It was with considerable shock and awe that long time watchers – both, critics and admirers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – heard the Sarsanghchalak say at a book release on September 8, 2014, “We support reservation. Till the time there is inequality in the society, reservation is needed.”
This goes against the grain of what have been core RSS principles and objectives.
Now, with Mohan Bhagwat, head of the RSS calling for a “review” of the reservation policy, in the latest Panchajanya magazine issue – and restating old RSS positions, what has changed for the Sangh between the two Septembers? Perhaps Bhagwat should follow his advice to other people: not use the quota policy for “political purposes”.
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In the first flush of the Modi government coming to power in 2014 with a very impressive performance – emerging as the unquestioned political formation in north India – there was a sense of the ‘end of history’ moment which was reflected in the RSS wanting to firmly entrench itself in the system.
Critics say this form of RSS-Hinduism, is a political project. This, like other such movements around the world, takes a narrow identity to mean ‘nationality’. Caste-based reservations have been resisted bitterly by the RSS in the past, as they acknowledge social discrimination as coded into the Indian social system and it allows for more than one identity to flower.
Alarmed by the way the Mandal movement in the 1980s damaged its push in the Hindi heartland, there was a bid to co-opt the so-called lower castes and tribals into its fold. Getting them to accept a RSS-view of a mostly upper-caste framework of One India and pit them against the Muslims and Christians had been the objective and the assessment in September 2014. It seemed that it could be successful if a face was put up of ‘tolerating’ reservation for those who are entitled to it.
Now, as the Patidar unrest on reservation continues to simmer in Gujarat, the local administration have found it necessary to disable the internet for law and order has been threatened and economic recession and unemployment give the impression of a Gujarat that is unraveling.
When the most loyal of the powerful and landed groups, the Patels feel economically embattled and are hitting out at reservation for the OBCs, it has become imperative for the RSS to remind its core base what it originally stood for and to ensure that the Patels do not end up exiting the parivar fold.
Over the past 40 years, there were at least two instances which proved to be politically momentous: in 1974 when the nav-nirman agitation provided the anti-Congress forces a pivot and then in the mid-1980s when again, the anti-reservation movement turned the tide for the Sangh Parivar forces. If the Patel agitation is allowed to continue without comment, the unintended consequence can be the game turning against the BJP which has kept an iron grip on the state for almost two decades. Mohan Bhagwat understands that. He does not want to let the Patels forget what the RSS and its affiliates in politics actually stand for.