The RSS-BJP Relationship Is More Convoluted Than They Let On
Volunteers of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).(Photo: Reuters)
Volunteers of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).(Photo: Reuters)

The RSS-BJP Relationship Is More Convoluted Than They Let On

Almost every political party in India has front organisations. But among these, there are two categories, the first of which are “wings” or “cells”. For instance, NSUI, BJYM and SFI and so on.

In the second category of front organisations fall the likes of AITUC, CITU, AIYF and AIDWA. These sector-specific organisations have a direct one-on-one relationship with the parent parties such as the Congress, CPM or CPI, but are technically independent bodies. There is no third person, or organisation crowding the arrangement.

BJP’s ‘Knotty Affiliations’ With the Two Sets

Of the parties, the BJP is the only one which has a slightly more knotty affiliation with these two sets of comrades. The first are those directly controlled by the party. Its president appoints office bearers or convenors to these outfits, or morchas. For instance, the SC and ST Morchas, Mahila Morcha, Kisan Morcha and so on.

But the BJP also has other relationships to take care of, that with the RSS and with other affiliates of what are clubbed together as Sangh Parivar. Some of these affiliates have been directly established by the RSS – the BMS and VHP for instance – while large number are set up by swayamsevaks on own initiative and are termed as Sangh-inspired bodies.

There is no official figure of the number of organisations that the RSS has spawned, but estimates range anything between 40 to almost a hundred. In elections, this army of foot soldiers gives the BJP an advantage over others.

The Hierarchy of RSS Affiliates

The primary tie between the RSS and affiliates is somewhat hierarchical, but inter-associate equations are somewhat awkward because while the BJP pursues its overall objective of wielding political power, others have to address concerns of their sector.

During the Vajpayee regime, the BJP clashed with two main groups. The first being the radical economic nationalists comprising mainly Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, being the first such groups which heaped troubles on Vajpayee with repeated protests against neo-liberal policies of government.

The second group that locked horns with the BJP-led government was the VHP representing the extreme fringe of the cultural nationalists in the Sangh because its leaders refused to comprehend the limitations of the government on the Ram Temple issue.

Eventually, differences became irreconcilable and with the RSS leadership “pulling its hands away” from 2002 onwards, it was perhaps the single biggest beneath-the-surface-reason for the surprise defeat of the NDA in 2004. Put simply, in that poll, the famed RSS cadre simply did not show up for the campaign.

The question arose if the larger political clan of the BJP was beginning to get disillusioned with the Modi regime. (Photo: Reuters)
The question arose if the larger political clan of the BJP was beginning to get disillusioned with the Modi regime. (Photo: Reuters)

In recent days when the RSS leadership brokered meetings lasting well into the night in the capital between representatives of the BJP, the government and different affiliates, the question arose if the larger political clan of the BJP was beginning to get disillusioned with the Modi regime.

That this meeting was preceded by a less representative interaction between leaders articulating hardline economic nationalism and the top brass in RSS’ Nagpur headquarters makes an examination of these developments within the Sangh all the more imperative.

When Modi Led the Way for RSS

From the time the RSS leadership accepted Modi’s emergence as the most charismatic BJP leader and approved his prime ministerial ambition, the relationship between the two has been dynamic, evolving constantly.

While on the one hand, Big Brother accepted that it was time to play twin, Modi has reached out to the RSS more than he ever did after becoming Gujarat chief minister in 2002. But there are certain areas, issues and policies that are inviolate for both. Such “guarding of territory” stems from the two having different goals.

While Modi is focussed more on the job at hand, i.e., to run the government in such a manner which secures another mandate in 2019; the RSS leadership is journeying through a much longer tunnel that it hopes will eventually surface in a Hindu Rashtra and on this route, governments are merely halts or stations.

Mohan Bhagwat’s Unequivocal Declaration of Faith in the Sevaks

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Photo: Reuters)
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (Photo: Reuters)

Conversations with several insiders suggest that it is not yet “call-off” time in the Sangh because the RSS leadership in these interactions argued that while the going has been good for the entire family (Mohan Bhagwat is on record appreciating that the nation is safe in the hands of the government with several swayamsevaks holding crucial positions), it is also imperative for both sides – the government and aggressive affiliates – to understand the limitations of one another.

If the hardline economic nationalists need to appreciate that there are certain reforms that are essential in today’s global order, the BJP also must recognise that the BMS operates in a highly competitive field and it will lose support among working class if seen as a lackey of government.

 RSS activists hold bamboo sticks as
they take part in a march in February, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
RSS activists hold bamboo sticks as they take part in a march in February, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Modi and the Future of BJP

The RSS will, over the next few months, work towards ensuring that disagreements do not spill into public and in agitations against government. The issues that cause maximum irritation are old targets – FDI, labour reforms and mechanisations.

A fundamental reason for reappearance of old stumbling blocks is the failure of the BJP to officially “update” its economic vision which remains stuck in Deendayal Upadhyaya’s model detailed in Integral Humanism that remains BJP’s primary philosophy.

Unlike communist parties which revised postulates, the BJP has done nothing of the sort and ‘Chintan Shivirs’ of the Sangh have been held with mainly strategic or programmatic intention.

There is no imminent danger of the Modi government being rocked from within and a repeat from the script of 2002-2004 is not foreseeable in near future because much is vested in this regime. But a notice has been served to the party and its senior leaders – the carte blanche secured in 2014 is over and henceforth it will have to be more circumspect in its enthusiastic pursuit of what Modi views as necessities of governance. His tactics will determine his future.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin)

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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