March 15, 2016

India: Self-confidence of RSS leadership at an all-time high (Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay)

The Economic Times, March 15, 2016

Self-confidence of RSS leadership at an all-time high

By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

The recently concluded meeting of the Rashtriya Swayasmevak Sangh’s Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha marks a turning point in the evolution of Sangh Parivar and indicates that self-confidence among its leaders is at an all-time high. If this sentiment was not dominant, the most symbolic reformative step — junking the khakhi shorts and replacing it with brown trousers — would not have been taken.

For long RSS’ signature — both for supporters and adversaries who used this apparel as cussword —, this decision marks an important departure from its founder, KB Hedgewar’s ‘knickerism’. In fact, the khakhi shorts were an integral part of the RSS makeup — quite like Sikhism’s Five Ks — and its culling is a bold step.

From the outset, the meeting made it evident that there is complete synergy between the RSS and the government.

While it has been stated previously on these pages that the BJP was moving towards expanding its campaign beyond conventional Hindutva to an ultra-nationalistic platform, the report of sarkaryavah (general secretary) Suresh Bhayyaji Joshi, the second-most powerful person in the RSS, endorsed this. He sharply commented that university campuses had “become hotbed of anti-national activities”.

Without praising the BJP or government, he said the RSS was satisfied with the response to events in the JNU and Hyderabad Central University by declaring that it was “delightful that the moment the reports about these incidents became public, there was all-round condemnation from everywhere. We expect the central and state governments to deal strictly with such anti-national and anti-social forces”. But besides the resolutions — and Joshi’s statement on quota — which underscored commonality between the RSS and BJP, this meeting indicated the new thinking in the leadership led by sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. He has, especially since 2012, taken it on himself to ensure better coordination with affiliates in the Parivar, including the BJP, and not put the onus on the other as done previously. He has been more accommodative than previous sarsanghchalaks.

The meeting noted the rise of the number of shakhas in the past few years, but the underlying message that Bhagwat has conveyed is that the RSS no longer assesses growth by rising number of shakhas. The emphasis is on conveying that the RSS will be stronger if the Parivar grows.

Instead of seeing itself as the engine of the bandwagon, the RSS under Bhagwat is more likely imagining itself as its propellant. Insiders cite the presence of key RSS leaders in areas vital for the BJP. For instance, while Amit Shah is publicly credited with the party’s sweep of UP in 2014, the role of joint general secretary Krishna Gopal is considered equally significant if not more decisive.

Traditionally, RSS leaders’ relationship with BJP top brass — and government — used to come unstuck because of issues of hierarchy.

Ties between the RSS and government were abysmally poor in the Vajpayee era mainly because sarsanghchalak KS Sudharshan was difficult in his interaction with senior leaders like Vajpayee, LK Advani and Kushabhau Thakre. This problem is non-existent now and minor creases between the RSS top brass and Shah were ironed out over recent months. Ever since Bhagwat conceptualised the principle of “grow with the Parivar” as against “grow at the head of the Parivar” — the time when an agreement began to be hammered out that Modi would lead the BJP in 2014 — there has been greater unity between affiliates. Insiders contend if the Unity Index was 100% in 2014, the effort now is to go beyond that mark and this was unmistakable at the ABPS meeting.

Bhagwat made no change in the RSS leadership or the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakarini Mandal. The all-important quartet remains the same — Bhagwat and Modi at the top, with Shah and Joshi just a notch below. Big brother has actually become a twin. The ABPS has sent a clear message, that unity has a purpose — ensuring BJP’s victory in the next parliamentary polls. Since a cohesive campaign will be required, the plank has just been cemented. That this is accompanied by the headline-grabbing “liberation from ritual” by shedding khakhi shorts and zipping up smart brown trousers is an added bonus!