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View: What shape will the BJP-RSS dynamics take under Modi 2.0?

With the Lok Sabha secure, the Sangh Parivar is hoping to have a bigger say in govt policies.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: May 26, 2019, 06.37 AM IST
Modi tips his hat to the core principle of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation that taught him his method and sculpted his ideological memory.
In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off a campaign that would become the central theme of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 2019 election blitz. Called Main Bhi Chowkidar (I’m a Watchman, Too), it urged citizens to be vigilant guards in the cause of the nation.

Modi first described himself as a sentinel on national duty during the 2014 election campaign. By calling himself India’s principal sentry, Modi was perhaps tipping his hat to the core principle of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation that taught him his method and sculpted his ideological memory.

RSS founder KB Hedgewar was an ardent admirer of British discipline and preparedness. His biographer records Hedgewar telling volunteers in Pune about an incident during his brief stay in prison on sedition charges. One day, an alarm bugle sounded during lunchtime.

British guards and other jail staff — some halfway through their lunch, others half-dressed and yet others in the middle of their siesta — rushed to a designated assembly point, weapons at the ready. The force had lined up in a matter of minutes, awaiting orders.

Hedgewar wanted RSS volunteers, and eventually all Indians, to be like the prison guards: alert and ready at all times. “Missionaries in the cause of nation should be even more ready to respond and give up every other kind of personal preoccupations when the call comes,” he gravely observed. The RSS believes every Indian should be trained for this eternal vigil of the nation.

Modi’s Main Bhi Chowkidar campaign was a shrewd articulation of that core principle, dramatically presented at every election rally with much chest thumping over revenge strikes for terror attacks and dire warnings to pesky neighbours. Expectedly, RSS described the BJP win as the victory of national forces.

Modi has been an invaluable talisman to the RSS. Its reach and influence have expanded rapidly in his first five years and the road ahead appears to be as smooth as it can be. Just before the Modi government came to power, RSS had about 45,000 daily shakhas across the country. That rose to nearly 60,000 shakhas by March 2019. Its affiliates working in different fields such as education and culture have got their chosen candidates in key positions.

Not everyone in the RSS was happy with the Modi government though. Its economic agenda was under heavy friendly fire. Some felt it was too keen to roll out the red carpet for foreigners and big businesses. Others were miffed that the government was not paying enough attention to labour and farm issues. Before the elections began, an old-timer commented, “Chunav tak chedenge nahin, jeetne ke baad chodenge bhi nahin (We won’t trouble him until the elections are over. We won’t leave him be once the elections are won).”

As the elections approached, the RSS launched itself into the electoral battle with unprecedented fervour. In some states such as Kerala, the BJP was playing second fiddle to the RSS. Senior RSS pracharaks were directly strategising and controlling the day-to-day campaign of BJP candidates. The most promising candidate of the party in Kerala was Kummanam Rajasekharan, a former pracharak. Although the state saw a small spike in vote share for BJP from 10.3% in 2014 to 12.9% now, it still could not capture a seat.

In Madhya Pradesh, RSS’ work is being credited for the dramatic rise in voter turnout and the BJP’s spectacular performance after the poor show in the assembly elections six months ago. The state saw turnout go up by 10 percentage points; from about 61% to 71%. The RSS is also said to have played a key role in making sure Jyotiraditya Scindia lost in Guna. RSS sources say the local BJP leadership was sympathetic to the aristocrat but a determined RSS took control of the campaign to ensure his defeat.

With the Lok Sabha secure and the Rajya Sabha also likely to come under the BJP’s control soon, the Sangh Parivar is hoping to have a bigger say in government policies. However, Modi and Amit Shah remain unquestionable masters of their domain and will not brook anyone testing their authority. At the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the highest policy-setting meeting of the RSS, in Gwalior last March, a delegate said that personality cults could harm the country.

Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat is said to have replied that Modi was not only a true RSS pracharak, he was one of the best examples of an ideal swayamsevak or volunteer. Bhagwat said as a politician and administrator, Modi does what he needs to do in the national interest. Often it may be difficult to understand the reasons behind his decisions. They needn’t worry about the country, however. The RSS was on guard, he told the questioner.


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