War in the parivar
As the Bharatiya Janata Party prepares to hold its National Executive meeting in Chennai next week, dissonance within the organisation over questions of ideology, leadership and politics is clearly visible.
CONFUSED?: (From left) L.K. Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, K.S. Sudarshan and Mohan Bhagwat salute the RSS flag. PHOTO: AP
AFTER the election defeat in May 2004, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has gone through a series of crises. As the Party prepares to hold its National Executive meeting in Chennai shortly, dissonance within the Party over questions of ideology, leadership and politics is clearly visible. The legitimacy of its senior leaders has periodically been called into question, while all is not well in most BJP-ruled State units of the Party. On questions of ideology, the BJP seems to be locked in a battle with its "parent" organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its many affiliates.
The view from the outside is that the RSS wants the BJP to return to its core ideological moorings and to adhere strictly to the core issues that fall under the rubric of Hindutva. In this seeming tug of war, the RSS presents a picture of ideological clarity and certitude, while the BJP of today seems to be faltering and confused. A closer look at the RSS, however, suggests that there is an equal, if not greater, degree of ambiguity within the RSS over questions of ideology and politics than appearances suggest.
At the level of ideology, there is a clear split within the RSS between those who style themselves nationalists (Rashtravaadis) and those who profess their allegiance to Hindutva. The nationalists claim that the term "Hindu" merely constitutes the cultural matrix and identity marker of India. They refer to the RSS founder, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar's insistence that "Hindu" refers to the unbroken civilisational heritage of India that emotionally binds people with a common history and shared purpose.
The Hindutva votaries claim that while the RSS rejects Savarkar's idea of punyabhoomi or holy land (a concept that automatically excludes Muslims and Christians from being part of the putative Hindu Rashtra) to constitute part of their conception of Hindutva, it would be a great error to abdicate the claims of Hindus in favour of any abstract and formal notion of nationalism. This was the conclusion Golwalkar arrived at in the seven-day conclave of the Sangh in October 1972.
On the face of it, there seems little difference between the two views other than a question of emphasis. Nothing, however, explains the subtle difference between the two views better than BJP President, L.K. Advani's formulation that while Hindutva for him represented idealism, nationalism was his ideology. Advani's typology illustrates the schism, not merely within the BJP, but also within the RSS. A senior RSS member and historian of the Sangh, Dilip Deodhar, likens this to grafting an apple tree on to a mango tree.
After Dr. Hedgewar's death in 1940, this subtle distinction has constantly been in play within the RSS, with an unspoken "war" being constantly waged for dominance of one over the other. The misconception, however, is that the RSS functions on the basis of ideology and its practices are governed by a strict fidelity to its core principles. This is not to suggest that the Sangh does not harbour a telos, an ultimate goal or purpose; that is articulated as the vision of making India a great power.
In its day-to-day functioning, the RSS embodies the notion of transience, or mayavaad. Following that, there is nothing that it swears eternal allegiance to except the primacy of the organisation. In this sense, whatever the organisation says becomes ideology. It takes its cue from Chhatrapati Shivaji's strategy of "hit and run". Absolute commitment to any issue or principle is, therefore, detrimental to the goal of making India a great power. In recent years, this has become the dominant view in the Sangh's interface with politics as well.
The RSS, as well as the Sangh Parivar, has now devised a formula that prevents any absolute commitment to a single ideological position. When in power, the Sangh Parivar swears allegiance to nationalism, and while out of power it propagates Hindutva. Advani's transgression, apart from his remarks on Jinnah, seems to lie in his unwillingness to buy this formula. This is partly to do with the constraints of coalition politics and a lot to do with incommensurable views on what constitutes the orthodoxy for the Sangh Parivar.
In the 1980s, the RSS felt that the BJP had turned into a pale imitation of the Congress (I). Rajiv Gandhi's initiative in permitting the shilanyas in Ayodhya had robbed the BJP of its identity and political edge. Religiosity, it was felt, without political muscle would lead to nothing. The future, then, had to be crafted on the basis of a combination of politics, religiosity and movement.
Relations after 1998
Once this leap was taken, the Sangh decided to use its perceived power within Hindu society to set its agenda. The RSS, it is believed, also persuaded a reluctant Atal Bihari Vajpayee to accept office in 1996 despite lacking in numbers. The RSS wanted a signal to be sent that it rejoiced in the fact of a swayamsevak becoming the prime minister of India, even though he lasted in power at that juncture only for 13 days.
It is widely known that after the formation of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government in 1998, relations between the BJP and the RSS became increasingly strained. It is widely believed that the BJP, under the "guise" of running a coalition government gave short shrift to the agenda of the RSS. Stories of personal bitterness between RSS Chief, K.S. Sudarshan and Vajpayee and Advani abound, each narrative slightly more fantastic than the other in certain details.
One version goes as follows: In 1998, the then RSS Chief, Rajjubhaiyya wanted to hand over his responsibilities due to reasons of ill health. At this juncture, Vajpayee, Advani and Seshadri persuaded him to postpone handing over the job to Sudarshan. They argued that Sudarshan being an idealist would not take kindly to the cut and thrust of politics. Sudarshan had to wait till 2000 to become sarsanghchalak of the RSS. This was a period of chaos within the Sangh Parivar. It witnessed the maximum number of attacks on Vajpayee and his government. Unwittingly, these attacks helped consolidate Vajpayee's liberal image.
In this context, an RSS insider refers to an interesting conversation between Rajjubhaiyya and Moropant Pingle, a senior RSS leader. Rajjubhaiyya expressed concern over the anarchy prevailing among various constituents of the Sangh Parivar. Pingle advised him to refrain from killing the diversity of voices within the Sangh. Let each constituent pull the other in extreme ways, Pingle is believed to have said, as long it does not lead to breaking-off from each other permanently. Each constituent must fight as much as they can, but must restore order once the RSS chief blows the whistle.
Whether this anecdote has any formal authenticity or not is a different question. The problem today is that the RSS seems to have lost the ability to broker peace and restore order among its various affiliates. The BJP National Executive in Chennai, therefore, will not be a test of Advani's longevity as Party president alone, but also a test of the RSS' strength and hold over its political wing.
Ideology and politics
RSS volunteers. PHOTO: A.M. FARUQUI
THE only ideology that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) truly follows is sanghvaad or the primacy of the organisation. This is best illustrated by the Sangh's response to the question of dual membership (Jan Sangh members were also swayamsevaks) raised during the Janata Party regime in 1977, of which the Jan Sangh was a part.
A remarkable pamphlet written by Baburao Chauthaiwale (Maine dekhe huye param pujaniya Shri Balasaheb Deoras), a close associate and aide of the then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, delineates the flexibility of the RSS in dealing with questions of ideology and the Sangh's practice of political compromise. In response to the controversy over dual membership, the RSS took the following decisions:
Other than what was deemed absolutely necessary, swayamsevaks within the Sangh ought not to associate with the Sangh in any special way;
Senior Sangh officials will only refer to Hindutva's essence in public lectures and fora perfunctorily and only in passing and concentrate more on questions of organisation.
There was resentment in the Sangh for abandoning Hindutva as well as other core values, though this arrangement continued for 11/2 years. The chief of the Maharashtra wing of the RSS, Kaka Limaye wrote to Deoras protesting against this move and asking him to refashion another organisation, while telling him to "leave Doctorji's [RSS founder, Dr. Hedgewar] sangh for the Hindus to us".
Baburao Chauthaiwale exults over the fact that Sangh leaders, normally considered apolitical and inept in political matters had outmanoeuvred the politically astute leaders like Madhu Limaye and Raj Narayan.
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