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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 18, April 25, 2015

Appropriating the Modus Operandi

Saturday 25 April 2015

by Saurabh Bajpai

To destroy the legacy of the Indian national movement, the RSS-BJP has appropriated its modus operandi. It sounds harsh but true; the RSS-BJP is imitating the methods adopted by the anti-imperialist struggle led by the Congress. The question arises: how can it be? How can a secret-fascist organisation imitate the world’s largest democratic movement? The RSS-Muslim League-led communal politics was an anti-thesis of the nationalist mobilisation in India. Ideologically they differ; rather the two are adversial in content.

But it was learnt from the movement that the road to political success passes through the social highways. Recently two incidents show this tendency. If the secular parties of this country do not take notice, they are going to see worse days than ever before. Recently in a conclave organised by the Rashtriya Sewa Bharti, the RSS joint General Secretary, Dattatrey Hosabale, vowed to unleash a “tsunami of services” to reach all social sections. It would help the RSS to achieve its desired goal, the “inclusive Hinduism”. Earlier in its National Executive meeting held at Bengaluru, the BJP showed its intent to foray into social work.

It goes without saying that after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the RSS had concealed itself into social and cultural domains. It was due to the pressure Patel exerted upon them that they were not permitted to work politically any more. Since then, the RSS as an organisation has been surviving through its widespread socio-cultural activities. However, its main activity, the political, has been carried out in the guise of parties like the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party. The strength of the BJP comes from the cadres of the Sangh working ceaselessly at the ground throughout the year. The relationship of the Sangh-BJP was until recently an open secret. Everybody knew about it but it was denied by both the party and organisation.

But now the political milieu has changed. The BJP under Modi, a proclaimed Swayamsevak, secured a thumping majority in the last elections. Even before the elections, the RSS people, in many areas, were seen in khaki shorts campaigning for the party. It means the RSS has got over from its longstanding shadow of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. Meanwhile, the RSS remained a marginal force in Indian politics. It was only in the 1980s when its think-tank coined the strategy to mobilise the Hindu popular opinion. The Ram Mandir agitation helped the BJP in securing a grand entry into mainstream political discourse. Since then, having seen many ups and downs, the party did not lose its ground. The most recent brilliance of the RSS strategy is seen in the case of the anti-corruption movement against the UPA-II Government. The Vivekananda International Institute, the architect of the movement, assembled various interest groups into a whole, that is, India Against Corruption. The strategy was to arouse public sentiments in the name of corruption and make electoral capital out of it.

Anyway, it must be noticed how the RSS survived until it became electorally dominant. The popular image of the RSS, though not very positive, was of a social service organisation; the organisation whose volunteers can be seen in times of emergency. Primarily it helped the RSS to divert public attention from its political agenda. Because, as it was assessed, the public mood in general was not in favour of swallowing the communal poison. But once the state power is captured, there is a high time to implement its cherished dream. During the last one year, the Modi Government faced severe criticism on various fronts, especially on the Land Acquisition Bill. Apparent is the swing in the public mood against the corporate agenda of the Modi regime. The RSS, being a patron organisation, cannot afford the deficit in the political capital. Hence, it pushed the social agenda into the priorities of the BJP. Again, it would, as anticipated, reimburse the political deficit at the ground level. Beneficiaries of the social work would oblige the party by casting their votes to the BJP out of sympathy; inattentive of their long-term disadvantages.

Now let me come to another aspect of this article. How did the Congress, under the leadership of Gandhi, reach the masses to mobilise them in the anti-imperialist struggle? Since the 1920s what made the Congress a socio-political movement in colonial India? Apparently, the Gandhian strategy of interlocking the political work with the social work. The Gandhian constructive activities included many that directly touched the daily lives of the people. Spinning of khadi and promotion of village industries gave immediate economic relief to the poor. Other actions such as promotion of communal unity, removal of untouchability, establishment of the basic new education system were those meant to educate the people. Holistically, the constructive work would promote certain kind of consciousness which created a base for the anti-imperialist struggle. A political worker—a Gandhian worker— was known for his austerity and honesty of purpose. Where did this moral force come into politics? Obviously, it was constructive work which imbued the national movement with a deep-rooted political conviction.

The assassination of Gandhi broke this interlocking. When the leaders and Gandhian activists assembled at Wardha immediately after Gandhi’s assassination, they did not have any clue where to go. The Gandhian lot, led by Vinoba Bhave, the most devoted Gandhian practitioner, decided to abstain from politics and confined themselves exclusively to constructive work. Gandhi before his death was drafting a roadmap for the future Congress. But, he was not talking about a divorce between the political and social fields. Adherents of Gandhi lacked the Gandhian wisdom in this regard. Nehru and Patel were labelled as power-seekers. Gandhian workers broke the link that was most important to Gandhian politics. The Congress hegemony over the masses remained intact for the next few decades, but its backbone was fractured. Gandhian workers across the country established regional and most of the times local centres of activity. But they were completely disconnected with the larger whole of politics. Once this interlocking was broken, it created a vacuum in the socio-political environment.

Gradually the RSS filled this gap. Without having any state support, the RSS worked silently. Ideologically opposed to the national movement, it survived at the ground level through its social activities. It was only in the 1980s that it started gaining some prominence at the centre-stage of high politics. By then, it tried hard to win over popular support through social service, relief and rehabilitation. The most vital project that it took in hand was the establishment of a wide range of primary and secondary schools across India. This range of schools joined with the Arya Samaj and Sanatan Dharma network of educational institutions. This made the RSS capable of keeping in direct touch with thousands of students and their families in almost each and every district of India. This network of schools has been ploughing the soil in which the seeds of communal ideology are sown.

Now when the RSS has guided the BJP to make social work a key strategy to expand the purview of the party, it must be checked thoroughly. To defend secular democracy in India, all parties— the Congress, Left and regional parties— must come to the forefront in a joint show of strength. A social agenda must be introduced in the political programmes of all the secular parties of India. The Congress and the Left should take a lead in this respect. Otherwise, the erosion of nationalist and progressive values from the Indian soil would soon reach its culmination.

A Ph.D from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, the author, an independent research scholar, was the recipient of the 2012 M. Athar Ali Prize instituted by the Indian History Congress.