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Father, Son and Political Equations: J.P. Nadda on BJP-RSS Relations

The projection of Modi and the cult of personality this entails in no way contradicts the agenda of the RSS combine.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

One of the features of the 2024 Lok Sabha election campaign is the apparent absence of RSS volunteers – swayamsevaks – in the field helping the Bharatiya Janata Party mobilise voters. So far, in most elections barring 1984 – held in the aftermath of the anti-Sikh pogrom – the RSS has provided foot-soldiers for the BJP. There are many guesses about the role of the RSS combine in the elections this time. In this context, BJP president J.P. Nadda said in a recent interview that the RSS is a cultural and social organisation while the BJP is a political party. Nadda claims that “… the BJP was now self-reliant and was fully capable of running its own affairs. The party has evolved over a period of time and unlike when during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s time, it was completely dependent on the RSS, this was not the case anymore.”

This is claimed particularly in the light of Narendra Modi’s spectacular rise, most of his decisions being made by himself and the charisma created around him by multiple mechanisms, including what is called ‘godi media’. While it is tempting to believe that the BJP is now a totally autonomous party like any other party, is this really true?

The RSS was formed in the context of rising ‘Indian-consciousness’ during the freedom struggle. India’s anti-colonial freedom struggle was founded on pluralism and diversity. The triggering point for the formation of the RSS was the rising Dalit struggle for social equality. The formation of this Hindu nationalist organisation was also inspired by the nationalism of Mussolini and Hitler. Unlike another organisation devoted to Hindu nationalism, the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS focused on training swayamsevaks and pracharaks (propagators) in the ideology of Hindu nationalism rather than jumping directly into the political arena.

In due course the RSS started throwing up different organisations, mostly formed by its trained volunteers. Interestingly, the first subordinate organization was Rashtra Sevika Samiti, for women. This was guided by K.B. Hedgewar, the first Sarsanghchalak, and formed by women close to the RSS pracharaks (propagators), as women are not permitted in RSS itself. The pracharaks also formed the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad for students, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram for tribals, the Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh for workers, the Vishwas Hindu Parishad and a bit later the Bajrang Dal for the more militant projection of Hindutva causes. Today it has over 60 organizations working on the agenda of Hindu Rashtra.

The formation of the political wing of the RSS came in the wake of the murder of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, by an RSS trained pracharak, Nathuram Godse. The RSS felt the need for a political party which could articulate its ideology in the political arena. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha helped by the Arya Samaj in particular took the lead in the formation of the Bhartiya Jan Sangh. Theb RSS loaned three of its prominent pracharaks to the Jan Sangh: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Advani and Deendayal Upadhyay. Later, with Upadhyay becoming the president of the Jan Sangh, RSS control on this party became total.

At the same time, its shakhas were training young boys in the ideology of Hindu nationalism, based on glorification of the ancient past and hate for the Muslims. According to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, it was the hate spread by the RSS due which made the murder of Gandhi possible.

The Jan Sangh-RSS combine eagerly joined the Jayaprakash Naryan movement in 1975. Soon they came to control the movement and won a measure of public respectability which the Sangh had always lacked due to its association with Gandhi’s murder. The Jan Sangh also merged into the Janata Party which was inspired by JP. Soon, many components of the Janata Party asked the Jan Sangh leaders in the party to give up their association with the RSS, i.e. to give up dual membership (of Janata Party and RSS). Since the Jan Sangh leaders owed their primary loyalty to the RSS, they left the Janata Party and went on to form the Bhartiya Janata Party in 1980.

Though nurtured and trained in the ideology of Hindu Nationalism, the BJP for electoral purposes put forward “Gandhian Socialism” as its motto. As the party did not get much traction in the electoral arena, it soon shifted gears and took up the Babri Mosque-Ram Temple as the central issue. The accompanying anti Muslim violence led to polarisation and the BJP’s position in national politics steadily went

The major policies of the RSS combine, of which BJP is a component, are coordinated through the annually held ‘Akhil Bhartiya India Pratinidhi Sabha’ (ABPS, All India Representatives Meeting), presided over by the RSS Sarsanghchalak. As the BJP became more powerful, the RSS got more space to work and infiltrate the state apparatus. Since 2014, the number of RSS shakhas (branches) has gone up in a big way. As per the ABPS report for 2022-23, “Over 8,500 new ‘shakha’ (daily meetings) were started by the RSS in the country during 2022-23. The total number of shakhas rose 12% to 68,651 from 60,117 during the previous year. “

This shows the speed with which RSS work is expanding during the present BJP rule. What prevails in the RSS and BJP is a division of labor, with the RSS as the parent organisation laying the broad contours of the march towards a Hindu Rashtra.

The present scenario where Nadda is making this statement needs to be understood in the context of the BJP’s electoral strategy and relationship to RSS. It is in not in any way a sing of the parting of ways between the parent organisation and its political progeny. Most sectarian nationalisms, which are invariably dictatorial, need a towering image to undermine and wipe out democratic freedoms. The projection of a larger than life image for Modi is needed to advance the agenda of the Hindu nation. In other words, the projection of Modi and the cult of personality this entails, in no way contradicts the agenda of the RSS combine. If anything, it aids their goals in immeasurable ways.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been updated and republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.

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