The name Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) crops up every so often in the Indian political narrative. In recent times, reports suggest that the organisation may have been responsible for the premature end of the career of Subhash Chandra Garg who was the finance secretary of India for five months – from March to July 2019. He was shifted to the power ministry thereafter.
RSS officials and SJM economists reportedly met with the government to consult on whether India should issue government bonds abroad to rake in foreign capital, a strategy which was red-flagged by previous RBI governors.
The BJP government, which was initially on board with the plan, has now decided to “review its decision”.
When contacted by the media, Ashwani Mahajan, National Co-Convener of SJM refused to speak about the meeting. On the foreign currency bonds proposal, he said, “It’s a risk not worth taking. It is a foolish idea.”
This incident aside, in the last year alone, SJM has criticised NITI Aayog for “killing jobs”, told the RBI that its profits belong to the government, tried to stop the Walmart-Flipkart deal, and wrote to the Prime Minister to take away China’s Most Favoured Nation status, among other things.
What is the Swadeshi Jagran Manch? And why does it have influence over the government even though they don’t see eye-to-eye over economic issues?
Let’s find out.
Founded in 1991, SJM is recognised as the economic arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), much as the BJP is its political affiliate.
It considers itself the descendant of the Swadeshi movement – a significant subset of the independence movement – which was aimed at developing Indian nationalism.
Figures like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Mahatma Gandhi contributed to the Swadeshi movement and school of thought, which focussed on indigenous production and the boycott of British goods, among other things.
Post-independence India was in dire straits in the years leading up to the economic meltdown in 1991 when the government nearly went bankrupt. A deal was struck, and the IMF gave India a USD 500 million bailout package in exchange for agreeing to liberalise our largely socialist economy and opening it up to the world.
The organisations in question were the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), RSS’ youth wing ABVP, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat (ABGP) and Sahkar Bharati. Ex-Vice Chancellor of Nagpur University, Dr MG Bokare was appointed the first national convener.
SJM began protesting the newly liberalised economic policies and the purported economic imperialism of multinational corporations that had newly entered the Indian market. This involved boycotting MNCs, a tactic which it still employs.
It began publishing and distributing its own literature to push its cause. SJM continued to grow over the years under RSS’ wing, with the support of more like-minded organisations such as Vidya Bharati and Rashtra Sevika Samiti.
Following the 2014 election, which the BJP swept, SJM has more influence over the government than ever before, owing to its RSS roots and endorsement.