SJM co-convener's meetings with US business leaders evoke curiosity, reflect RSS' changing perception
Belief in a self-reliant economy is a cornerstone of the thought process of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch
Belief in a self-reliant economy is a cornerstone of its thought process of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch
Representatives of the companies which SJM publicly opposed were present for multiple interactions with Ashwani Mahajan
The RSS, which was earlier perceived as and criticised for being a closed organisation, is now opening up
The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) was founded to promote self-reliance and protect indigenous industries, small and medium enterprises and Indian business in general. Belief in a self-reliant economy is a cornerstone of its thought process.
The perception of the SJM, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is that it is opposed to anything foreign, more so foreign investment. Thus, the presence of SJM national co-convener Ashwani Mahajan in Washington and New York for past five days and his active engagement with members of American business and industry, investment bankers and e-commerce giants, has evoked great deal of curiosity: What is the SJM co-convener trying to achieve by engaging with the American business community? Has SJM diluted its hard line philosophy? (which it has been championing since its inception in 1991). Or is it trying to convey something else?
This is the first time a top functionary of the group is in the United States and engaging with people from various walks of life. That too when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a heavyweight Indian delegation, along with bigwigs from around the world, have gathered in New York for United Nations General Assembly and a series of meetings.
Mahajan, speaking from New York over the phone, said, “An impression has been created that we are opposed to all kinds of foreign investment, that we are a retrograde organisation. I want to clarify that SJM is a progressive organisation which works in the national interest. Yes, we were opposed to foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail, Walmart's takeover of Flipkart and the practices of Amazon. That protest was part of the economic thought process because we believed that their business practices were not normal, and they might, due to their financial clout, think they can circumvent the law of the land or even get the law changed. Our stand has been consistent that the poor should benefit and traditional Indian business systems should not be destroyed. We have no problem with those who wish to investment in India and comply with Indian laws.”
Interestingly, representatives of the companies which SJM publicly opposed were present for multiple interactions with Mahajan. “The purpose was to allow our voice to reach the people and places concerned by those who get into an exploitative cash burning business practices [sic]. We wanted to politely convey our worldview, our philosophy and clear up any misconceptions,” he added.
What was important that in all the interactions, the RSS affiliate made a distinction between the perception of India being a “soft state” and India being a “soft power”. This is something which Indian establishment under Modi has been projecting for last few years. The government’s action in this regard matches with the idea of building a New India.
And Mahajan isn't alone. Senior RSS functionary Sunil Ambedkar returned to India last week, engaging with various citizens. These visits and engagements coincide with the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's interaction with the foreign media. The RSS, which was earlier perceived and criticised for being a “closed” organisation, is now opening up and trying to dispel notions that were prevalent for decades.
As to the question “why now”, an RSS functionary quoted Bhagwat from his interaction with the foreign media, saying “if we had invited you earlier 10 years ago or even five years ago, you wouldn’t have come in such numbers.” That applies to SJM leader’s first visit to the USA, as an RSS functionary put it “earlier there were hardly any invites from reputed foreign institutions. At the time, we also felt if someone had to talk to us and get to know us, then they ought to approach us. But the situation has changed. They now think that with Modi government, we are here to stay and thus they all want to engage with us.”
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