Uneasy questions about BJP-RSS meet

S Madhusudhana Rao

The three-day conclave of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that ended in New Delhi on Friday with several union government ministers presenting report cards to RSS top brass has raised another dust storm in political circles. Congress has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of being run by its mentor RSS and hits out at the presence of ministers at the meet. The main opposition party said that the government is answerable to parliament, not to an organization with a communal agenda.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

BJP countered it, saying Congress is being run by mother-son duo. Though it is a weak defence against the opposition onslaught, the ruling party could not proffer a better justification, giving the impression that the RSS-BJP umbilical link can’t be severed in any circumstance.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh is more forthright when he said, “I want to clarify everyone that I am a RSS ‘Sayamsevak’ (worker), the Prime Minister is a RSS ‘Sayamsevak and no one should have any problem in it.” Rejecting the charge that the ministers had broken the oath of secrecy administered during the time of assuming office, Rajnath Singh said: “We have not broken any oath of secrecy. By attending a meeting, be it public or an indoor, no oath of secrecy is broken.”

Nevertheless, the BJP-RSS ‘coordination meeting’ saw several key ministers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, take part in the deliberations ranging from internal security to external threats; Naxalite problem; J&K situation; economic development; social welfare schemes, etc. In other words, the meet had reviewed the 14-month-old Modi government’s performance. Modi’s addressed the conference on the last day, in which he is reported to have listed the government’s achievements and sought Sangh Parivar’s cooperation and guidance in fulfilling his poll promises.

Besides Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Manohar Parrikar, Venkaiah Naidu and Anant Kumar were among the central ministers who attended the conclave chaired by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and briefed the 93 representatives of Sangh Parivar’s 15 affiliates on the respective ministries’ performance. Not surprisingly, RSS has given a pat to Modi team with Bhagwat complimenting the government’s work  as “very satisfactory.”

Although the RSS-BJP coordination meeting does not affect the common man, it is disquieting to the extent why should elected representatives present the government’s performance fact-sheet to a socio-cultural organization? When the RSS claims it is apolitical and not remote-controlling the Modi government, the conclave’s assessment of NDA rule raises suspicions about the motives behind the saffron brigade’s “review session” with key union ministers.

One of the reasons could be to get a feedback from the government on its programmes and their implementation and penetration. Another could be to complement government efforts at the grassroots level. It means the RSS wants to play the role of a watchdog. But given the background and its agenda, RSS and its affiliates do not instill confidence in the general public, particularly among minority communities. This is where public perceptions of BJP differ and they are visible in social media. Comments about the coordination meet are galore and they are divided on expected lines of communalism and secularism.

In fact, it’s no longer a secret that BJP ministers in the NDA government regularly attend briefing sessions held by the saffron party’s ideological mentor RSS and its various affiliates. The purpose of such meetings is ostensibly to give a feedback to ministers concerned about how various government programmes are being implemented at grassroots level and coordinate RSS wings’ activities with the ministers. On the face of it, such confabulations look innocuous. But when we go deeper, if the meetings between government ministers and their party’s ideological affiliates become frequent, there is a clear danger of RSS pressing the elected representatives to follow its agenda.

Given its Hindu ideological moorings and leanings and RSS’s dream of establishing Akhand Bharat and bringing back the past glory, how much influence the ‘brain-storming’ sessions will have on BJP leaders is a point worth pondering.  Of more concern is whether the ministers and their Modi-led government would take into account the RSS bosses’ suggestions in formulating the country’s policies.

That fear has been lurking in the minds of many people ever since the BJP came to power. Coordination meetings such as the one held in Delhi will further strengthen the belief that the government is acting according to an agenda set by its ideological mentor. It is believed that the Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani follows the education plan chalked out by RSS. It is a known fact that the leaders of the RSS and organizations of such ilk have been pressing the government for review of history and sociology curricula. In fact, some of the BJP-ruled states have effected changes in school history books, raising hackles among historians and intellectuals.

The main grouse of Sangh Parivar is the Indian education system is western-oriented; prominence is given to a few leaders, little emphasis on traditions and moral, cultural and social values, among other things. They feel these ‘anomalies’ need to be corrected and recent proposals point to this direction.

So, it was clear that the coordination meeting was aimed at clearing misunderstandings that might have arisen out of statements given by ministers and Sangh Parivar leaders. At least the interaction might help avoid friction between the BJP and its parent body over controversial and sensitive issues such as Ram temple in Ayodhya, Article 370 and a uniform civil code. But that’s a mirage because these issues are divisive in nature. If Modi tries to strike a balance he will come under pressure and run into confrontation with RSS.

He has already done that, a day after the RSS meet, by saying that radical elements trying to force their own ideologies on others gave rise to conflicts at a Hindu-Buddhist conclave in Bodh Gaya on Saturday.

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