Monday, November 28th, 2022 09:41:20

RSS and BJP– The Undefinable Relationship

By Ratan Sharda
Updated: November 6, 2022 8:40 pm

After the birth of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, there were speculations and accusations that it was a political arm of RSS and that it controlled BJS. After the merger of BJS into Janata Party, Janata Party split on the same issue (famously called dual membership controversy) and resurrection of former BJS in new avatar of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has kept the debate on.

Nalin Mehta has written a data driven, non-partisan book on – The New BJP – recently and he contends that BJP is now much bigger than RSS in terms of membership; and implies that RSS is no longer in a position to control BJP as many political analysts believe.

One must accept that in the initial years same RSS swayamsevaks would be wearing the BJS cap to support it, and would be wearing VHP caps to support it when it was formed. Lack of their own cadre in those initial years and RSS workers always being ready to support a good cause were the reasons behind this. I have seen those days. At the same time, it is true that since last many years, each of these organisations have their own cadre. RSS swayamsevaks do not go out to wear different caps for different occasions anymore.

Having seen different phases of BJP’s growth, I can say that, forget outsiders, even new entrants find it difficult to explain the relationship between the two largest organisations of India; one in socio-cultural field, the other in political field. Let us begin by saying that their point of intersection is the belief that  Bharat is a geo-cultural entity, a perennial nation of more than 10000 years of documented history and Hindutva or Hinduness is the foundational base of this nation. It is the invisible thread that holds our civilisational nation together. India is not a nation “in the making”. This is not a minor point of convergence. This idea is the life breath of our nation and secret of its survival despite around 1000 years of oppression, holocaust and pillage.  Except this commonality of philosophy, the field of work of both the organisations is very different with not much in common in their fields of operation.

Politics is a small fraction of a nation’s existence, even though it influences all the spheres of life. If it alone could solve the problem, nations across the world would not have so many social organisations, NGOs etc. Shri Guruji, the second Sarsanghchaalak (Chief) of RSS, the most influential figure of RSS with his 33 years of work for the organisation and the nation, firmly believed that politics is not the panacea of all the problems that a society faces. For a democracy to succeed and nation to develop, we need conscious patriotic citizens who are ready to offer their services selflessly for the upliftment of the society. He was genuinely not interested in politics and more specifically, electoral politics. Guruji was a highly spiritual person who had actually taken diksha from Swami Akhandananda of Ram Krishna Mission, Gurubhai of Swami Vivekananda. Dr Hedgewar was a public personality who had taken part in freedom movement as a revolutionary and as a Congress leader.

During the period of RSS ban of 1948 and after the ban was lifted, there was intellectual churning within RSS. It was an organisation with an average age of about 25-26 years. The churn was reflected in its own periodicals. Organiser weekly, in 1949 carried editorials by K.R. Malkani and articles by Prof.BalrajMadhok that urged RSS to join politics. One of the earliest prachaaraks of RSS, DadaraoParamarth, who began work with Dr Hedgewar from 1930 during the Non-Cooperation Movement, also supported this idea. BalasahebDeoras wrote an article in Yugdharm titled, ‘Sanghkaaglakadam’ (next step of RSS) that stated that the Sangh would now work in every area of social life. This article was discussed widely during those days. Delhi state prachaarak, Vasantrao Oak, a prominent figure of RSS who had begun RSS work in Delhi and expanded it successfully, was also vocal supporter of RSS joining politics. Major reason was that the young leaders had seen that no political party or leader had stood by RSS and fought for it against the wrong charges heaped on it. They felt they needed their own voice in politics.

It was on persuasion of his younger colleagues that he agreed to help Dr Shyama Prasad Mukerjee for his new party Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Once the decision was taken, Guruji deputed some of the best prachaaraks to Jan Sangh. They included NanajiDeshmukh, BalrajMadhok, Dharmavir, Sunder Singh Bhandari, Jagannathrao Joshi, L.K. Advani. Atal Behari Vajpayee etc. DeendayalUpadhyayji was chosen by Guruji to take on the onerous responsibility of organizing the party as the general secretary of the party.

Guruji was non-partisan on national issues. He showed his unhappiness to Punjab Jan Sangh leaders when they supported Arya Samaj stance on Punjabi and Hindi. He clearly asserted that Punjabi was the mother tongue of all the people living in Punjab and they must own it, not mark their mother tongue as Hindi. BJS had to change its stance. He supported Punjabi Suba unlike non-Akali parties of Punjab including Congress. He was against the dismissal of Communist government in 1959, though BJS was supporting it. He wrote a long confidential letter to DevendraSwaroop that since colleagues in BJS had decided to support it, he could not speak in public about it. Swaroop brought this letter into public after many years. He would generally go out for baithaks for health recovery during elections.

The next Sarsanghchaalak, BalasahebDeoras was nurtured into an RSS karyakarta directly under Dr Hedgewar and he had political instincts of Dr Hedgewar.  He was called a living image of Dr Hedgewar by Guruji himself and was Sarsanghchaalak for twenty-one years after Guruji left this world. He asked RSS as an organisation to take part in anti-corruption movement led by Jaiprakash Narayan ji. This period, till the lifting of Emergency saw RSS directly involved in politics and also take part in 1977 elections. It had a role to play in formation of Janata Party too. However, once Emergency was lifted, RSS went back to its non-political stance.

RSS was dragged unwillingly into partisan politics due to shenanigans of Socialist group leaders when they forced erstwhile BJS members out of Janata Party in the guise of dual-membership. The real fear was that BJS being cadre based party, would dominate Janata Party with its cadres getting more members into the party and controlling it in organisational elections. Infact, many of their leaders had sung peans to the work of RSS with great comradery inside and outside the prison. There were many attempts to allay their fears, but of no avail. One interesting episode needs to be shared to understand how RSS tried to keep aloof and save Janata Party from self-destruction.

Chandra Shekhar had come to Nagpur for one of the many deliberations. Balasaheb himself went to receive him to show respect to him. Nobody knows exactly what transpired in this ninety-minute meeting. But some points were revealed after the informal meetings. Balasaheb clearly put down four points:

RSS will not change its foundational principles.

It will keep working as the fully conscious national watchdog to keep an eye on national security and national interest. It will not allow any political party or component of ruling party to do anything anti-national.

Except RSS office bearers, all other swayamsevaks were free to join any political party or organization as per their inclination. RSS will not stop anyone from doing this.

The erstwhile Jan Sangh members and workers should follow the discipline of the party and work there. They can decide what they wish to do about the Sangh. The Sangh will not interfere in their decisions. Since they had very old relations with the RSS and it could not ask them not to take part in Sangh activities.

Still the Socialist group kept insisting that Jan Sangh leaders must severe their ties with RSS, as if it was their sole duty to keep Janata Party together. Balasaheb went to the extent of writing a letter to Chandra Shekhar to propose that the elected members of Jan Sangh would be free to not attend RSS programmes. Many colleagues told Balasaheb that it won’t serve any purpose as Socialists were bent upon insulting RSS and isolating its members in the Janata Party. But he felt that if such a letter satisfies them there was no harm in trying. But, the Janata Party leadership revelling in its ego never responded, leading to its split and finally eclipse

Another example of RSS’s efforts at keeping distance with politics was after the birth of BJP. It had adopted Gandhian Socialism as it guiding principle. RajmataScindia criticised this resolution from the stage of its first national meet. But RSS kept quiet. When some people asked BalasahebDeoras about this ideologically confusing stand, he simply said, “Don’t worry. We should trust them, it is their field. In the coming two or three years BJP will become totally Hindutvavadi and will promote Hindutva.” And we know that BJP leader L K Advani later brought a resolution in the Hamirpur national conference supporting building up of Ram Mandir and asserting the philosophy of Cultural Nationalism. It is to be noted that it was BJP’s decision to join the Ram Mandir movement in 1989 was its own policy decision and it came nearly three years after the movement was launched. It was not forced on it by RSS. Rest is history.

A critical role of RSS played in politics recent times was to persuade the  BJP leadership to make the generational change  in 2013. However, RSS stopped at this point and did not dictate terms to BJP about how to go about it. Other organisations under its ideological umbrella have taken independent stance vis a vis this government and earlier during Vajpayee regime where required. Whether it is the issue of multinationals in the field of retail, or GM seeds or some economic policies, they have taken their own stand, even against the government where required.

Organisations under RSS umbrella have not forced their views and ideas on the government but shared their views with it like any other organisation in the country. At the same time, we also see that the Modi government has implemented economic policies that reflect the thinking of one of the BJP’s founders, PanditDeendayalUpadhyay who propounded Integral Humanism. A philosophy that speaks of, among other things, inclusive economic policies and taking care of the last person in the queue, helping every citizen lead a life of dignity with integral development.  The new found confidence in foreign policy, security issues, stress on aatmanirbarat, go local – all come from the same ideological moorings, there is no need for RSS to ‘force’ these ideas.

Many new leaders have come from AkhilBharatiyaVidyarthiParishad, though the tradition of providing organisation secretaries by RSS from state to national level on request of BJP continues. Some of the prachaaraks return to base after some years while most of them stay back. Latest well-known, high-profile examples are Ram Lal and Ram Madhav. RSS may have easy access to BJP leaders as many of them are from RSS, but it does not mean that RSS has overbearing influence over BJP. Major chunk of BJP cadre, now, comes from outside RSS fold as is seen clearly in Nalin Mehta’s study. There are increasing number of non-RSS leaders in BJP. It can be seen in many of the government decision that are not necessarily in tune with RSS thinking. This relation is much different from the tight hold NAC had over the UPA governments in day to day policy matters.

Having a bird’s eye view of history of BJP and influence that RSS has on it, one can say that the two organisations have close affinity due to common philosophical background but remain independent, with  each having its own field of work  and area of influence cut out with only a few fuzzy or grey areas.  It is an ideal relationship under a common philosophical umbrella like a Bharatiya joint family where members scrupulously try not to step on each other’s’ toes or dictate terms to the other members, at the same time ready to their share ideas.

By Ratan Sharda
(All the references are from my book – RSS: Evolution from an Organisation to a Movement, Rupa Publications)

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