“An RSS pracharak today is as power hungry as his seniors and aspires for air-conditioned comfort and the other mod-cons,” Anand Moonje, grandson of Hindu Mahasabha founder BS Moonje, tells Tehelka in a cover story that would have been better titled, ‘The Death of RSS ideology.” [Read 'A parivar no more' here]
The article paints a picture of a party that has lost its ideological moorings, pursuing power in the absence of vision, saddled with a leadership that cares less about its core values – ie Hindutva – than playing kingmaker:
It is often asked by political observers: “Will the RSS stop interfering in the BJP and let it grow into a mass-based political party?” This question presumes there is a genuine debate within the RSS on this score and that the Sangh is interested in the growth and sustainability of its political arm as an independent entity. In reality, the Sangh doesn’t want to let go. It wants to decide which leaders will emerge and which will be pensioned off.
In recent months, there is also no shortage of grist feeding the ‘BJP/RSS crisis’ rumour mill, from the unseemly public wrangling around Narendra Modi‘s ascension to the latest Karnataka crisis. The last showcasing both the RSS’ stranglehold on BJP leadership and its lack of scruples.
The installment of Jagadish Shettar – a man beloved of the mining barons and now reconciled with the disgraced BS Yeddyurappa – was finally greenlighted by a reluctant LK Advani. “Advani knows Shettar’s family well, and their commitment to the RSS and the party. Hence, he had a change of heart,” said a source close to the great man.
What became suspect instead was the RSS’ own commitment to its pan-Hindu rhetoric as it brokered the shameful deal which jettisoned a faithful and clean Parivar man like Sadananda Gowda merely because he belonged to the wrong caste.
So what does it mean to be a RSS man? And does it matter any more? Shettar was picked purely because of his Lingayat credentials. Sanjay Joshi, on the other hand, was disgraced and discarded despite his enduring loyalty to satisfy a man who famously ignores RSS diktat. As does Yeddyurappa who was rewarded for his personal machinations with Gowda’s ouster. Then again, in Rajasthan, the RSS precipitated an outright rebellion by fanning their man Gulab Chand Kataria’s chief ministerial ambitions to undercut the far more popular Vasundhara Raje.
As Tehelka notes, RSS is now a party of powerbrokers dedicated to the pursuit of political influence, old ideological stalwarts like Advani replaced by a new breed of slick mover-shakers:
Once, Sangh conservatives accused the late Pramod Mahajan of bringing a “five-star culture” to the BJP. Today, it is Suresh Soni who faces such criticism. “Soni has brought money culture into the RSS,” says a Sangh insider. “He has made a business of using RSS clout in trading postings and positions in the government. He has become an agent for deals in states like Madhya Pradesh. And the Sangh is silent.”
The woes of the BJP/RSS partnership has been exhaustively covered in recent months, and many have either celebrated or bewailed the concomitant decline of Hindutva. But what does the possible end of the RSS’ ideological commitment – and therefore that of the BJP – spell for Indian politics as a whole?
“An election cannot give a country a firm sense of direction if it has two or more national parties which merely have different names but are as alike in their principles and aims as two peas in the same pod,” observed Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And to this Obama vs Romney day – for better or worse – the Republican and Democratic parties have offered American voters a well-defined ideological choice.
By Roosevelt’s standard, we Indians have been navigating rudderless for a very long time. In his book, Temptations of the West, Pankaj Mishra brilliantly captures how elections offer one of the few available means of economic mobility for underprivileged, undereducated men who, once in office, seek only to secure their financial future and that of their families. “They all seek power that in societies degraded by colonialism often comes without a redeeming idea of what it is to be used for, the kind of power that, in most cases, amounts to little more than an opportunity to rise above the rest of the population and savour the richness of the world,” Mishra writes.
That RSS pracharak seeking air-conditioned comfort is but conforming to a hallowed grassroots tradition. It’s why our elections rarely entail a serious choice about the nation or its future, or competing ideologies of governance. All the chatter in the media is literally about the gaddi (seat of power): who will ascend the throne this time around? And strident partisan rhetoric – be it pro or anti, BJP or Congress – often amounts to no more than an empty rant, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The one exception is the ongoing national debate about secularism and its value. However flawed their commitments may be, the BJP and the Congress have long represented different visions of India as a nation. The other differences between the BJP and Congress on policy – be it foreign or economic – are mostly a matter of degree. There is greater disagreement between Manmohan Singh and his UPA allies (aka Mamata Banerjee) on foreign investment than his vociferous but vague opponents.
But if the BJP sidelines its Hindutva plank, and the RSS reincarnates itself as a politics-as-usual party, we may well end up with a handful of peas come Election Day. As in more, more, and more of the same: caste-based calculations, communal pandering, politics of personality, and throw-out-the-bums rhetoric that masquerades as democratic choice.
Then again, if Narendra Modi wangles the NDA nomination, the RSS power plays become less relevant. The election will become about Modi and all that he represents – ironically, putting ideology front and centre of the political battle. No one on either side will have the luxury of playing safe or bland (including Modi). He will polarise the electorate, but also crystalise the issues.What we may get instead is genuine, full-throated debate over the real meaning of catchwords like “development” and “secularism.” And that will be a blessing, indeed.