15 years ago, this month, a prime minister of India had traveled to the United States for the annual United Nations General Assembly mela. During that visit, he found time to attend a Vishwa Hindu Parishad event in Staten Island where he declared himself a swayamsevak – yes, as in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This was music to the ears of the Nagpur Gharana. A prime minister who all along was pretending to have little to do with this Hindu outfit suddenly got into a confessional mood.
Back in New Delhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s exuberance did not last long. The conflict between the demands the RSS would make on a prime minister and his constitutional oath was too palpable to permit any kind of meaningful jugalbandi. Though Vajpayee continued to mark his token attendance at the annual guru dakshina rites, he was not afraid to antagonize the Nagpur crowd. After the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, it was simply not possible for Vajpayee to maintain any civilized conversation with these comrades among the swayamsevaks. The gurus never forgave Vajpayee for wanting to draw outside the lines.
And, again, 10 years ago, July 2005 to be precise, three designated gurus of the Nagpur Gharana traveled to Delhi to tell the then BJP president, LK Advani, to put in his papers. Advani had committed the solecism of saying something vaguely in praise of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. All the top leaders of the BJP held their collective peace as the “unknown, unelected, unaccountable” Nagpur-empowered busybodies roughed up Advani as if he was just a taluka-level politician. Advani was rendered hors de combat. By the end of the year, he was gone as the party president. The Nagpur bosses wanted to reaffirm the first principle: No BJP leader would be allowed any deviation. They had had enough of Vajpayee and his liberal tantrums.
And, last week, it was this very first principle that was re-asserted when the Sarsanghchalak summoned Prime Minister Modi and his ministers. Well, if you are a swayamsevak, you do respond to summons from the superior in the hierarchy. Period. That is the code of the saffron brotherhood. Admitted, Sushma Swaraj is not an RSS bhakt. Nor is Arun Jaitley. Unless, he has managed to keep this fact away from his “moderate and decent” friends in Delhi. But neither of them had any choice.
Why are the liberal souls losing their shirt just because the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues had all chosen to put in an appearance before the RSS chief and his advisers? After all, the Modi-RSS connection is not new.
It was no secret that it was the RSS’s unequivocal endorsement of Modi that proved decisive in the BJP making him its prime ministerial mascot. Nor was the RSS’s involvement on behalf of Narendra Modi in the 2014 electoral process a secret affair. It was open and fairly well documented.
From his Gujarat days, Modi has written the blue book on how to look after the RSS and its functionaries. Modi is smarter – which is not the same thing as being wiser – than Vajpayee. He has shrewdly sized up the small men and their small needs.
To be fair, Modi never kept anyone in the dark about his RSS links. Yet, if the best and the brightest among the New Delhi-based intellectuals and others ‘thought leaders’ chose to be taken in by the ‘vikas’ mantra, it is their problem – not Modi’s.
Instead of having the buyer’s regret, every moderate voice should welcome this national-level seduction of the RSS. There is no dark side to it.
Look at what has already happened: The RSS, which has arrogated to itself the role of the sole arbiter of moral values, is now wasting its breath on explaining the excesses and aberrations of the BJP chief ministers – Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan. It would be instructive to find out how that fly-by-night entrepreneur, Lalit Modi, is described in the morning shakha meetings in Jaipur. Just as it would be revealing to know what explanation the swayamsevaks in Bhopal offered regarding the horror of a scandal called Vyapam.
Indeed, none seems to have noticed that the RSS has reduced itself to being a BJP spokesperson.
Its two other chief ministers – in Haryana and Maharashtra – both proud products of the Sangh brain-washing factory system – have turned out to be such poor advertisements for good governance or for the RSS brand. Apart from exhibiting a new willingness to provoke -Manohar Lal Khattar’s absurd infatuation with Baba Ramdev and Devendra Fadnavis’ with petty preoccupations with bans – these two have hardly enhanced the reputation of the RSS.
More interestingly, the BJP apologists have cockily explained Modi and his ministers’ attendance at the Sangh Shivir as not very dissimilar to some Congress ministers and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s response to the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council.
Never mind that the NAC was a government-constituted, gazetted body; it has now been easily done away with. Never mind that Sonia Gandhi is the head of a legally recognized political party, which enters the electoral fray with its own symbol. Yet any suggestion of a moral equivalence between Sonia Gandhi and Mohan Bhagwat should not be resented.
Perhaps, it should even be a matter of some satisfaction that the RSS has come out of its bogus pretence of being just a cultural organization. The democratic forces should welcome it and demand that it should be brought within the ambit of the Right-to-Information regime.
Nonetheless, a matter of grave concern is the new attempt aimed at an intellectual hegemony. For instance, the culture minister in the Modi government.
Mahesh Sharma, a black-belt saffronite, has argued that by voting for Modi and the BJP, the voters have given a mandate for “saffronisation” of education, culture and other institutions. With just 31 per cent of the votes, the Modi sarkaar would like to believe that it has been given a license to operationalize the RSS agenda?
This is an anti-democratic argument and is laced with morally unpleasant smells. Whatever obedience the Prime Minister and his ministers may choose to render to the Sarsanghchalak, they need to be reminded that they are still governed and bound by something called the Constitution of India. India is still a constitutional democracy and its rulers, irrespective of the number of seats in the Lok Sabha, are still answerable to a robust Parliament and an independent judiciary.