Rahul Gandhi has flip-flopped on the question of his criticism of the RSS, but in the end, he has done the right thing. Lessons in history are always good for aspirants to power. the Congress has no future, so it is increasingly seeking solace in its past. But Rahul should not take the received Congress version as the true one. So here is a non-Congress history.
The RSS and CPI were founded in the same year, 1925, but somehow the RSS has waxed while the CPI has waned. Both were set up on the lines of European movements. The RSS chose its uniform of khaki shirt and half pants, copying the Congress uniform for its volunteers. The RSS was non-political and did not display religion as much as the Hindu Mahasabha did. Its growth for the first 20 years was modest, but in the Bihar earthquake its voluntary work was remarkable. There were negotiations afoot to merge it into the Congress after Independence.
Nathuram Godse spoiled it all. The RSS was banned for about 15 months. It took another 25 years before the RSS surfaced again. Thanks to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, the RSS could join the struggle against real fascism, by being on the side of freedom and democracy. The CPI collaborated with Emergency. The RSS joined hands with the Imam of Jama Masjid in fighting Sanjay Gandhi’s sterilisation campaign for Muslims. Jana Sangh members became freedom fighters going to prison during the Emergency.
The Emergency thus secured the reputation and the future of the BJP/ RSS as nationalist movements. The Congress lost its secular liberal patina, though it suffers from amnesia about the Emergency. The RSS did what originally the Communist parties were supposed to do. They penetrated into society — schools, colleges, temples, civil society groups — and spread their message diligently. It was a simple message: Secularism as practised by the Congress was fraud, pseudo secularism and it was anti-Hindu. Maharashtra was its home. Gujarat became a test bed and a very successful one. The next steps were in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the RSS fought on the side of the Congress against Sikh militancy and contributed to Rajiv Gandhi’s landslide victory in 1984. But then as Rajiv began to lose the plot and frittered away the largest majority in India’s history, the RSS went back to its BJP acolytes. The loss of Congress hegemony in 1989 changed Indian politics.
An attempt was made to exploit the Ram Janmabhoomi issue to construct a winning majority of Hindu votes. Despite the destruction of Babri Masjid, the BJP did not come to power. The only effect was that the Congress lost the UP Muslim vote and never came to power there again. The BJP did come to power in the NDA coalition with A B Vajpayee’s moderate image, but frittered it away.
It was the idea of inclusive growth which delivered Narendra Modi’s victory and brought the RSS closer to power than ever before. But the RSS is an oppositional movement, hierarchical and undemocratic. It cannot handle social equality or gender justice. When it was growing up, the RSS was indispensable for the BJP. But now it has matured and is about to become the hegemonic party. It is a moot question if the BJP needs the RSS’s parental guidance.