RSS Meet: Is BJP’s ‘Conscience-Keeper’ Now Just a Loyal Defender?
There have been repeated instances where RSS leaders have ‘seconded’ the government or the Prime Minister.
It is a surprise that the three-day meeting of the apex decision-making body of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which began on the day after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) remarkable performance in four of the five states that went to the polls recently, did not indulge in self-applause and instead resorted to playing the victim once again.
Or, is this just the latest evidence that the Sangh Parivar has little to draw upon to further its strength and popular support than the recurring rhetoric of victimhood?
The reason for asking this question regarding a symptom, which is also a medical condition or a syndrome, is the recent meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Paritinidhi Sabha (ABPS) on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.
The meeting was a full-house – well over a thousand whole-time functionaries from the RSS and other affiliates, representing 36 Sangh Parivar organisations, attended the session. A meeting at such a large scale was held after three years. Much smaller sessions were held in 2020 and 2021, and the latest meeting indicates that the RSS may be back to regular operations.
This was possible not only because of reduced worries over the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the centenary of the organisation in 2025, which will immediately follow the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Playing the victim card has been an old stratagem of the RSS, its affiliates and leaders. Because it was established to strengthen Hindu society, the basic premise of the RSS was that the community had become ‘weaker’ while other religious groups (read Muslims) had become superior.
At first, calls were issued to sink ‘differences’ and to unite on the basis of religious identity so that the community could become assertive ‘again’. Over the years, adding to the list of ‘conspiracies’ against the Hindu Samaj (Hindu society) became a continuous project.
One of the latest allegations came up in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak following the Tablighi Jamat’s congregation at the Nizamuddin Markaz in the Indian capital, which accused Muslims of spreading ‘Corona-Jihad’ against India and Hindus.
Despite the seeming ease of BJP victories in the recently-concluded elections, the fear of caste fissures undermining the laboriously consolidated Hindu unity through the Ayodhya agitation loomed at every stage of the campaign.
'Threats' to Hindu Samaj
Consequently, the RSS meeting raised the fear that as the “Census year” approaches, its swayamsevaks (volunteers) will have to remain on guard against “instances of inciting a group (read tribals) by propagating that they are not Hindus”.
In its carefully prepared annual report adopted at the ABPS meeting, which is also duly cleared by the top brass, the RSS leadership flagged the following other ‘concerns’:
Hindu Samaj faces enhanced political animosity and religious fanaticism
Inimical forces not appreciating the ‘sense of identity, unity and integrity’ of Bharat are ‘creating a vicious environment in society’
Various allegations are being made as part of planned ‘conspiracies’ against the Hindutva idea
Malicious ‘agenda’ is at work in the country and abroad ‘under the intellectual garb’
A formidable type of religious fanaticism in the country has raised its head again in many places
Violence is instigated on ‘meagre causes’ under the ‘guise’ of Constitutionalism and religious freedom
There exist ‘elaborate plans’ being hatched by a particular community to enter the government machinery
Planned conversion of Hindus is underway in different parts of the country
Although this challenge has a long history, of late, 'newer ways of converting’ various groups are being adopted’
Why Karnataka is the Key 'Theatre'
Significantly, Karnataka is mentioned as one of these ‘theatres’ where sinister schemes are being directed against India and Hindu society. This may indicate that the RSS is not very certain of whether the electoral mood in the state is in the favour of the BJP, as in the recent polls in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Assembly elections are due in Karnataka in April-May 2023, and the BJP does not yet have the cushion of credible governance and charismatic state leaders.
The RSS decision to raise the issue of an Islamist conspiracy in the state has to be seen against this looming challenge. Already, the process of communal polarisation has been kick-started via the Hijab issue, which has now become a raging point of discord.
The choice of the location for the ABPS meeting must also be noted. Assembly elections are due in Gujarat in November-December this year, and the three-day session coincided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s launch of the BJP’s electoral campaign with two roadshows.
Although the roadshow was called a ‘victory rally’ to celebrate the mandates in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, it demonstrated that the BJP and its leaders run a ceaseless electoral machine.
How RSS Has Become a Blind Follower
A year after Dattatreya Hosabale was ‘elected’ the 15th sarkaryavaha, or general secretary of the RSS – a development that marked the BJP’s ascendancy within the Hindu nationalistic ecosystem – the choice to hold the ABPS meeting in Ahmedabad for the first time after 1988 is not without significance.
That meeting took place a year before the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, which set the tone for complete synergy between the BJP and the RSS and the latter’s enhanced participation in campaigning for the BJP, which was missing in the previous elections in 1984, when the party was embarrassingly left clutching just two seats.
It was also the meeting where the RSS launched the birth centenary celebrations of its founder, KB Hedgewar, popularising the slogan “garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (say proudly, we are Hindus), which enabled it to mainstream ‘pride’ in the Hindu identity.
Despite the growing cohesion between the RSS and the BJP over the decades, the former acted as the latter’s conscience-keeper and policy-corrector. Since 2014, however, this role has been gradually abandoned by the one-time ideological fountainhead.
There have been repeated instances wherein RSS leaders have either ‘seconded’ the government or the Prime Minister. This was evident in the annual report, the economic resolution, or even Hosabale’s address at the ABPS meeting.
For instance, although the RSS flagged its worry over unemployment in the country, it added that there is a need to create an “environment conducive to encouraging entrepreneurship” and to ensure that people, especially the youth, “come out of the mentality of seeking jobs only”.
Although not using the same words, the RSS resolution parroted what Modi reiterates: “don’t be job-seekers, become job-givers”. The RSS, too, like the BJP, suggests that making the Indian economy entrepreneur-driven would be a cakewalk.
Likewise, Hosabale, too, furthered the Modi narrative. In his address, he mentioned the need to reinforce “Bharat-centric education policy” so that the nation can “take up the role of a Vishwaguru [world leader]”. The question of whether this would be possible by dismantling and restructuring educational institutions and the philosophies guiding them merits examination on another occasion.
Modi's Civilisational Pitch vs Jobs, Livelihoods
But it is certainly important to ask in the present circumstances whether becoming a Vishwaguru would address the livelihood concerns of people, enhance their security and reduce their misery.
Documents adopted at the ABPS meeting once again show that the RSS is a co-inhabitant of the BJP’s echo chamber. It recognises three primary challenges – the educational loss of children, job losses of adults, and uncertainties stemming from the death of breadwinners.
Yet, the annual report deludes itself in the belief that its volunteers and affiliates have “made several efforts to help people by finding effective avenues”, suggesting its belief that all is well.
The verdict of the recent polls demonstrated the BJP’s success in ensuring that people did not vote on the basis of their material conditions but were made stakeholders in the BJP and Modi’s ‘civilisational’ narrative.
The RSS, too, has joined this bandwagon, and as a result, chooses to emphasise imaginary conspiracy theories.
(The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. His other books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.