The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The ongoing tussle between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership in the government is far from over. The relationship between the RSS and the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, may be uneasy but it must not be confused with any break in the links between the parent organization and its progeny — the BJP. The real battle is whether the hardline Hindutva ideology will be the basis of the BJP’s future politics or whether it would have to continue moulding itself to suit the coalition politics of the day. This decisive battle is likely to be fought not in New Delhi but in Gujarat where legislative elections are due on December 12.

To an outsider, the RSS attempt to interfere in the functioning of the Vajpayee government seems to be an extra-constitutional attempt to seek a role in policy formulation, and it has been criticized as such. However, to RSS insiders the tussle resembles the relationship between a parent and a wayward son. One needs to understand this relationship to fathom which way Hindutva politics in India is headed.

The sangh parivar or the RSS-family of organizations is best understood as a group of institutions spawned by the RSS, each with a considerable degree of autonomy to push its individual agenda but all drawing sustenance from a common ideology — Hindutva. The broad ideological framework to which all of them are expected to subscribe to defines the constraints within which they work. Thus, for example, the RSS trade union, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, will never go to the extent of defining the primary contradiction of capitalism as between capital and labour or support a proletarian revolution; its educational wing, Vidya Bharati, would never start a madrasah; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad would never built a mosque to promote communal harmony and its literary wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad, would never publish the translations of Urdu poetry and so on.

The RSS and its front organizations are unhappy with Vajpayee because they do not find him conforming to their broad Hindutva agenda. Instead of furthering it, he is often critical of it. Whether this is due to the compulsions of coalition politics or due to Vajpayee’s personality is immaterial to the sangh parivar organizations. What matters to them is that their agenda — constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya, introducing a uniform civil code and abolishing Article 370, which gives a special status to Jammu and Kashmir — has been dropped. And it has not been replaced by anything which would assuage the feelings of their cadre.

Adding insult to injury, the RSS feels that the BJP-led government is not duly respectful to its front organizations and their agenda. The RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, is peeved that neither the prime minister nor his ministers listen to him and that the government is disrespectful of the other RSS front organizations, their agendas and their leaders.

Worst of all for the RSS perhaps is the fact that this government gave up two opportunities to attack Pakistan — first after the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament and again in June this year after the terrorist attack at an army camp at Kaluchak. The RSS also feels that its political initiatives are not taken seriously by the Vajpayee government. It had set up its own committee to look into the feasibility of Jammu and Ladakh being politically separated from Jammu and Kashmir — Jammu as a new state and Ladakh as a Union territory. The RSS found that the government, instead of engaging with the committee, ridiculed it.

What we are witnessing, therefore, is the manifestation of the accumulated real or imaginary grievances of the last three years against Vajpayee. However, the divorce proceedings between the RSS leadership and the prime minister, must not be construed as a larger break between the RSS and the BJP. The reason for this is simple — at the lower level of the BJP, there is no distinction between an RSS worker and a party worker. The lower level party worker of the BJP has a multi-faceted personality — he may be in the BJP but also goes to the RSS branch meeting every morning and finds time for the local agitations of the VHP and Bajrang Dal. He may also be attached to the RSS-run educational institutions or other front organizations.

The argument of the RSS is that it did not help the BJP to come to power for the glorification of any individual (read, Vajpayee). If political power cannot be used to push the Hindutva agenda or to punish Pakistan then what use is it to the RSS and its allied organizations' It is this frustration which shows up in the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh leader, Dattopant Thengadi, calling Vajpayee “a low level” (nimnakoti) person, its students’ wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, declaring him a useless (nikamma) prime minister, Ashok Singhal attacking the prime minister’s principal secretary and national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra. Even Sudarshan has declared that those in the government who believe in economic liberalization should be removed from the government.

Vajpayee could have ridden over these attacks easily. But his vacillation in taking on his sangh parivar critics has weakened his position. He was strong on disinvestment but fudged on the Ram temple issue, saying that it reflected “national” sentiment. He also displayed weakness by changing his tune at the Goa party conclave, going back on his criticism of Narendra Modi and the communal rioting in Gujarat. This buckling under pressure weakened him so much that under RSS insistence he was forced to appoint L.K. Advani as the deputy prime minister — in effect the prime minister in waiting.

Any further advance in Advani’s political career, despite his lacklustre performance as home minister, depends crucially once again on the outcome of the battle ranging between the RSS and Vajpayee. As it happens, it will be Gujarat which will decide whether the RSS’s version of Hindutva will win over India’s secular politics.

If the BJP wins a comfortable majority in the 182-member legislative assembly, then that would be a victory for hardline Hindutva. The RSS would then argue that the methods of Narendra Modi and the communal violence he unleashed in Gujarat have been vindicated by the mandate. This would be taken as a pointer to consolidating the communal Hindu vote bank.

The Hindutva forces would then want to replicate the so-called “Gujarat experiment” elsewhere in the country by first fanning “Hindu anger” and then consolidating it as votes. In such circumstances, there might be a push for an early parliamentary poll which could be as soon as next summer or autumn. It would not be Vajpayee who would lead the BJP into the next general elections under these changed circumstances but Advani. Vajpayee may then have to make way for Advani as prime minister well before the elections.

If, however, the BJP were to get about 80 to 85 seats in the Gujarat assembly — six to ten seats short of a majority — then the Vajpayee government would last its full term and Advani’s prime ministerial ambitions would receive a setback. If the BJP loses, of course, then an important question in Indian politics about the limits of communal politics will have been settled.

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