October 18, 2014

India: RSS legitimised (A.G. Noorani)

Dawn - 18 October 2014

Each day of the Dussehra festival, the day the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was founded, the RSS supremo delivers a speech at a mass rally in Nagpur, the headquarters of the outfit. It contains traditionally a diatribe against the Indian government, against the minorities — mostly Muslims — and lays down the programme for the faithful, assembled there in khaki shorts, to follow.

This year’s speech on Oct 3 marked a difference. There was no criticism but fulsome praise for a government headed by a lifelong RSS activist, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat said: “The people brought a drastic change in the government. This change is not even six months old but positive signs from time to time give hope of the emergence of Bharat on the international horizon. It appears that the people’s desire for a secure and progressive life will soon start reflecting in governance.”
With Modi as PM, the divide between party and state has become blurred.

In this, he was alarmingly right. For the first time ever, the public broadcaster, Doordarshan, telecast it live across the country. Its disingenuous plea that the speech was covered because of its “news value” will fool nobody. What it demonstrates is that no statute establishing an autonomous broadcasting corporation can work unless it is backed by a culture that supports autonomy.

That the Broadcasting Corporation of India Act, 1990 has proved a sham is not news; except that so egregious a breach was never known. Never before has a speech by a public figure like Bhagwat been accorded such importance. It could not have happened without positive instruction, as distinct from mere approval, by the prime minister himself.

Modi’s defence followed instantly that very day. Bhagwat had talked about “important national issues”, he asserted. He also gave an online link of the summary of Bhagwat’s address on his Twitter handle.

This is the most disturbing implication of Modi’s unprecedented step. The implications are clear. The divide between party and state is blurred and a hate group is conferred respectability.

On his part, Bhagwat warned: “History has shown that mere political power cannot bring about the desired changes. In a democratic system, the government gains tremendously from their [organisations’] activism, awareness and maturity and hence the government must keep its dialogue with them going.”

It was the RSS which had founded the Jan Sangh, the BJP’s ancestor in 1951. It has acted as an umpire in times of crisis within the BJP and provides its indispensable cadres during election campaigns.

Bhagwat’s speech conformed to the set RSS line of espousal of the Hindutva credo. He also urged people to “stop buying things from China”.

Since Modi tirelessly touts “the Gujarat model”, it is important to recall that in 1999 when he was chief minister of that state, his government had arranged with then union minister L.K. Advani’s endorsement a waiver of the ban on RSS men’s induction into the state’s civil service. The Gujarat Civil Servants Conduct Rules, 1971 banned RSS members specifically from entry into the civil service along with other communal bodies.

With Modi now prime minister, the services as well as heads of autonomous cultural bodies have felt the impact of his government’s active politicisation of the services. This is contrary to what the framers of India’s constitution envisaged.

On April 27, 1948, Vallabhbhai Patel wrote a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru: “I need hardly emphasise that an efficient, disciplined and contented service … is a sine qua non of sound administration under a democratic regime even more than under an authoritarian rule. The service must be above party and we should ensure that political consider­ations either in its recruitment or in its discipline and control, are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether.”

An RSS-ridden civil service cannot work a secular constitution. For, “it is perfectly possible to pervert the constitution, without changing its form, by merely changing the form of the administration and to [sic] make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the constitution”.

The parliamentary system is based on a professional, politically neutral civil service. Put political favourites in crucial positions and the entire system is perverted.

Former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh said in 2000: “I have spent a greater part of my life in [the RSS] and I can say that right from the distribution of election tickets … in BJP to selecting cabinet ministers, it is only the RSS which calls the shots. What else is political activity?’ ”

The RSS’ needs for respectability cannot be met by state help; only by its own radical reform of which there is no hope whatever.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.