“.. It is also a must to strictly implement two children norm irrespective of the political pressures. Rather than subsidising each birth of a Muslim kid, it is must that after two children there has to be the strictest curb. Perhaps a punishable criminal offence and stopping the ration, jobs, educational facilities will streamline the population facilitation towards better development. Another fast action is must and that is kicking out over 300,000 Bangladeshi infiltrators who have set themselves firmly in the North-East of Bharat.” — Pravin Togadia, Working President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, writing in The Organiser , August 30, 2015

Two days after Pravin Togadia announced the above-mentioned plans for Muslims in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mouthpiece, The Organiser , the Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat collected about 105 members of his joint family, including the VHP, at the outskirts of Delhi for what was referred to as “ samanvay baithak ”. This three-day meeting saw all the senior Cabinet ministers make a beeline for the nondescript venue, the last being Prime Minister Narendra Modi who professed his loyalty to the Sangh with the declaration that he was “proud” to be a swayamsevak .

A few minutes before Modi’s entourage entered the premises, a group of us interacted with the RSS’s joint general secretary, Dattatreya Hosabole, who said the Sangh is “studying” the findings of Census 2011 on religious communities. There was no condemnation or censure of Togadia who, said Hosabole, had expressed his “personal opinion”.

Rightist discourse

Indeed, such views are the norm rather than an exception in the ideological family to which the BJP belongs. The RSS has an extraordinary ability to occupy a spectrum of positions on any socio-political and economic issue with the collective aim to push the discourse rightwards. The BJP, being the political arm of the RSS, is constrained to follow the line. The Sangh consequently occupies the same position in the ruling dispensation as the National Advisory Council (NAC) under Sonia Gandhi did in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, or Bal Thackeray for the Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra, and the Politburo for any Left Front Government. Dattatreya Hosabole admitted as much when he recalled the “remote-controlled” Manmohan Singh government in the past 10 years in response to a question about the Sangh’s influence over the present BJP regime.

The question of One Rank One Pension (OROP), for instance, was settled within 48 hours of the ultimatum given by the RSS Joint General Secretary Suresh Joshi to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Similarly, no one should be deceived by the Congress’s clamour to claim credit for the withdrawal of the ordinance to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. It was pressure from the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and advice from the RSS on its impact on the upcoming Bihar elections that made the government withdraw the ordinance. Similarly, the Sangh will have a say on all policy decisions related to issues as diverse as GM foods, the agricultural crisis, labour reforms and tribal welfare. As a corollary, almost all the new appointments in cultural and educational institutes are being done with the recommendation and blessings of the Sanskar Bharati, the Vidya Bharati, the Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad and similar organisations.

Already, about 10 central institutes and organisations have accommodated RSS nominees, including the Sanskar Bharati appointee Gajendra Chouhan in the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Y Sudarshan Rao, who is believed to hold rather conservative views on caste and Brahminism, and is a member of the RSS’s historical wing, has been appointed as head of the Indian Council for Historical Research. Mukesh Khanna who played Bhishma in the teleserial Mahabharata has been appointed head of the Children’s Film Society of India.

The BJP has given its own time-table with respect to the RSS’s “civilisational” agenda including withdrawal of Article 370, imposition of the Uniform Civil Code, and construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. In fact, the drumming of the rhetoric on the Muslim population by the VHP after a strategic release of Census 2011 figures by the BJP is most definitely a precursor to the Sangh stepping up on the demand for a Uniform Civil Code. Even on the Ram temple, the BJP has submitted to the RSS for its perusal a timetable for the construction. Given the reality of its ties with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir, the RSS is believed to be willing to wait and watch over how the BJP deals with the issue.

Power without responsibility

How does a “cultural” organisation hold the reins of political power without adhering to any democratic or constitutional norms? In a multi-party democracy, political players appeal to the electorate on the basis of defined programmes through elected members. In the Congress as with the CPI(M), the top leader is an elected, popular choice of the party. They have defined manifestoes and political programmes. They may be only “technical” requirements but are essential for making political groups accountable to the people.

But in the case of the RSS and its ideological affiliates, it is difficult to pinpoint their stand on a specific political programme or on a single issue, forget about a comprehensive manifesto. Just like Census 2011 on which Togadia’s inflammatory statements signify the extreme end of the spectrum through which the issue will slowly be articulated, the Sangh employs its militant wings to drum up the rhetoric on its core agenda as well as socio-political and economic issues. Depending on the responses to a certain kind of articulation, it moulds its position. The RSS is, thus, a powerful political player without the accountability that comes with being a political party with designated office-bearers. If there are repercussions to its actions, such as the continuing strike in FTII over Gajendra Chouhan’s appointment, the BJP will face the music. The same goes for the RSS’s hard line on GM Foods or land acquisition.

The Prime Minister has not shown even the kind of token resistance to RSS pressure that Atal Behari Vajpayee was able to muster. There was not a single instance of Vajpayee driving up to a nondescript location to present his government’s report card to the RSS. Those who voted for the Modi sarkar in the 2014 general elections would do well to remember that real power lies behind the throne.