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The RSS Paradox: Hindutva Is Gaining Fast but Modi Is Stealing RSS Thunder

author P. Raman
Mar 12, 2024
The RSS never allowed the emergence of authoritarian super bosses under their aegis. Instead, they insisted on consensus decisions and collective leadership. Consider the travails of BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whenever he tried to cross the RSS’s Lakshman Rekha. Today, there is no line or limit Modi can’t cross.

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

We are a ‘party with a difference,’ the newly re-born Bharatiya Janata Party used to boast during the ‘80s and ‘90s. The tag line, coined by K.R. Malkani, was, to an extent, apt. Those were the days when the BJP’s organisational bodies met at regular interval while the ruling party Congress followed the high command system.

The BJP’s organisational bodies held free and fair discussions within the ideological framework of the RSS. The National Executive (NE) had quarterly meetings held at different state capitals. At the National Council meeting – a three-day jamboree open to media – the delegates loudly held forth on party policies and internal functioning.

That was then and now is now. Consider last month’s National Council meeting. It was dominated by Modi’s address on both days and one each by Amit Shah and J.P. Nadda. The 11-page political resolution mentioned Modi as many as 84 times.

Back in the day, special trains carried party delegates who mingled with the large number of correspondents present. Top leaders like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi accompanied the train and interacted with delegates and media persons, in groups and individually. We had a fairly good idea about what was happening in BJP.

The BJP presidents, on their part, did not announce any decision without consulting the NE or the office-bearers and, of course, the RSS. Nagpur in those days encouraged a system of free and fair internal debate among the Parivar outfits. The NE was a lively forum which discussed and worked for consensus on contentious issues – some thing unthinkable under the MoSha BJP.

Often discussions were inconclusive and the NE had to put off consideration to the next meeting. For wider debate on specially contentious issues, ‘chintan baithaks’ were called. Such a wider conclave was held at Sariska on Narasimha Rao’s 1991 economic reform when the Advani group sharply differed with the Swadeshi Jagran Manch group.

The latter had the support of Murli Manohar Joshi, Malkani, K.L. Sharma, Sunder Singh Bhandari and Jai Dubashi. The Sariska conclave was followed by the Gandhinagar session of the NE where an economic policy document detailing the ‘Swadeshi alternative’ or Gandhinagar declaration was finalised.

Organisational elections were fairly free. And at local levels, the pre-Modi BJP had its share of allegations of fake voters lists, protests and boycotts – indications of free and fair polls. Decisions under the central observers were mostly by consensus at tehsil, district and state levels.

Chief ministers were fixed after a system of tenuous consultations among the RSS leaders, BJP legislators and leaders of various contending state factions. Unlike today, the carried juicy stories about the prospects of different aspirants for the BJP CM’s post.

Now, all this is history. The BJP as a political movement with organic links with its support base is a thing of past. Narendra Modi likes to directly deal with voters. Anything coming in between the leader and the voter is considered a hurdle and should be removed. That is the new philosophy.

The large army of middle-level workers who had acted as a link and played a crucial role in taking the message to the grassroots are another casualty. Under the Modi-centric public discourse and election campaign, they have little role. With technology and an army of experts, the whole line of command has undergone drastic change.

At the local levels, the traditional RSS and BJP workers have been turned into panna pramukhs, booth in-charges and similar kind of gophers. All profitable positions have been cornered by the glib talking smart set. They invariably use their new status for the enhancement of their business career. With such elements grabbing the enormous party funds, devoted traditional workers are gradually fading away.

Like every good elected dictator, Modi has an aversion for leaders with their own support base. During the good old internal democracy days, such leaders were treated as a great asset to the BJP. But Modi considers them as irritants and potential challengers. Hence he has eliminated all senior chief ministers. Last among the sidelined are Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Their place has been taken by faceless new picks.

The Modi era also presents a curious paradox. While the Hindutva cause has floruised immensely, the RSS under Mohan Bhagwat has suffered considerable erosion. Modi increasingly overshadows Bhagwat and his RSS. Modi has taken the role of a chief priest and pujari — whether in Ayodhya or Abu Dhabi — and has been anointed as the Hindu Hriday Samrat.

Hindutva crowds increasingly look to Modi for inspiration and as their hero. The epicenter of Hindutva is gradually moving from Nagpur to the PMO in New Delhi. Modi has emerged as the chief spokesman of Hindutva. The RSS has never suffered such an erosion of authority in the past.

The reasons for this can be traced to the present RSS leadership’s tunnel vision. Bhagwat’s predecessors like Rajubhayya and K.S. Sudarshan had a wider world view beyond Hindutva, Ayodhya and narrow hate politics. They believed that Hindu nationalism could be built only by a BJP government on a nationalistic socio-economic foundation, i.e. a Swadeshi alternative.

The RSS never allowed the emergence of authoritarian or all-powerful super bosses under their aegis. Instead, they insisted on consensus decisions and collective leadership. Consider the travails of BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whenever he tried to cross the RSS’s Lakshman Rekha. Today, there is no line or limit Modi can’t cross.

P. Raman is a veteran journalist.

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