RSS Under A Rejuvenation Programmme
These foot soldiers of the RSS go from door to door, convincing people indirectly to vote for BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi
In the ongoing elections, the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign is being managed to a great extent by the RSS. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has taken charge of the nitty-gritty of fighting the election by its mass contact programmes, which ensured the huge voter turnout. Besides this, it also played an important role in candidate selection, strategy, manifesto making and booth management.
Why did the RSS back Modi to the hilt? Why did its top apparatchiks personally oversee the election preparations? The fact is that Modi was simply the BJP’s best bet in 2014. The RSS has not merely accepted Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee, as it did LK Advani in 2009, but adopted and owned him. The RSS says that it chose to back Modi not to inject a Hindutva agenda, but because the nation had to be freed from UPA rule. Ram Madhav, RSS spokesperson, had said, “The only issues for the RSS are security, economy, corruption, social fabric being destroyed in the name of caste, region, religion, minority, and majority. Now you can pick any one item and say this is Hindutva. But I say all this is Hindutva. Whole thing is Hindutva.”
The groundswell of popularity that Modi and the BJP are riding on in the current elections is proving to be something of a double-edged sword for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. After the results are declared, the RSS will attribute the certain victory of the BJP to the good work done by the RSS both at the ideological and organisational levels and will want the BJP to follow its dictates. The Sangh activists who have fought hard for a Modi sarkar will expect a quid pro quo should it become a reality. Narendra Modi, like Vajpayee, is a votary of the theory that political power is more important than social and cultural power. Politics is a stronger tool for change than mere social movements, something from which the RSS evolved. The RSS too accepts this and this is the reason why it chooses to play a political role in the BJP and tried to steer the party towards its core concerns, and hopes somehow the nectar of power may just revive its own moribund state.
The prospects of India getting a Pracharak Prime Minister in Narendra Modi are strong. The very thought that another round of UPA rule at the Centre, which could have sounded the death knell for the RSS and weakened its organisation, was enough to galvanize its cadres across India to work towards ensuring a Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) victory in the Lok Sabha elections. The UPA threw everything at the Hindutva brigade from the Sachar Committee Report, Communal Violence Bill to charges of saffron terror. Despite its tentacles in civil society, the RSS has always stood in fear of hostile governments (the two bans imposed on it 1948 and 1975 are testament to this) and has taken advantage of a sympathetic government. For Nagpur House, it was a do or die battle.
In spite of all their avowals against politics, the RSS is and has always been an intensely political organisation, closely interacting and often interfering with its electoral wing, the BJP, from the mandal level upwards. This has led to the “politicisation” of the swayamsevaks. The RSS has always claimed that “character building” is its primary aim and politics is anathema to it. Both Hedgewar and Golwalkar were keen to keep the organisation insulated from the corrosive effect of electoral politics, though the RSS under Golwalkar controlled the Jana Sangh right from its inception in 1951. His successor Balasaheb Deoras shifted gears and blessed the Jana Sangh’s merger into the Janata Party. The BJP, since it was formed has been inextricably linked to the RSS and the umbilical cord was never severed.
While the majority of RSS cadres has nothing to do with electoral politics, the few who are deputed to run the show at the different levels exercise a lot of power. The organisation secretaries- the Pracharaks responsible for overseeing the BJP are supposed to operate privately, directing the party from behind the scenes and serving as a “bridge” between the RSS and its political affiliate. They call the shots and in the party’s organisations and are power centres who twist party men around their fingers.
As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi may be able to keep the demands of the Sangh Parivar and its fringe elements at bay. However he will have to acknowledge that it was the RSS support which ensured his elevation in the party ranks and ensured his victory. This overt RSS support could prove a bigger challenge for Narendra Modi, than their immediate demands for quid pro quo. The challenge before the RSS is how to balance the benefits of power with the corrosion it inevitably brings.
Even as late as 2012, the RSS was heading towards obsolescence. Its power was waning. There was growing concern about how to attract young people to the shakhas, and more importantly, how to maintain the gunvatta (quality) of swayamsevaks. The RSS’s was seen as being irrelevant to Hindu concerns and the broader issues confronting Indian society. It was an ancient army without a purpose: the average Hindu on the street has no use for it.
The number of shakhas was on the decline. Even though no registers of memberships are kept, but they conceded that not enough young people are being drawn to the disciplined life of the Swayamsevak. The UPA government’s investigation into the RSS and its affiliates’ role in the so-called Hindu terror activities, the dwindling attendance at its morning shakhas and the perilous drop in its membership of upper-caste youths that used to form the backbone of its organisation was worrying the Sangh.
Suddenly, the organization which was becoming moribund and seen to be out of tune with the times, underwent a change and started arresting its progressive decline. In less than a year, more than 4,000 new shakhas have sprouted across the country. By the beginning of 2014, there were 44,982 shakhas in India, of which 8,417 were in UP alone.
While RSS does not maintain a membership register, making it tough to gauge the precise number of its volunteers, the shakhas’ figure is considered a fair indicator whether the organisation’s support is increasing or diminishing.
How does the RSS, the organisation that nurtured and mentored him, regard India’s Prime Minister-in-waiting? Apparently, the RSS is wholly committed to Modi’s victory in this elections but it still has many doubts and fears about him, and has a visceral distrust of the personality cult around him. Modi paraded his RSS credentials at the different rallies during his nationwide campaign trail. He has even authored a book on Guru Golwalkar.
For many at Nagpur, Modi is a sheer opportunist with a split personality. While he claims to be a dedicated RSS worker and spouts its ideology, neither his flamboyant lifestyle nor his actions conform to the RSS ethics. He is certainly not a disciplined Swayamsevak who subscribes to the “ekchalkaanuvrat” dictum, which means conforming to the rules. This dictum is often described as, “Soochna ke baad, sochna band (After the order, stop thinking and just do it).” Not this for Modi. He is a headstrong person who will have his way come what may. The episodes of Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the manifesto fiasco, are examples of his relentless and formidable strength of purpose. It was Modi who threatened to quit as chief minister if the BJP central leadership insisted on giving his detractor, Haren Pandya, a ticket to contest the 2002 assembly elections. Pandya, a Cabinet minister, was denied a ticket and murdered shortly thereafter. The murder remains unsolved to this day.
For his part, Modi needs the RSS not merely for logistical support on the ground, but to back him against his own party colleagues. Modi will have to fight many of his senior most BJP colleagues in each. He can only hope to be able to do this with RSS backing.
The atmospherics at the RSS shakhas are different this time around, with Swayamsevaks displayed hope and enthusiasm for the first time since 1999. The Narendra Modi wave seems to have every nook and corner of the nation. The message sent from Nagpur was clear– go forth and enroll voters and make sure they vote BJP. Modi’s candidature had excited the RSS. The Swayamsevaks communicated the message down the line—at shakhas and at small gatherings of five or six people. The RSS excels at such mass contact and booth management.
These foot soldiers of the RSS go from door to door, convincing people indirectly to vote for BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. The visited people in their homes are explained how the ideology of the Sangh is for the nation and it is in their interest to vote for leaders who think of the nation. They are not out to promote Narendra Modi, but the BJP. For them, it was only by default that Modi was the party’s PM candidate.
This time around, the RSS is wary of free-thinking intellectuals in the Hindu space. In spite of this, the fact remains that the RSS cannot have a future without creating a solid intellectual base. Most intelligent former swayamsevaks have left it and shifted to the social sphere—people like Govindacharya, who now promotes the Aam Aadmi Party, or Sanjeev Kelkar, author of ‘Lost years of the RSS’, who left the RSS and now runs rural healthcare projects and empathises with Dalit causes. To have a future, the RSS needs a growth path without negativities and anti-minorityism. The writing on the wall is clear: to survive, the RSS has to rethink and reinvent. In its present form, it has no future and will atrophy.
In an interview given in March 2000, Mohan Bhagwat himself had said “We believe that the individual is the best instrument to effect change in the society. And the shakha is the best instrument to create such individuals.”
By Anil Dhir