IT was an unprecedented journey; but caused little surprise. On Sept 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Nagpur, the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to present himself before the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Almost his entire council of ministers and the BJP’s parliamentary board were there to demonstrate their accountability to the RSS.
On Oct 2, a dozen or so junior ministers of state got into a huddle with senior RSS functionaries in New Delhi in what was described as a “regular review meeting”.
A press release issued thereafter revealed: “The prime minister said he was proud to be a Swayamsevak and he had reached where he had because of the values he had imbibed as a member of the RSS.”
Modi is a lifelong RSS activist (pracharak), having left his family to dedicate himself to the organisation. It, in turn, ensured his rise to the post of the highest executive of the country.
The entire exercise was a flagrant violation of the fundamentals of the parliamentary system. The prime minister is accountable only to parliament and to no outside body. As a member of the ruling party, he participates in its deliberations but receives no mandate from it.
When responsible government was introduced in 1937, under the Government of India Act 1935, Mohammad Ali Jinnah strongly criticised “the Congress high command” for giving directives to the Congress ministries in the provinces.
The RSS has riveted its control over the BJP.
The BJP general secretary Ram Madhav is an RSS man who was seconded to the BJP along with many others. He wrote recently: “The RSS model is unique. It has a parivar [family] of 40-plus organisations. The RSS is their ideological fountainhead.” It is also the BJP’s muscle; it provides the cadres and foot soldiers who are indispensable at election time.
Bhagwat disapproves of the personality cult which Modi and his men have built up ever since he became prime minister. Immediately after his trip to Nagpur, a BJP leader disclosed on Sept 5, that the message which Modi had received there was that “no matter how big or popular you are, you cannot be bigger than the RSS”.
It has in the past sacked two presidents of its political wing — one was the president of the BJP’s ancestor the Jan Sangh, Mauli Chandra Sharma, who was sacked in 1954, the other was a former president and founder of the Jan Sangh who was expelled by L.K. Advani in 1973.
In July 2005, as president of the BJP, Advani was administered a heavy dose of the same medicine. Three designated mandarins were despatched from Nagpur by the RSS chief to ask him to put in his papers. His crime was that he had written in praise of Jinnah in the condolence book at his mausoleum in Karachi.
The stark reality is that the BJP can never be a right-wing party in the traditional sense. Its ideology binds it to the RSS which also controls it organisationally. The RSS has riveted its control over the BJP installing its trusted men to run the secretariat. The then RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar articulated the organisation’s ideology, indicating its strategy as far back as in 1949. “We have kept before ourselves the ideal of Bhagwan Shri Krishna who held a big empire under his thumb but refused to become an emperor himself.”
In 1944, the British decided that the RSS was “a politico-commercial organisation which concentrated on the formation of a militant body on fascist lines”.
The word ‘fascist’ was aptly chosen. As Donald E. Smith says in his classic India as a Secular State: “The leader principle, the stress on militarism, the doctrine of racial-cultural superiority, ultra-nationalism infused religious idealism, the use of symbols of past greatness, the emphasis on national solidarity, the exclusion of the religious or ethnic minorities from the nation-concept — all of these features of the RSS are highly reminiscent of fascist movements in Europe.”
A responsible correspondent reported in August that “the RSS membership is growing at 10,000 to 15,000 recruits every month and says it has reached every district except parts of Kashmir and Assam”.
The RSS influence on governance was obvious when Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister. It successfully vetoed Jaswant Singh’s appointment as finance minister. The RSS shadow lurks ominously on issues dear to it. Ram Madhav specifically mentioned Kashmir as one of them; which implies also relations with Pakistan.
There are clear limits to the BJP’s ideological evolution. They were well described by Walter K. Anderson, a scholar who served in the State Department, in his book The Brotherhood in Saffron, which was co-authored by Shridhar D. Damle. “It is questionable if the BJP could survive politically without the RSS cadre, and the cadre will not stay unless the leadership of the party stays firmly in the hands of the ‘brotherhood’.”
The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, October 10th , 2015