One of the most unnecessarily complex relationships in India’s political culture is the one between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The former sees the latter as its parent body. The RSS, by its own admission, is a cultural organization dedicated to the resurgence of what it defines as “Hindu” culture and values. The BJP is a political party that participates in Indian democracy in its various facets, and when it wins elections and power, its members swear loyalty to the Indian Constitution, which upholds secularism. There are historical links between the RSS and the BJP since the latter evolved out of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Jan Sangh, both of which saw the RSS as their parent. The historical links between the RSS and the BJP are thus twice removed. What is more important is that the objectives of the two formations are explicitly different and divergent. Yet the BJP sees itself as being tied to the RSS by apron strings, if not by an umbilical cord. The recently concluded appointment of the president of the BJP illustrates the kind of influence the RSS wields over a political party.
It is obvious that on important matters, such as the selection of a president, the BJP, for reasons best known to itself, pays token obeisance to the RSS. Yet, it is evident that the BJP or RSS had very little choice except to appoint Rajnath Singh, which is what happened. That Nitin Gadkari could no longer continue as the president was a foregone conclusion. The options closed when it became obvious that no one was quite prepared to choose between Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. There may have been a tacit recognition that both these leaders make excellent lieutenants, but do not quite make the number-one slot. They are therefore best left undisturbed in the positions they respectively hold in the two Houses of Parliament. The mantle of the presidency thus had to fall on Mr Singh in the absence of any serious and credible contenders. There are two things that need to be noted. One is the influence that the RSS continues to exert over what can only be described as political affairs. The other is the fissures that exist within the BJP: it is not as united as appearances would suggest. The RSS, BJP and other associated organizations pride themselves on being part of the sangh parivar. Like any other family, the sangh parivar is not free of its internal tensions, some of them unnecessary and unbecoming.