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

What prevails in RSS and BJP is a division of labour, with RSS being the parent organisation and laying the broad contours of the march towards Hindu Rashtra.

Ram Puniyani | Clarion India

AS the election season (April-May 2024) is in progress there are observations by some that this time RSS volunteers (swayamsevaks) are not on the field to help the BJP with electoral mobilisation as they have done in most elections barring the one in the aftermath of the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984. There are many guesses about the role of RSS combine in the elections this time. In this context, the interview of BJP chief J.P. Nadda, given to The Indian Express (May 19, 2024), claims that RSS is a cultural and social organisation while 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, controlled by his circle of corporate cronies. Some will tend to believe that the BJP is now a totally autonomous party like any other party. Can this be true?

As we recall 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 RSS was the rising Dalit struggles 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, 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, it started throwing up different organisations, mostly formed by its trained volunteers. Interestingly the first subordinate organisation was Rashtra Sevika Samiti, for women. This was guided by K.B. Hedgewar, the first Sarsanghchalak, and formed by the women close to RSS pracharaks (propagators), as women are not permitted in RSS itself. The pracharaks in due course formed Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a bit later Bajrang Dal. Today it has over 60 organisations working on the agenda of Hindu Rashtra.

The formation of the political wing of RSS came in the wake of the murder of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi by RSS-trained Pracharak Nathuram Godse. RSS felt the need for a political party which can articulate its ideology in the political arena. So far entering the political arena was an anathema for this organisation. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha helped by Arya Samaj in particular took the lead in the formation of BJP predecessor, Bharatiya Jan Sangh. RSS loaned three of its prominent Pracharaks to Jansangh: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishan Advani and Deendayal Upadhyay. Later with Deendayal Upadhyay becoming the president of 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 the glorification of the ancient past and hate for the Muslims. As per Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, it was the hate spread by RSS due to which the murder of Gandhi became possible. Sardar Patel was firmly of the opinion that the communal poison spread by the RSS was responsible for the Mahatma’s assassination. He said: “As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhi.”

Jan Sangh-RSS eagerly joined the Jayaprakash Narayan movement in 1975. Soon they came to control the movement and got respectability in public eyes, which was extremely low due to their role in Gandhi’s murder. Jansangh also merged into 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 RSS, i.e. to give up dual membership (of Janata Party and RSS). The Jan Sangh leaders owed their primary loyalty to RSS and left the Janata Party to form the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.

Although its cadres were nurtured and trained in the ideology of Hindu nationalism, for electoral purposes the BJP put forward “Gandhian Socialism” as their motto! When it did not get much traction in the electoral arena, its leaders soon shifted gears and took up Babri Mosque-Ram Temple as the central issue. The accompanying anti-Muslim violence led to polarisation resulting in the BJP’s ascent on the political chessboard.

The major policies of RSS Combine, of which BJP is a component, are coordinated through 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 was getting 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 22-23, “Over 8,500 new ‘shakhas’ (daily meetings) were started by the RSS during 2022-23. The total number of ‘shakhas’ rose 12 per cent 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 RSS and BJP is a division of labour, with RSS being the parent organisation and laying the broad contours of the march towards Hindu Rashtra.

The present scenario where Nadda is making this statement needs to be understood in the context of their electoral strategy and relationship to RSS. It is in no way the parting of ways between the parent organisation and its political progeny. Modi’s towering image is needed for the agenda of the Hindu nation as most of the sectarian nationalisms, which are mostly dictatorial, need a towering image to undermine and wipe out democratic freedoms. So projecting Modi as a tall figure in no way contradicts the agenda of RSS Combine; it aids their goals in immeasurable ways.

What Nadda is stating needs to be taken in the proper context and tactical need of the RSS-BJP agenda. It in no way suggests any differences in their long-term goal or relationship.

* Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist, and former professor at IIT Mumbai. The views here are his personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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