Far & Near: As polls near, RSS takes centre stage

The RSS has now dropped all pretence of being a “cultural” body, the cloak behind which it hid since the ban imposed on it after Gandhiji’s assassination was lifted, and is unapologetically showing its colours as a political outfit. The opportunity has come with the BJP, its political front, failing to measure up. As the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election approaches, the BJP hasn’t quite got going, exposing the brittleness of the edifice that Amit Shah, as party president and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nominee, has struggled to erect. There were two compelling indications that Shah was not in command of the situation, and might cut a sorry figure. This appears to have given the RSS the justification to step in. These polls are, after all, crucial. A defeat could bar the way to 2019, and that would mean an end to the RSS’ romp on the public stage and the muscle flexing of its “nationalism”-peddling affiliates. The BJP had won 71 of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 – a stunning performance. The BJP president, falling for acolyte talk, took this to be the result of his personal brilliance as field commander. Still basking in the atmosphere of 2014 and not seeing that the ground was slipping under the BJP’s feet, Shah instructed each of his UP MPs to ensure the party’s win in three Assembly segments of their parliamentary seat, hoping that way to notch up an Assembly majority. The MPs broke out in a cold sweat. They have apparently confided to old party hands that, leave alone ensuring wins in three Assembly seats each, they are worried about encountering public ire when they visit their constituency. This is on account of the grim economic realities in the Modi raj – with unemployment running high and the prices of essentials refusing to dip.
Anxiety levels are said to be high. Dozens of MPs, specially those who are not rooted in the RSS but had flocked to the BJP for opportunistic reasons, are now believed to be even entertaining thoughts of jumping ship at an appropriate stage – no doubt for a price – if a supportive political environment develops and the dissolution of Parliament can be orchestrated in step with their manoeuvres. As the dispiriting message – with a layer of rebelliousness tagged to it – began to create ripples in party circles, the elite corps of the Sangh Parivar – the RSS – feared that the BJP might not be able to deliver the goods and that it needed to shoulder the burden itself and play an open role ahead of the state poll due in February-March next year. If this marked the first serious low for Shah’s leadership (by the skin of his teeth he had managed to survive the electoral debacle in Bihar because heaping blame on him would necessarily have dragged down the Prime Minister as well since they had together monopolised and orchestrated the campaign), his failure to mobilise the neo-Buddhists among dalits at a widely advertised function in Agra recently is regarded as a watershed moment – one that enhanced and reinforced a sense of despair in BJP ranks. To boost troop morale, he pronounced himself on “nationalism”, by which the RSS-BJP of course means “Hindu nationalism”, which is a mix of the “Hindu supremacist” outlook and the precept of the suppression of the religious minorities. “Hindutva equals nationalism,” Bhagwat pointedly lectured. This is the RSS’ favourite pastime anyway, but on this occasion it was a marker of the RSS commandeering the BJP’s election campaign in UP, taking away the job from Shah’s blundering squads. From Agra, Bhagwat also appealed to young Hindu couples to bring forth more Hindus in the world to counter imaginary Muslim demographics. The 2011 Census reports that Muslim birth rates have declined appreciably, more than that of Hindus. But sticking to facts may not be the RSS boss’ strong point.
In the wake of Una, a unity of dalits and Muslims has been envisioned but is yet to crystallise on the electoral chessboard. In UP, that would, of course, be an unbeatable combination with 39 per cent of the voteshare in the bag rightaway. It appears UP’s sizeable Muslim vote is wary of being segmented amongst UP’s anti-BJP parties and is seeking to induce, by its very significance, an electoral detente between the BSP and the Congress (which after long is said to be experiencing a revival of sorts) – even a patchy one – in order to prevent vote-splitting that might benefit the BJP. Ironically, the Agra reflections of the RSS supremo, far from helping the saffron cause, have deepened dalit and Muslim alienations. With no jobs, and a bare kitchen, other social groups too are not moved by “nationalism” rants.
We are living through regressive but momentous times. Time was – not much over a decade ago – when within the BJP there was a keen desire to show the RSS its place and become a genuine right-wing, thoroughly market-oriented party, something like the Hindu Democrats (copying Europe’s Christian Democrats). But just the opposite is happening as the RSS dramatically takes centre stage and Mr Modi cheerfully looks on. To add colour to the drama, the largest bloc of the BJP’s Lok Sabha MPs (which is from UP) is threatening to move in unpredictable ways.

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