Will increasing politicisation of RSS undermine political autonomy of BJP?

by Nalini R Mohanty

It is hardly surprising that the policy-perspective of both the Congress and the BJP, two major political parties of our country, is largely governed by the compulsions of vote-bank politics. But it comes as a surprise when the RSS, a self-avowed cultural organisation, tends to suitably alter its position in order to meet the political exigencies. In fact, that tells us how the RSS has been increasingly politicised over the years.

Take the statement of Suresh Joshi (Bhayyaji), RSS General Secretary and the second man in command of the organisational structure, hardly a week ago, "Reservation for SC\ST is just as they had been left behind in the past but prosperous sections of society demanding quotas is not a step in the right direction."

Will increasing politicisation of  RSS undermine political autonomy of BJP?

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in a file photo. PTI

Bhayyaji’s second observation was also notable, "We should think whether the benefit of reservation is reaching those who need it. The issue of creamy layer needs to be studied, discussed."

Both the observations are unexceptionable, on the premise of principle as well as execution thereof. After all, reservation is meant for people who have been historically exploited and who cannot compete in an equal opportunity framework with those sections which did not suffer from the historical handicap. That is the principle. And it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that the execution of the principle is done in a manner that only the intended target group benefits from it, and the unintended beneficiaries are strictly kept out of it. This is how it should be.

But the Congress went on the offensive accusing the RSS of its sly design to scrap reservation for the depressed classes. And the BJP turned defensive to tell its vote-bank that the RSS leader did not intend any review of the reservation policy. Ironically, Suresh Joshi himself went on record to reaffirm the BJP’s contention that he was fully committed to the existing quota system.

A similar spectacle was on display in September last year when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat gave an interview to Organiser and Panchajanya, to discuss the contemporary relevance of Integral Humanism, the political philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya whose birth centenary fell last year. He said, "Reservation for socially backward classes is the right example of a policy initiative in tune with Integral Humanism." But he added a caveat — a non-political committee comprising eminent people from a cross-section of the society should determine which categories continue to need reservation (after it has been in vogue for almost seven decades) and for how long (another 20, 30 or 50 years or for eternity?)

To me, this was also an unexceptionable proposal. A policy is as good as its implementation. A move to streamline the implementation process should be welcome – its process and contours can be debated and worked out.

But the Congress and its allies in Bihar elections politicised the matter and dubbed it as an attempt on the part of the RSS to review and junk the reservation for the SCs\STs and OBCs. The BJP, which was at the receiving end of the political onslaught, went out of the way to reassure that the RSS was fully committed to the existing quota system and any review, if needed, would be undertaken to expand the scope of the quota and not shrink it. The RSS tamely fell in line and issued a press statement that it had no intention of depriving the existing reservation beneficiaries of their right.

It clearly showed how RSS has over the years lost its autonomy to say and stick to things which it deems right. It has lost its autonomy because of its increasing entanglement in politics. Earlier, it only served as a mentor to the BJP or, its previous incarnation, Jan Sangh. Earlier, it did not think that it was directly responsible for the political success of the BJP or the Jan Sangh.

But things have apparently changed under the Mohan Bhagwat dispensation. RSS now thinks that it has to play the Big Brother to pave the way for the BJP’s political success. When Bhagwat and his aides felt that LK Advani had become a liability for the party, they manouvred his ouster from the pre-eminent position, both as party president and as leader of the opposition. They were instrumental in elevating Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the party. The RSS cadre fanned out to the remotest parts of the country and campaigned in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as never before.

The RSS strategy and effort bore fruit. The BJP got a clear majority and Narendra Modi became the prime minister. No wonder, the RSS enjoys so much clout over the union government today. It called for an annual report card session of all ministries some time ago. All the ministers, including the prime minister, presented themselves before the highest executive body of the RSS and explained their achievements in the government. In return, they received certificates of merit and some advice.

This spectacle was unthinkable in the previous dispensation of the BJP government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani. Both Vajpayee and Advani were senior to the then Sarsanghachalak KS Sudarshan as RSS pracharaks. RSS then could not claim credit for the BJP’s success at the hustings. Vajpayee and Advani therefore ran the government untrammeled by the RSS pinpricks. RSS, in turn, had its autonomy with both word and action as it was not obliged to protect the vote-bank politics of the BJP.

But, unlike Sudarshan, Mohan Bhagwat does not want to be seen as a disinterested onlooker in the running of the government today. He sees himself as an active participant. That is why he has seconded many seasoned RSS leaders to the government. By their increasing association in the political process, Bhagwat and his associate, Suresh Joshi, are increasingly compromising the core values of the RSS. Protecting the political vote-bank of the BJP is becoming their major concern.

It is a larger question if the increasing politicisation of the RSS would undermine the political autonomy of the BJP in the long run.

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Updated Date: Mar 22, 2016 10:55:09 IST

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