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Right Word | How RSS looks at electoral politics and what role it plays

Right Word | How RSS looks at electoral politics and what role it plays

With the announcement of Assembly polls in five states, there is lot of buzz about the role that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) would play in ensuring victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Interestingly, whenever the elections are around — Assembly or Lok Sabha — the RSS is projected as an ‘X’ factor by a large section of media and political analysts. The common projection is that the RSS goes all out to work for the BJP and make it win polls and it is the RSS cadres and functionaries who lead from the front when it comes to electioneering.

Are these assertions correct or have they emerged out of lack of understanding about the functioning and philosophy of the RSS? To understand the role played by the RSS in elections in India, one has to understand the RSS’ worldview about politics and the evolution of its relationship with Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) till 1977 and then with its successor BJP from 1980 onwards. And for this we would have to go back around seven decades.

The first major debate on how RSS should deal with politics began after the first ban on the organisation was lifted unconditionally in July 1949. The ban was wrongfully and mischievously imposed by the then Congress government led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in February 1948. In wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress, which was becoming increasingly wary of the growing clout of the RSS because of its stellar role in saving Hindus and Sikhs during Partition, found an opportunity to crush the organisation by blaming it for Mahatma’s assassination and hence banning it. But not even a shred of evidence was found against the RSS and the ban had to be lifted by the Nehru government.

Dwarika Prasad Mishra, the Home Minister of Central Provinces at that time, wrote in his autobiography, Living in An Era, “That Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination gave a handle to unscrupulous politicians to defame and, if possible, to pull down their rivals is difficult to deny.” (Page 59 of the original English version).

"That Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination gave a handle to unscrupulous politicians to defame and, if possible, to pull down their rivals is difficult to deny."

The RSS cadres suffered great deal of violence in the aftermath of ban and the way Congress government portrayed the RSS as an accused in the Mahatma’s assassination. Even its headquarters at Nagpur was confiscated. Thousands of them were imprisoned as a part of ‘Satyagraha’ to oppose this ban. During the course of these events, on the political front, there were hardly any voices which supported the RSS.

Hence after the ban was lifted, a debate begun in the RSS at various levels. A section of the cadres wanted it to be converted into a political party and take active part in politics. However, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, MS Golwalkar, popularly known as ‘Guruji’, took a firm stand that the RSS would have nothing to do with active politics. It would continue to work in the socio-cultural arena. That has been the consistent stand of the organisation since then. The RSS firmly believes that permanent changes in the society can be brought by working as a social organisation. That perhaps also explains the consistent expansion of the organisation across the country.

Bharatiya Jana Sangh and RSS

Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the erstwhile avatar of the BJP, was founded by Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951. Dr Mookerjee wasn’t from RSS. He was a former member of the Nehru cabinet and had been associated with Hindu Mahasabha. Mookerjee walked out of the Nehru cabinet protesting the Nehru-Liaqat pact that compromised the interests of Hindus who were being targeted in Pakistan at that time.

Dr Mookerjee met Guruji before setting up the BJS and the RSS agreed to loan out a few of its full-time workers (known as ‘Pracharak’) to help Mookerjee build the party. Over the next few years Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Nanaji Deshmukh were amongst those who helped build the BJS. That arrangement continued till 1977 when BJS was merged in the Janata Party. Later when BJP was formed in 1980, the practise of loaning out Pracharaks to the BJP resumed and has continued since then. The Pracharaks who work in the BJP are generally appointed as organising secretaries and deputy organising secretaries at the national and state level units of BJP. Their main task is to help strengthen the BJP as at organisational level.

As far as RSS is concerned, its primary task is to hold its daily ‘Shakha’ and prepare volunteers, i.e. swayamsevaks with good character. These volunteers are free to work for any political party and they need not work for only the BJP. In fact, the present Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, was asked specifically at a three-day outreach programme of the RSS at Vigyan Bhavan in September 2018 that why the RSS Pracharaks work as organising secretaries for BJP only, why don’t they work for any other political party.

He had replied, “Sangh gives organising secretaries to those who ask for it. So far no one else has asked for it. If someone will ask for it, we would think about this. If they want to do some good work, we would definitely give them (RSS Pracharaks) because in 93 years we have not supported any political party. We have supported a policy also and when we support a policy then as our strength grows, its benefits reach the political party (that support this policy)… those who can reap this benefit, they do that. Those who cannot are left out… when we fought against Emergency we never thought that Jana Sangh should get the benefit. Those who fought against Emergency included Babu Jagjivan Ram. There were SM Joshi, NG Gore and even Gopalan ji from Left. Everyone got the benefit. The Swayamsevaks have worked for everyone… so we work for the policy. We have not worked for parties and we won’t do that. Now if because of us someone can reap a benefit, then it is for them to think how to get that benefit. After all we don’t do politics, it is they who do politics.” (Yashaswi Bharat, Prabhat Prakashan, Pp 264-265).

Sunil Ambekar, at present Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh (All India Chief of the Publicity Wing) of the RSS, further clarifies the RSS’ worldview of electoral politics and the role it plays in this context (The RSS Roadmaps 21st Century, Rupa Publications, Pp144-45), “Undoubtedly, the work of (Sangh) Parivar organisations impacts politics, and electoral politics at that. The party that is responsive to their campaigns will be benefitted in the power race. The Sangh’s umbrella idea of Hindutva has effectively challenged several parameters of politics and this has deep significance in the political discourse of the country.”

He further adds, “Elections are colossal democratic events and there is a lot of curiosity regarding the work that (Sangh) Parivar organisations do during them. However, as a matter of principle, Parivar organisations do not engage in pure-play political campaigns or politicking. No senior functionary of any Parivar organisation takes part in electioneering. There is absolute clarity about this aspect, although at local level, activists may participate.”

"Elections are colossal democratic events and there is a lot of curiosity regarding the work that (Sangh) Parivar organisations do during them. However, as a matter of principle, Parivar organisations do not engage in pure-play political campaigns or politicking"

So next time, a political pundit announces rhetorically that RSS has taken charge of the BJP’s election campaign or RSS is driving the election campaign or RSS is playing the key role in electioneering, you may treat these assertions with scepticism as they go against the basic ethos, philosophy and functioning of the RSS.

The writer, an author and columnist, has authored several books on RSS. Views expressed are personal.

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