1949. It was banned for the second time during the Emergency on July 4, 1975, along with 25 other organisations; the ban was lifted on March 21, 1977. The third ban came on December 10, 1992, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid four days earlier, but was lifted on June 4, 1993, after it was found unjustified.
Situation different in states
To find out the definition of RSS in state government records, The Indian Express filed RTI applications to the governments of Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi — states where the BJP has been in and out of power.
The replies showed that unlike central governments, whose view on the RSS has remained unchanged since 1966, views of state governments have changed depending on who is in power. BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh went against the central directive: the P K Dhumal government withdrew the “memorandum (restricting its employees from participating in RSS activities) with immediate effect” on January 24, 2008; the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government issued a clarification on August 21, 2006, that “restrictions are not applicable on RSS”. In February 2015, Chhattisgarh too issued a circular saying there were no restrictions on government employees joining RSS activities.
In its RTI reply dated February 20, 2013, the Uttar Pradesh government said: “No Government Order is available with regard to participation of government employees in activities of organisations like RSS.”
The questions to Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Delhi went unanswered.
RSS is largely unconcerned
The fact is that the RSS’s work has not been affected by these orders that have been in place over the last half century. There is no formal membership of the RSS that can be used as evidence, and it is difficult to prove association. In November 2014, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat told some government employees at a conclave in Hardwar that the RSS would not ask the Centre to reverse the order prohibiting government employees from attending its shakhas because there was no need — it was up to the government to think about it. “We are not going to demand anything from the government. We are doing our work. Our work is never affected by such restrictions,” he had said.