RSS Influence over the BJP

    Despite the nominal distance it maintains from the organisations of the Sangh Parivar, the RSS ensures that its writ runs where it matters: in the BJP governments at the Centre and in the States. The influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on the Bharatiya Janata Party is always greater during periods when the party is in power. While the Sangh is sometimes ready to appear twice removed from the government, it is keen to exercise control over the party’s organisational affairs.

    Little surprise then, the newly elected president of the BJP, Amit Shah, chose to pack the top rung of the party with those from the Sangh. Former RSS spokesman Ram Madhav is now general secretary and ideologue Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is vice-president; four of the joint secretaries (organisation) are RSS members without much of a background of work in the party. Despite the nominal distance it maintains from the organisations of the Sangh Parivar, the RSS ensures that its writ runs where it matters: in the BJP, and in the BJP governments at the Centre and in the States.

    With its organisational strength, and the large number of committed cadre, the RSS is the backbone of the BJP, and not just an ideological mentor. In the 2014 general election, workers of the RSS and its affiliates threw their weight behind the BJP and contributed in no small measure to the party’s revival in States such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

    It was only natural for the BJP, especially Mr. Shah who was in charge of the party’s electoral management in Uttar Pradesh, to recognise this fact and accommodate RSS leaders in the decision-making structure of the party. What is problematic, however, is how the RSS will wield its influence in the BJP to remote-control the government. Mr. Shah enjoys a close rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it is feared he might indeed function as an extra-constitutional authority. Now, with the BJP being led by RSS hands, the party’s influence on the government can only get bigger.

    Decision-making may not be confined to the Cabinet or legislative bodies, but may extend to party forums and Sangh meetings. Going by the statement of RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat that Hindutva is India’s identity, the RSS’s relations with the BJP and, by extension, with the government, could raise serious concerns in the public mind, and particularly among minorities. Prime Minister Modi spoke of ruling by consensus and not by the party’s majority in the Lok Sabha, but statements such as those made by Mr. Bhagwat seeking to equate Hindutva with Indianness and Hindustanis (Indians) with Hindus can only create doubts whether the BJP intends to return to a divisive majoritarian agenda.

    Mr. Modi and the BJP need to distance themselves from such statements if these are not to be taken as reflective of the thinking of the ruling establishment. Otherwise, the Sangh, the BJP and the government would be widely seen as just different forms of the same entity.

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