It has been a nagging political puzzle for years. What is the relationship between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)?
The liberals and the leftists had no doubts that the RSS was everything and the BJP nothing. But it was only a hunch on their part and they could not prove their case with irrefutable evidence that is available in the public domain.
They always had to fall back on conspiracy theories which were not convincing enough, however true they might have been.
The BJP and RSS leaders were quite cagey about their relations. They would say that RSS does play the parental role, that the BJP leaders do consult the RSS brass, but the BJP makes its own political decisions and that the RSS does not interfere in the day-to-day affairs of the party.
The equivocation has now ended, after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
BJP leader and now Union minister for communications & information technology, law and justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that the RSS had openly helped the BJP in three elections — 1989, 1991 and 2014 — and by implication acknowledging that the RSS cadres did not stand with the BJP in the other elections of this period — 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009.
It is interesting that in two of these elections, that of 1998 and 1999, the BJP formed a government at the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. There is also the other implication that whenever the RSS cadres support the party in an election, the party performs well.
There was a more emphatic acknowledgement of the RSS role in the 2014 victory by the party’s middle-rung leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
Speaking for the party and the government in the Motion of Thanks to the Address of the President in Lok Sabha in July, Rudy thanked the BJP workers and RSS volunteers even as he praised the charismatic leadership of Narendra Modi which made the unprecedented victory of the party possible.
There have been clear indications from the RSS too about the significance of the 2014 elections. Mohan Bhagwat, the sarsanghchalak or the chief of the organisation, had observed that after 1947, the 2014 election result was the most important, and he expressed the view that the well-meaning leaders of the 1947 period were hazy in their vision, and for the first time in 2014, with the BJP in the saddle, the country will acquire a clear vision.
Bhagwat chose to speak out, it seems, because it is for the first time that the BJP has a parliamentary majority on its own, and the RSS could take satisfaction in the fact that a Hindutva party which owes nothing to so-called secular allies, was in power.
Bhagwat and RSS see it as the logical conclusion of the Partition in 1947, with a Hindu party taking over the reins of power in India even as “Muslim” parties rule the roost in Pakistan.
Of course, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan, would dispute this because it feels that Pakistan is yet to become an Islamic state.
Of course, Bhagwat would argue, and with much justification, that his connotation of Hindu is not religion but civilisation and culture. The RSS chief’s claim remains debatable in purely civilisational and cultural terms.
What Bhagwat really means is the political ascendancy of the Hindu majority, which again is a problem because the majority has always prevailed in this country following the logic of democracy.
A prominent RSS functionary speaking on condition of anonymity said that the decision over who would be president of the BJP cannot be taken without consulting the RSS.
This was a fortnight before the parliamentary board of the BJP chose Amit Shah as president of the party. The RSS has indicated, according to reports, that its cadres will work for the party in the upcoming state assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana.
Earlier, the RSS functionaries would never admit that their cadres are working for the BJP. They would indulge in the euphemism that they go out among the people to create voter awareness because it is good for democracy. That pretence has gone now.
But some of the illusions about the importance and effectiveness about the RSS still remain, in the BJP and RSS ranks as well as among the Congress, the communist parties, the civil society secularists and liberals. BJP leaders seem to believe that if the RSS works for the party, then electoral victory is assured. Members of the Congress and the communists also believe that it is the RSS cadres who facilitate a BJP victory.
Both sides seem to ignore the electorate at large, the people as such. They ignore the fact that voters, who do not belong to either the RSS or the BJP, vote for the BJP, and all of those who oppose the Congress are not right-wing and RSS, though it is true that all of those who belong to the RSS are opposed to the Congress.
There is, of course, the irony that on many occasions the RSS felt that Congress was the right party to rule the country, and this was the official line of the RSS after the 2009 Lok Sabha election as well. It is the people who vote for the BJP or the Congress or the communists and not cadres of the RSS or of the communists. There will be times when the RSS cadres would work for the BJP, but the party will lose an election.
With the BJP in power, are the RSS then the thought police, policy-maker, and the ultimate arbiter of the BJP as well as the NDA government?
It can be argued that the RSS word might prevail in matters pertaining to the BJP, but it will not have the same success in the government. The RSS would, of course, want to leave its imprint on policy but it will find it difficult because of an intractable reality. For now, the RSS is out in the open, speaking its mind, and trying to shape the national agenda.
The author is editorial consultant, dna