There has been a fairly futile discussion for some time, not just among the Left-liberal stream of politics, but also those who are on the “economic” though not on the “cultural” Right (the two categories do frequently collapse into one), whether the present government is that of the Bharatiya Janata Party or of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
A related point that’s debated is: Whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the upper hand, or the RSS notables sitting in Nagpur or Delhi’s Jhandewalan, and whose writ runs in the country.
For all the sincerity with which arguments are summoned, this line of enquiry seems quite pointless — for the answer is clear enough. Ever since Mr Modi gained salience on the national stage, a bewildering variety of individuals and organisations — and these have included BJP MLAs, MPs, and ministers — have abrasively drawn attention to the differences in belief, practice and social and familial culture between the Hindu and the Muslim, with a view to condemning the latter as the outsider “other” who must be tolerated (for reasons of history), but really doesn’t have a place here. From time to time the same elements have also made derogatory references to the Scheduled Caste sections.
In short, from their position of power and dominance, they have directed their tactics and their ire — indeed their broad strategy — against the two most disadvantaged sections of India.
And frequently, their efforts and articulations have brought the deepest controversy and violence to the surface — to name a few, the Muzaffarnagar riots (in which the Uttar Pradesh government also appeared complicit for narrow political reasons), the episode of Mohammad Akhlaq’s murder in Dadri on the beef issue and similar instances elsewhere, and most recently the Jawaharlal Nehru University question which led Hindutva-oriented lawyers to go berserk and has brought death threats to the JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar who highlighted the question of fundamental freedoms enshrined in our Constitution and highlighted in its Preamble.
Such things have never happened before, and that should be strong enough indication that we are living in times like no other that we have a government of a type not seen before. It is in this broad, overall, context that we may assert that in the Vajpayee government, with its BJP preponderance, the question — whether it was the RSS on top or the Prime Minister — had analytical value. But not now.
The second National Democratic Alliance government of Atal Behari Vajpayee was a coalition of BJP-led parties in which the BJP was an indispensable element, but others were not without value, especially after the fall of the first Vajpayee government with just one ally leaving. However, in the NDA government of Mr Modi, all the parties of the coalition are dispensable as the BJP has a comfortable majority on its own.
Aside from the fact that the present Prime Minister has been a RSS pracharak or whole-time worker of the Hindutva mother-body all his life until he became chief minister of Gujarat, it is evident that when the BJP comes to have a majority of its own in Parliament, no matter who the Prime Minister, it is the RSS that will be in the driver’s seat.
The reasons are evident: the overwhelming bulk of BJP MPs (and MLAs) are drawn from the RSS. It is the RSS cadre (including its front organisations such as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) that provides campaign muscle at the election time as the BJP has no cadre of its own. Also, the BJP almost invariably has one, if not more, general secretary-level functionary formally imported from the parent organisation (the RSS) to ensure BJP-RSS coordination.
In other words, when the BJP wins, it is the RSS that runs the show though its office-bearers do not stand up in Parliament to answer questions on behalf of the government (although most ministers will owe allegiance to the RSS and its worldview, especially in relation to culture, education and allied matters).
A few months ago, didn’t we see the extraordinary sight of the Prime Minister and his most senior Cabinet colleagues, in a publicly orchestrated move, go up to the highest-level RSS functionaries to present the government’s report card and seek instruction and encouragement. This is akin to the East India Company working under the Royal Charter and the company’s directors periodically reporting to the Crown (through Parliament).
The economic Right were tired of the Congress-led government which wouldn’t fully do its bidding, and were mired in corruption and other deficiencies. So they went along to the cultural Right in an extraordinary compact to have Mr Modi as Prime Minister. But some of the recent episodes have rudely awakened them.
They are asking the right questions about civil liberty, the value of democracy, and railing about Hindu-majoritarian political thinking and the BJP-RSS’ “communal” orientation that holds sway. But they sound ridiculous and pathetic, as they are unlikely to make effective moves to indicate their unhappiness, although in coming days the cause for their worry is likely to get more acute, not less, with the drumbeat of nationalism hitting higher registers.
The RSS national meet in Nagaur, Rajasthan, held last week provides buttress to the ideas that have sparked confrontation in recent times. The saffron leadership made two things plain — that “anti-national” thinking won’t be tolerated in our universities, and that “nationalist” education must be provided.
These were said by way of injunctions to the government as well as support to the government’s stance on what has happened uptil now (especially in Hyderabad where a dalit Ph.D. scholar, Rohith Vemula, was driven to suicide by governmental apathy and the university’s prejudicial action, and in JNU).
These are crucial observations and need a full-scale debate without threats. It is necessary to find out from the government and the RSS what is meant by “anti-national” and “nationalist education”? For instance, does this only mean teaching that ancient Indians (though they could not be called Hindu at the time) had mastered plastic surgery and could fly planes (the “Pushpak Viman”), ridiculous though that sounds, or is there more — such as Hindus are superior to others?
It is curious that the “nationalism” issue has been made the theme song when five state elections are coming up and there is no relief to the people on the jobs and price front. Since the pace has been set by an assembly of the unelected, it seems likely that there is going to be no social peace under the present government.