It’s never been a secret that the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is the friend, philosopher and guide of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The gurudakshina, or tuition fee, which the BJP leaders routinely pay to the head of the umbrella Sangh Parivar, testifies to their master-pupil relationship.
Despite the closeness of the ties, the RSS has always insisted that the BJP is an autonomous organisation. This fiction was never easy to maintain, but if both the outfits did not hesitate to reiterate it, the reason was that the occasions for the RSS to intervene in the BJP’s affairs were few and far between.
This was the state of affairs before the latter’s assumption of power in New Delhi in the 1990s. Since then it has not been easy to argue that the two allowed each other to follow their own counsel.
The reason why the claim could not be sustained was that the stakes for both had become much higher than before with the BJP’s entry into the corridors of power. For the RSS this was the pathway for the fulfilment of its longstanding dream of ushering in a Hindu rashtra in India.
To achieve this cherished objective, the RSS realized that it had to keep the BJP on a tight leash lest it should be misled by the lure of power into abandoning its pro-Hindu agenda. These fears of the RSS came true when the BJP did shed three key points in its party programme – the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the introduction of a uniform civil code and the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution conferring a special status on Jammu and Kashmir.
The RSS was aware that Atal Behari Vajpayee was behind the move to give the BJP a benign, non-confrontationist face. Because of his moderate views, Vajpayee was never a favourite of the RSS. If it still allowed him to be prime minister from 1998 to 2004, the reason was his popularity which extended well beyond the saffron ranks. Besides, only his presence at the head of the government could keep afloat the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising several “secular” parties.
Arguably, the RSS had greater hopes in L.K. Advani, who was known for his hawkish views since his 1990 rath yatra. But it was Advani’s conversion – even it was suspected to be a pretence – into a moderate a la Vajpayee which must have persuaded the RSS to look for a successor.
It used Advani’s praise of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 2005 to replace him as the BJP president by Rajnath Singh. The description of BJP president Rajnath Singh as a “provincial” by Jaswant Singh after his expulsion from the party for writing a book on Jinnah will seem apt to many.
Now, the RSS is apparently looking for another “provincial” to replace Rajnath Singh. Its choice is a relatively unknown leader from Maharashtra, Nitin Gadkari. It is not difficult to guess why the RSS prefers obscure persons from the provinces to those who have had greater experience of national politics.
The reason is that the RSS believes that the latter tend to develop a mind of their own because of their sojourn in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of New Delhi and interaction with various national and international personalities. Their fluency in English is apparently another disadvantage in the eyes of the RSS, which believes that familiarity with a “foreign” language (and, consequently, foreign lifestyle) creates a gulf between them and Indian, and Hindu, realities.
This belief ruled out politicians like Arun Jaitley, the BJP’s leader in the Rajya Sabha, and Sushma Swaraj, the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha. Both of these media-savvy leaders were regarded as front-runners for the party president’s post. So were a former chief, M. Venkaiah Naidu, and former central minster Ananth Kumar. But their big-city background – they come from Hyderabad and Bangalore respectively – also made them persona non grata to the RSS.
That Gadkari was the RSS’s choice was believed ever since the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, was quoted as saying that someone from outside Delhi would be the next BJP president. The RSS has since claimed that Bhagwat was misquoted. It has also reiterated that it does not interfere in the affairs of the BJP.
But the very fact that such assertions had to be made gave the game away. In any event, the umbilical links between the RSS and the BJP have always been too close for such claims to seem credible. The disingenuousness of these observations will be exposed if and when Gadkari takes charge. But what is of greater significance is not so much the evidence of the control exercised by the RSS as the political fallout from this arrangement.
As long as Vajpayee was at the helm, he kept the hardliners in the RSS, the BJP and in Parivar outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) at bay. His visit to Lahore in 1999 and a promise to solve the Jammu and Kashmir problem within the parameters of ‘insaniyat’ (humanity) and not the constitution alone were signs of a line independent of the RSS which he followed.
But once the RSS takes control of the BJP via a pliant party president, and stalwarts like Vajpayee and Advani are sidelined, the possibility of the BJP gravitating even further to the right will become very real.
The consequences will be fatal for the NDA. Already some of its secular constituents like the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Trinamool Congress have left the alliance. Now, even the Janata Dal-United may find it difficult to stay on. Once the NDA starts falling apart, the chances of the BJP gaining power in New Delhi will be widely discounted, persuading even possible partners like the AIADMK to stay away.
More importantly, there may be ruptures within the BJP itself, with the relatively liberal-minded among its members either leaving the party or being forced to leave like Jaswant Singh. In that event, the RSS’s dream of converting India into a Hindu ‘rashtra’ (nation) will be dashed because of its own folly of lording it over the BJP.