RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s advisory, in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, to the organisation’s cadres to stay detached from party politics, especially from any personality-driven campaigns by its associate, the BJP, reveals interesting aspects of the two organisations and their relationship. It highlights the long-established and accepted style of working of the RSS, which was chosen for it by its second sarsanghchalak M.S.Golwalkar, who took up its leadership in 1940. The emphasis on sadhutva or life of renunciation in the organisation was his contribution.
He was unequivocal that the RSS should stay away from political power and that Hindu national reconstruction could be carried out more effectively outside the arena of politics and away from the public glare.
The RSS thus chose to work in the “cultural” realm in a goal-oriented rather than personality-driven way. The constitution of the RSS, which was drawn under Golwalkar’s leadership after the first ban on the organisation was lifted, said that the RSS “has no politics” and is devoted to “purely cultural work”. Political limelight was sought to be avoided also because of the notoriety the RSS had acquired after Mahatama Gandhi’s assassination.
A way to avoid more adverse publicity was to remain outside the public arena. It was, however, made clear that individual swayamsevaks could join and work for political parties if they so wished. Interestingly, the RSS began playing a decisive role in the functioning of the BJP right from its initial years (when it began as the Bharatiya Jan Sangh). The goal of “Hindu” nationhood had brought the two together.
The RSS leadership had made it clear at the beginning that it had no intentions of playing second fiddle to any political party. The RSS provided the much-needed organisational, financial and cadre support to the fledgling party to take on the mammoth Congress. This set the tone for the way their relationship was built in the coming years. The BJP became a part of the Sangh Parivar, and the RSS’s political front.
Bhai Mahavir, Balraj Madhok, and Deendayal Upadhyay were some of the early stalwarts who had come from the RSS to work for the new party. They were followed a little later by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K.Advani. Thereafter, the young Govindacharya, Sushil Modi, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and the late Pramod Mahajan were inducted into the party. The influence these and other RSS pracharaks wielded in the BJP is now well known.
But the tendency was to keep RSS involvement in party work under wraps; there was reluctance on both sides to acknowledge the active and decisive position the RSS had in the party’s organisation and functioning. This propensity to hide this association changed somewhat in the early 1990s, when significant political transformations happened.
The RSS sees itself and wants to be seen as an ascetic and austere organisation detached from worldly affairs. Its self-image is of an organisation that is rooted firmly in Hindu traditions but above the nitty-gritties and squabbles of politics. This self-definition is deployed in public to project a morally clean and superior persona that is dedicated to the goal of character- and nation-building. Whenever needed, this reminder is sent to the BJP, lest it forget who the patriarch in the Sangh Parivar is.
The RSS looks upon the BJP as a political entity often swayed by the attractions of power, susceptible to corruption and moving away, every now and then, from the ideological goal of Hindu nationhood. There is also the spectre of the post-Emergency political debacle, which perhaps still haunts the RSS. The break-up of the Janata Party because of irreconcilable differences among its leaders — symptomatic of deeper structural problems — harmed the political career of its biggest faction, the BJS. It was Balasaheb Deoras, the sarsanghchalak of the RSS after Golwalkar’s death, who is said to have built the party’s sagging career from the 1970s.
His organisational skills and keen political sense breathed new life not only into the party but the entire Sangh Parivar network, including the RSS itself. The RSS from then on has tried to maintain a stronger hold and closer watch over the BJP. Even top-level party leaders who have risen from the RSS’s own ranks have been made to fall in line if, in its view, they have shown any signs of ideological deviation. One only has to recall how L.K. Advani’s statements about Jinnah in 2005 had incensed the RSS leadership, leading to his resignation as the president of the BJP.
If such are the dynamics within the Parivar, it is understandable that the RSS occasionally rings the warning bell aimed at both the BJP and its own cadres to put things in order, and work for the larger and long-term goal of Hindutva rather than any leader’s political programme. The RSS acknowledges that Narendra Modi has infused vigour in the BJP organisation. It has endorsed Modi’s candidature as the prime ministerial nominee of the party. But Modi’s self-centric style of politics, antagonistic and vindictive towards dissenting voices, and the Modi-centric way in which the party is conducting itself lately, has made the Sangh not only uncomfortable but also, it seems, insecure. It is obvious to everyone that in present times, it is difficult for the Sangh leadership to attain the grand stature of Golwalkar and Deoras within the Parivar. We have also surpassed the times when sadhutva and spirituality had a pedestal status. In such a context, the RSS looks apprehensive that it might become eclipsed by the present avatar of the BJP. Therefore, it is keen to assert its position vis-a-vis the BJP and send a clear message that Narendra Modi or his popularity should not be taken to mean that the BJP or Modi has risen in hierarchy over and above the RSS or Hindutva. To endorse its paternal position and to bring its cadre in line with its ideology, the patriarch of the Sangh Parivar issues such advisories from time to time. This time, however, it might be from a feeling of apprehension and insecurity.
The writer teaches political science at the University of Hyderabad and is the author of ‘Vishva Hindu Parishad and Indian Politics’