RSS is clearly setting BJP agenda for 2019

By Bharat Bhushan

After the Pyrrhic victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections, the contradictions between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Narendra Modi government are likely to increase. Tension between the two will circumscribe government policy and set the agenda for the coming 2019 general election. Without the RSS, Mr Modi is like a groom without a horse and a wedding procession. That is why his government has tried to keep the RSS happy by appointing its nominees to head national institutions, research-funding bodies and universities. Yet two recent incidents indicate that the tension with the RSS still persists. The RSS was not happy when the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo appointed a controversial police officer, Rakesh Asthana, as special director of the Central Bureau of Investigation. Aware of Mr Asthana’s services in Gujarat, it still favoured another officer who was transferred out to pave the way for him and is chafing at not getting its way.

The RSS was also upset with the empanelment of two senior income-tax officers as chief commissioners by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) early last December. Both had been named in a CBI FIR for receiving bribes from Sterling Biotech of the Sandesara group. The company allegedly has links with a senior Congressman. Three weeks later, the ACC decision was reversed to please the critics. Earlier, after the Gujarat election, the party was pulled up by the RSS for its marginal victory (“alpvyap vijay”) and criticised for the “abrogation of decency” during the campaign. That there wasn’t even a yelp from the party suggests that the ideological agenda of the RSS is above all else. Thus, for example, voices critical of the government’s economic policy within the BJP, like Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Subramanian Swamy, have not been silenced. They have not been shown the door. Perhaps their views are shared by some in the RSS.

The RSS thinks that demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) have led to an economic slowdown and increased unemployment. Both moves have hurt its natural base — the trading community and small businessmen who supply it with cadre and finance. RSS organisations have also opened a front against the government’s economic policies. Aravind Pangarhiya, brought from Columbia University with much fanfare to head the Niti Aayog, was sent packing even before he could complete his tenure, under pressure from the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), an RSS affiliate. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), an RSS trade union, has accused the government of creating jobless growth, suppressing wages, increasing contractualisation of labour; and destroying the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the RSS farmers’ front, has taken the government to task for not tackling the agrarian crisis and has had to be persuaded not to participate in the nationwide farmers’ protests.

The contradictions between the Modi government and the RSS family of organisations also spill into areas beyond economic policy. Thus, Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Pravin Togadia, a known critic of the government, fears that he may be killed in a fake encounter by the police. Surprisingly, he does not fear his ideological enemies but his friends in the government. Similarly, Pramod Muthalik, chief of the lumpen Sri Ram Sene, which specialises in terrorising teenagers in love and Muslims alike, has claimed that his ideological friends might bump him off. They must be aware of saffron terrorist Sunil Joshi’s fate. According to reports, to keep tensions with the government manageable, Mr Togadia might be removed as VHP president and the head of BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay is also on the chopping block. Besides Mr Modi, perhaps the RSS is also wary of Mr Togadia in case he runs away with the Ram Mandir issue.

Meanwhile, there is an attempt to bring Dattatreya Hosabale, a senior RSS functionary positively inclined towards Mr Modi, as the next chief executive (sarkaryavah) of the organisation, replacing incumbent Bhaiyyaji Joshi. The first such attempt failed in 2015 but should it now succeed, Mr Modi will be able to influence decision-making in the RSS. This spring cleaning will happen in the next few months to prioritise a clear Hindutva agenda for 2019. There is also speculation that the RSS leadership would like a greater say in the selection of candidates for the 2019 general election. For this they may even need a new BJP president more amenable to their suggestions than the present incumbent. What is important to understand is that the RSS is not opposed to Mr Modi. In the larger scheme of things, he is only an instrument for fulfilling its ideological agenda. The RSS recognises that Mr Modi’s “deviation” from that agenda is not ideological but a result of the compulsions of governance. However, it wants to keep the contradictions at a level where the Hindutva agenda retains primacy.

Meanwhile, the RSS wants quick progress in cases of corruption against prominent Congressmen and their kin to delegitimise any political challenge. It also wants the temple construction to begin at Ayodhya by the end of this year. For that it needs a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court, and failing that, legislation. The RSS would also like the Supreme Court to abolish the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. This can be done by declaring Article 35A of the Constitution ultra vires, or unconstitutional. It is by no means certain whether the court would limit itself to deciding on the inheritance rights of Kashmiri women or throw out the entire provision of privileges of a “state subject”. If it does the latter, J&K may well be reduced to the same status as other Indian states. Despite the fact that there is a broad convergence on major issues between the RSS and Mr Modi, he has not been able to move forward on them at a pace acceptable to the former. Yet both he and the BJP know that with little to show in terms of performance, to get re-elected in 2019 they have to follow the dictates of the RSS.

(The article was first published on Deccan Chronicle written by Mr. BHARAT BHUSHAN a senior journalist, Editor of Catch News, he has been a hack for 25 years. He has been the founding Editor of Mail Today, Executive Editor of the Hindustan Times, Editor of The Telegraph in Delhi, Editor of the Express News Service, Washington Correspondent of the Indian Express and an Assistant Editor with The Times of India. Bharat can be reached at and tweets at @Bharatitis)