What is the RSS’ Swadeshi Jagran Manch & How Influential Is It?

Most lately, the SJM may have been responsible for the premature end of finance secretary Subhash Garg’s career.

Updated22 Aug 2019, 11:35 AM IST
Explainers
6 min read
Snapshot

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.

What is the RSS’ Swadeshi Jagran Manch & How Influential Is It?

  1. 1. Where Did it Come From?

    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 same year in Nagpur, on 22 November, representatives of five national affiliate organisations met and formed the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, to make people aware of what it felt was “economic imperialism”.

    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.

    Expand
  2. 2. What is SJM's Ideology?

    True to its swadeshi roots, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s economic outlook is best described as protectionist.

    The organisation takes an unfavourable view of modern economic staples like globalisation, the predominance of multi-nationals, foreign direct investment and cross-border trade.

    Instead, it pushes ideas such as emphasis on domestic production, a relatively closed economy and cautious, self-interest-based approach to international trade and cooperation.

    For SJM the smallest socio-cultural economic unit is not the individual but the family.

    “The Western notion of individual freedom, which fragments and compartmentalises family, economy, culture and social values, is not acceptable to the Swadeshi approach.”
    Philosophy, swadeshionline.in

    The modern capitalist market also sits uncomfortably within SJM’s ideological framework.

    “The smaller the size of the market, the better it is as an instrument. The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market and not to eliminate the market as communism does,” the website adds.

    Its self proclaimed global view is, “let a thousand markets bloom – and not merge into one global market”.

    The organisation also opposes the notion of a consumption driven economy, opting instead for “need based” consumption.

    Expand
  3. 3. Similarities With the Left?

    Being a decidedly right wing organisation, SJM’s stance on economic affairs bears an uncanny resemblance to the that of leftist thought.

    This is likely due to the nature of the right wing in India. While in the United States and Europe, the right is usually for conservative and protectionist trade policies, the Indian right has a socially conservative but economically liberal stance.

    The BJP government has won twice, partly on the promise of a fast-growing economy and Modi's pro-reform and pro-liberalisation stance. It has also extensively criticised the socialist ‘licence raj’ model that the Congress had followed in the decades pre-liberalisation.

    But, due to its Swadeshi persuasion and nationalist leanings, the SJM itself leans towards socialist economics. It sticks to the tenets of self-reliance, abstaining from consumerism and the rejection (to an extent) of the globalised economy.

    Like the left, SJM also targets the inequality that is characteristic of a capitalist setup. "Ratio of income of top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent should not exceed 10:1," is one of its proclaimed goals.

    The Swadeshi Jagran Manch is aware of the similarities it shares with leftist thought and painstakingly points out the differences in the last few paragraphs of its website’s philosophy section, "The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market and not to eliminate the market as communism does."

    It goes on to defend its “needs-based approach” by arguing that it is not an outright rejection of the modern economy.

    “It is a mistaken notion that the need-based approach of the Swadeshi philosophy is against creation of wealth. The Swadeshi thought is merely an injunction against unlimited consumption.”

    A more pronounced difference between the SJM and the left, however, is its Hindu-nationalist outlook evident from its affiliation to the RSS.

    Expand
  4. 4. How Much Does it Influence the Government?

    The Swadeshi Jagran Manch currently has enormous influence on the BJP government, as is evident from the fact that it was brought in to consult on the matter of issuing government bonds abroad.

    But this has been going on for a while now.

    • The SJM had publicly attacked the NDA government in 2016 for liberalising Foreign Direct Investment norms. It also campaigns for India to take tougher, self interest based stances when it comes to WTO or multi-lateral trade agreements.
    • SJM had launched a public campaign to create awareness against dumping of cheap Chinese goods in India. The government subsequently put tougher standards into place for products like Chinese toys leading to a drastic fall in their imports.
      In 2019, it once again wrote to the government asking it to strip China of its Most Favoured nation status, in retaliation to China blocking the UN resolution to designate Mashood Azhar a global terrorist.
    • SJM was, according to reports, involved in the scrapping of the government’s plans to disband the medicine pricing regulator, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). And has since protested any sign of deregulation in the field.
    • It is against GM seeds and is also behind absence of a setup for testing and approving genetically modified (GM) crops in India, which means farmers resort to illegal GM seeds.
    • SJM frequently lodges complaints with the government against alleged unfair trade practices. In 2018 it alleged that Walmart was using Flipkart as a backdoor entry into the Indian Market which prompted the government to refer the case to investigative authorities.
      The next year in June the telecom ministry sent notice to the apps TikTok and Helo over an SJM complaint which alleged that they were storing their data outside India.
    • The organisation has an issue with disinvestment of PSUs. It believes that the government should drop its plan for the disinvestment of Air India and other PSUs.
    • Ashwani Mahajan has also criticised NITI Aayog for “killing jobs” and relying on foreign consultants with “conflicting interests”. He has asked the think tank to make its calculations public and incorporate public debate.

    These are only some of the instances in which the Swadeshi Jagran Manch criticised or attempted influencing government policy.

    SJM is at the forefront of a larger trend in which the entire RSS family is finding its way into meeting rooms with the government, and as a result, exercising ever increasing influence over policy.

    We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

    The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.

    Expand

Where Did it Come From?

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 same year in Nagpur, on 22 November, representatives of five national affiliate organisations met and formed the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, to make people aware of what it felt was “economic imperialism”.

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.

What is SJM's Ideology?

True to its swadeshi roots, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s economic outlook is best described as protectionist.

The organisation takes an unfavourable view of modern economic staples like globalisation, the predominance of multi-nationals, foreign direct investment and cross-border trade.

Instead, it pushes ideas such as emphasis on domestic production, a relatively closed economy and cautious, self-interest-based approach to international trade and cooperation.

For SJM the smallest socio-cultural economic unit is not the individual but the family.

“The Western notion of individual freedom, which fragments and compartmentalises family, economy, culture and social values, is not acceptable to the Swadeshi approach.”
Philosophy, swadeshionline.in

The modern capitalist market also sits uncomfortably within SJM’s ideological framework.

“The smaller the size of the market, the better it is as an instrument. The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market and not to eliminate the market as communism does,” the website adds.

Its self proclaimed global view is, “let a thousand markets bloom – and not merge into one global market”.

The organisation also opposes the notion of a consumption driven economy, opting instead for “need based” consumption.

Similarities With the Left?

Being a decidedly right wing organisation, SJM’s stance on economic affairs bears an uncanny resemblance to the that of leftist thought.

This is likely due to the nature of the right wing in India. While in the United States and Europe, the right is usually for conservative and protectionist trade policies, the Indian right has a socially conservative but economically liberal stance.

The BJP government has won twice, partly on the promise of a fast-growing economy and Modi's pro-reform and pro-liberalisation stance. It has also extensively criticised the socialist ‘licence raj’ model that the Congress had followed in the decades pre-liberalisation.

But, due to its Swadeshi persuasion and nationalist leanings, the SJM itself leans towards socialist economics. It sticks to the tenets of self-reliance, abstaining from consumerism and the rejection (to an extent) of the globalised economy.

Like the left, SJM also targets the inequality that is characteristic of a capitalist setup. "Ratio of income of top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent should not exceed 10:1," is one of its proclaimed goals.

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch is aware of the similarities it shares with leftist thought and painstakingly points out the differences in the last few paragraphs of its website’s philosophy section, "The Swadeshi approach is to limit the size of the market and not to eliminate the market as communism does."

It goes on to defend its “needs-based approach” by arguing that it is not an outright rejection of the modern economy.

“It is a mistaken notion that the need-based approach of the Swadeshi philosophy is against creation of wealth. The Swadeshi thought is merely an injunction against unlimited consumption.”

A more pronounced difference between the SJM and the left, however, is its Hindu-nationalist outlook evident from its affiliation to the RSS.

How Much Does it Influence the Government?

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch currently has enormous influence on the BJP government, as is evident from the fact that it was brought in to consult on the matter of issuing government bonds abroad.

But this has been going on for a while now.

  • The SJM had publicly attacked the NDA government in 2016 for liberalising Foreign Direct Investment norms. It also campaigns for India to take tougher, self interest based stances when it comes to WTO or multi-lateral trade agreements.
  • SJM had launched a public campaign to create awareness against dumping of cheap Chinese goods in India. The government subsequently put tougher standards into place for products like Chinese toys leading to a drastic fall in their imports.
    In 2019, it once again wrote to the government asking it to strip China of its Most Favoured nation status, in retaliation to China blocking the UN resolution to designate Mashood Azhar a global terrorist.
  • SJM was, according to reports, involved in the scrapping of the government’s plans to disband the medicine pricing regulator, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA). And has since protested any sign of deregulation in the field.
  • It is against GM seeds and is also behind absence of a setup for testing and approving genetically modified (GM) crops in India, which means farmers resort to illegal GM seeds.
  • SJM frequently lodges complaints with the government against alleged unfair trade practices. In 2018 it alleged that Walmart was using Flipkart as a backdoor entry into the Indian Market which prompted the government to refer the case to investigative authorities.
    The next year in June the telecom ministry sent notice to the apps TikTok and Helo over an SJM complaint which alleged that they were storing their data outside India.
  • The organisation has an issue with disinvestment of PSUs. It believes that the government should drop its plan for the disinvestment of Air India and other PSUs.
  • Ashwani Mahajan has also criticised NITI Aayog for “killing jobs” and relying on foreign consultants with “conflicting interests”. He has asked the think tank to make its calculations public and incorporate public debate.

These are only some of the instances in which the Swadeshi Jagran Manch criticised or attempted influencing government policy.

SJM is at the forefront of a larger trend in which the entire RSS family is finding its way into meeting rooms with the government, and as a result, exercising ever increasing influence over policy.

We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.

Published: 09 Aug 2019, 05:57 AM IST

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