Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 29, 2014
The BJP’s RSS Dilemma
Wednesday 2 April 2014
by Arun Srivastava
The mathematics of politics does not follow the rules or grammar of arithmetic. It has its own language. The six-day political churning, from February 22 to 27, which witnessed secular Dalit leaders Ramdas Athawale of the RPI, Dr Udit Raj, Chairman of the All India Confede-ration of SC/ST Organisations, and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan aligning with the BJP, was in fact a strategic move of the RSS to change the basic structure of secularism and inject a new element of hegemonic politics which would define the future character of the Indian polity and the state. It is an open secret that BJP President Rajnath Singh could not have dared to allow these leaders to join the BJP or NDA without getting the green signal from the top brass of the RSS.
On February 22, Paswan the icon of Dalit politics, outright rejected Modi as a credible politician and emphatically denied that he could ever become the Prime Minister. But on the sixth day, that is, on February 27, he was embracing Rajnath Singh by pledging his loyalty to Modi and even accepting him as the future Prime Minister of India. He even threw his 12-year-old complaints and grievances against Modi into the holy waters of the Jamuna. There ought to have been some strong and valid reasons for Paswan to undergo such a change of heart. What were the reasons that a person championing Mandal should hold Kamandal? Paswan must have felt embarrassing to justify his volte face from being a bitter critic of Modi to turning into his committed follower.
The alacrity with which the BJP embraced these leaders, particularly Paswan, and even offered him seven Lok Sabha seats unravels the fact that the Sangh desperately needed them. Paswan must have accepted this embarrassment with a larger political gain in sight. A person who was on the verge of political extinction used the occasion to inhale a breath of fresh air to survive. He embraced the politics of comm-unalism to protect his political identity.
But the moot question is: what were the com-pulsions of the RSS and BJP to accept him and offer seven seats in a politically sensitive State Like Bihar? It would be naive to believe that the RSS and BJP accorded the Dalit leaders red car-pet reception only with the aim to weaken the secular voice and get the votes of the Dalits. It was in fact a part of the bigger plan of the RSS. For the RSS it was a gamble but also a worth-taking risk. One thing is also noticeable. This step of the RSS and BJP has the potential to alter the basic Brahminical character and ethics of the BJP. But even then the RSS did not dither.
Obviously the move raises many questions. Why was the RSS desperate to bring these leaders into its fold? The Sangh Parivar has been working tirelessly to ensure that the BJP wrests power. The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has already directed the Sangh cadres and rank-and-file to ensure the victory of the BJP. With this strategy it has been monitoring and guiding the day-to-day activities of the BJP. Apparently the action of allowing the Dalit leaders join hands with the BJP may be perceived as a prelude to this exercise. But it is more than what meets the eyes. It also did not aim at blunting the secular-communal divide.
It would be wrong to compare these three leaders with other backward-caste BJP leaders. The BJP’s backward-caste leaders have been part of the cultural ethos of the RSS and the party. But these three leaders have been known critics of the Brahminical politics and its exploitative mechanism. The manner in which the RSS played its Dalit card coinciding with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is enough signal of a changing polity. The importance of this move could be gauged from the simple fact that the top BJP leadership refused to be bullied by the prominent dissenting voices. Apparently it may appear that the BJP embraced them for ensuring its victory and installing Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. But this is just a simplistic observation. Paswan’s significance does not lie on how many seats he can win for the NDA or what would be the exact percentage of votes that he could finally transfer to the BJP but in the larger nationwide message that Modi’s team is intent on conveying. The bare fact is that Paswan has lost his Dalit appeal. He does not have the charisma to win and ensure the victory of his followers. He does not also have a Mayawati-like sway over some other castes and communities. He has, of course, the national stature as a Dalit leader. The same is true of Dr Uditraj and Athawale.
The RSS is known for its double-speak about the BJP. Some time back RSS Sarsanghachalak Mohan Madhukar Bhagawat had clarified that there was no relationship between the RSS and BJP. He said: “There is no relation between the two, because the Sangh is not in politics. If at all the Sangh wanted to be in politics, then why handover the bridle to others? Swayam-sevaks are in all parties. They are more in the BJP, but they are also in the Congress and in a Communist Party in West Bengal.” Sixty per cent of the BJP’s people have a Sangh background, are connected to it. It is a mentor, a fatherly figure.
Interestingly, the more the RSS is actively pushing the case of the BJP and projecting it as the natural ruler of India, the more Bhagwat has started maintaining ambivalence about the RSS involvement in the functioning of the BJP. Only recently Bhagwat said: “Hum rajneeti mein nahin hain. Humara kaam ‘Namo Namo’ karna nahin hai. Humein apne lakshya ke liye kaam karna hai (We are not in politics. Our work is not to chant ‘Namo, Namo’. We must work towards our own target).” He even maintained: “Humaari apni maryada hai. Humein maryada nahi todni hai (We have our own limits. We must not cross our limits).” But the most interesting development was that at the meeting Bhagwat justified the RSS’ efforts to bring the BJP to power, saying that it was in the “national interest”. “Is samay sawal yeh nahi hai ki kaun aana chaiye. Bada sawaal ye hai ki kaun nahi aana chahiye (The question is not who should form the next government. The bigger question is who should not form the next government)”. Though Bhagwat cautioned the Swayamsevaks not to cross its “maryada” (limits) while working for the BJP, and it should stay away from any personality-driven campaign, the fact remains that the entire focus, progr-amme and propaganda of the party has been personality-oriented. And this has been happening at the direct instructions of the RSS and Bhagwat.
The stakes are quite high for the RSS. It cannot lose its initiative and control on the BJP. The opportunity has been provided to it by the ostrich-like behaviour of the Congress in tackling the problems and situations. The importance of the RSS’ role could be gauged from the simple fact that the BJP leaders have sought the RSS help to prepare its poll manifesto and even to put a check on the activities of leaders like L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Jaswant Singh and others, precisely the leaders who have been opposed to Modi. It is an open secret that Advani was humiliated by the BJP leadership virtually at the behest of the RSS. Jaswant Singh was denied the ticket since he lost the trust of the RSS. The RSS has been trying to make the BJP leadership realise that it can grow under its wings only. The BJP leadership ought to find out why it has still not managed to have an independent, universally acceptable presence in the Indian polity?
The RSS is also focusing on ensuring that all Sangh Parivar affiliates put up a united fight. As a part of this effort for the first time, the RSS is asking its affiliates, such as the VHP, ABVP, among others, to work in tandem with the BJP. The issues of booth-level management and getting the electorates out would also be addr-essed together by the cadres of the respective organisations. In the last two elections, these organisations with their extensive cadre and reach were largely indifferent. The BJP had to rely on its own cadre network. It is expected that the 2014 election will witness better coordi-nation.
Bhagawat’s strategy is double-edged. Not-withstanding the fact that the RSS has put its entire might and resources behind Modi, it is also trying to present a façade of its independence from Modi. Little doubt if Modi wins, the Sangh will benefit a bit. But if he loses, it would be his failure. For Modi elections would determine his political survival, but for the RSS, it is one of the instruments to spread its message in its larger goal of organisation of the Hindu society and expand its area of activity. For Bhagawat, access to state power ensures that there is no hurdle and opposition to the Sangh on the ground.
Advani, who had resisted the Nagpur esta-blishment’s attempts to control and micro-manage the affairs of the BJP, had been sidelined. While the leaders Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitely were allotted seats of their choice, Advani was denied the Lok Sabha seat from where he intended to contest the parliamentary elections. An organisation which had repeatedly proclai-med that it was only a “socio-cultural” outfit, was now working for a political goal. Look at the manner in which senior leader Jaswant Singh was humiliated and booted out. Having re-established its supremacy, the RSS has now strengthened its grip over the BJP.
The BJP’s RSS dilemma puzzles BJP-watchers. To understand this element of dilemma one has to have a serious insight into the BJP accepting Athawale, Raj and Paswan in its fold. No doubt the Brahmin-Baniya dominance has been quite strong in the BJP and more so in UP. But Amit Shah, the blue-eyed boy of Modi, following the diktats of the RSS has been trying to push out the old leaders who have been dependent on the ‘Brahmin card’ and also hitting at the ‘OBC Modi’. The RSS leadership is trying to create a new cadre base for the organisation. The alacrity with which the BJP embraced the three Dalit leaders makes it abundantly clear that a new caste equation is fast emerging. Nitish Kumar has helped the BJP to grow in Bihar and now Paswan and the other two have provided a fertile soil to the RSS for its forther expansion. The BJP, by roping in Paswan was now striving to a acquire a new identity. The RSS was working on the amalgamation and synch-ronisation of the Mandal and Kamandal politics. Projecting Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is a part of the strategy to reach out to the backward castes and Dalits.
Unwittingly or knowingly, Paswan has pro-vided a new Dalit face to the BJP, which has been the champion of the interests of the class enemies of the Dalits. Interestingly, in one single stroke the three leaders have turned the BJP into a class collaborator. It has brought and put the two antagonistic forces on the same platform. The RSS leadership in fact cherished the desire to bring them together. But it could not succeed.
One thing is quite important. Of late the RSS was not getting young hands to induct them as Swayamsevaks. The organisation was facing an acute crisis of new blood. The middle class youth, on which the BJP relied for its political survival, were unwilling to fall in line. Instead of harping on Hindutva the shift in the focus on backward castes in Modi’s public speeches is a tactical move to identify the party with this vast population. The RSS is already there to assuage the feelings of the Brahmins, Thakurs and Bania. In fact the RSS is sure that once the BJP comes to power it would succeed in building a strong base in the backward castes and Dalits based on which the BJP can aspire to continue in power for years.
The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org