MODI@2: A party tethered to RSS apron-strings

POORNIMA JOSHI | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on May 18, 2016

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Modi eps

Modi eps 2

It is the hardline ideology of the Sangh that drives policy within the Modi government

In September 2015, several key Ministers of the ruling NDA made detailed presentations before top RSS leaders, in an unusual show of governmental deference to a political authority that lords over the ruling party. The three-day ‘consultation meeting’ ended with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declaration that he was “proud” to be an RSS volunteer.

Evidently elated with the symbolic acknowledgement of the RSS’ oversight of the Modi administration, Sangh leaders gave the government a rare commendation. “Whatever has been done so far, the direction is right,” RSS Joint General Secretary Dattatreya Hosabale said.

Two years after Modi assumed office, the BJP’s ideological parent body is manifestly in command of the socio-cultural, educational and, to some extent, economic levers of the ruling party and the government.

RSS hold on party

The number of deputations from the parent RSS cadre to the BJP has doubled under Amit Shah’s tenure as party President. Besides General Secretary (Organisation) Ram Lal, who occupies the post traditionally held by RSS members in the BJP, the party has appointed Ram Madhav and Murlidhar Rao, two Sangh full-timers, at the level of General Secretary, the highest functional post, which is second only to that of the party President. Additionally, the BJP office-bearers’ list includes as many as four Joint General Secretaries.

What this symbolises is a change in the institutional sub-culture of the BJP from the era of the elders: Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. The party that once had a fairly democratic set-up – to the point where a relatively junior functionary such as Uma Bharati could challenge Advani at an open meeting – today closely follows the hierarchical functioning of the RSS, where the top leader is seldom questioned, much less publicly.

Deliberately divisive

The structural imitation of the RSS is reflected in the political agenda, which has veered in recent times towards majoritarianism and ultra-nationalism. In a scathing interview to a television channel, one of the BJP’s most respected associates, former Union Minister Arun Shourie, described disparate events – from the lynching of an elderly Muslim in Uttar Pradesh on suspicion of that he ate beef to the arrest of JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar – as representative of a deliberate political agenda, of which nationalism is one strand.

The BJP, however, believes it has gained public support by adopting nationalism as an “article of faith” in a political resolution following the arrest of the JNU students.

Shrill rhetoric

The resolution found an even more strident expression when Amit Shah addressed the National Executive, justifying the arrest and detention of Kanhaiya Kumar and others for their “anti-national” slogans.

“Sedition is being dressed up as freedom of expression. Rashtra-droh is being redefined to justify anti-national acts,” the BJP President told the party office-bearers.

While the BJP believes this stand has won it public support, it fired up a debate in the JNU campus, lasting over a month, with eminent scholars – Partha Chatterjee, Romila Thapar, Utsa Patnaik, Neeladri Bhattacharya, Sanjay Hegde, Mary John et al – addressing open-air lectures to discuss the real meaning of freedom and nationalism. According to former Education Minister Kapil Sibal, the “ill-informed and chauvinistic” ideological narrative shaped by the RSS has triggered unrest across universities in India.

“Campuses have become centres of dispute, cauldrons of dissent. In order to crush any intellectual challenge to their sectarian agenda, they have taken to jailing students,” Sibal told BusinessLine.

RSS tentacles in policy

While these issues have led to disruptions in Parliament, with the government failing to pass critical reform bills like the Goods and Service Tax Bill in the Budget session, the policy discourse continues to be influenced by the RSS. Personnel from the parent cadre and their loyalists in the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), an affiliate of the Vivekananda Kendra (set up by RSS ideologue Eknath Ranade), have been drafted into the government.

Three key officials of the Prime Minister’s Officer – National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Principle Secretary Nripendra Mishra, and Additional Principal Secretary PK Mishra – have been associated with the VIF, as was A Surya Prakash, currently Chairman of the Prasar Bharati. The Director-General of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, KG Suresh, too, was part of the IVF.

The Human Resource Development and Culture ministries, which are the focus areas of the RSS, as also the Information and Broadcasting, Tourism and Agriculture departments are now recruiting grounds for Sangh cadre. Internal search committees of the RSS are on the lookout for 600 posts in different academic and cultural organisations from where incumbent officers have been forced out owing to their indifference or opposition to the RSS.

This includes the National Council for Education Research and Training, from where the former Director, mathematician and educationist Praveen Sinclair, was forced out allegedly owing to charges of “financial irregularities. Similarly, the heads of other national institutions such as the Archaeological Survey of India, the Geological Survey of India, the Anthropological Survey of India will be appointed in consultation with the RSS.

Self-goals galore

This RSS infliltration has had unexpected consequences. Whatever little reformist sentiments reside within the government are getting bogged down in ideological tussles within the BJP. For instance, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the RSS, was just as instrumental in the political gridlock over the Land Acquisition Bill, as the Opposition parties were. The Sangh’s position on genetically modified foods interfered with GM trials in India, while the framing of the National Curriculum Framework for Education is almost entirely influenced by the RSS, a recipe for future confrontation with the States.

But unlike Vajpayee, whose liberal outlook constantly led to confrontations with the RSS during NDA 1’s term in office, the Modi-led NDA 2 has faithfully abided by the RSS’s bidding. The parent organisation’s hardline ideological narrative is seamlessly shaping the policy discourse in the present regime.

Published on May 18, 2016
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