2019 Polls: RSS unhappy with Narendra Modi’s single-personality cult
Revelations in a forthcoming book indicate that the RSS leadership is wrestling with a deep dilemma on whether to continue to support the BJP led by Narendra Modi in the coming Lok Sabha elections
Days before it is to be formally released on August 17, an authoritative new book ‘RSS: A view to the Inside’ on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is already stirring up a storm within the extended Sangh Parivar, both in India and abroad.
The book’s co-author is Walter Andersen, a distinguished American scholar and political scientist who has been closely monitoring the growth of the RSS for more than 40 years and whose first book ‘The Brotherhood In Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism’ published as far back as 1987 is widely regarded as the most detailed examination of the RSS, tracing its early growth in the pre-Independence period, its organisational structure and the evolution of its ideology.
Even before that, Andersen, who at one time was the head of the US State Department’s South Asia Division, had made his mark as an RSS-watcher by writing an in-depth four-part series of articles on the Sangh in the Economic and Political Weekly in 1972.
With such credentials, Andersen’s forthcoming book is bound to be taken seriously. He and his co-author, Shridhar Damle (who also jointly wrote the 1987 book) are currently on a pre-release book tour in India and are giving a series of interviews and talks to promote the book.
True to its name, RSS: A view to the Inside’, published by Penguin, provides a deep insight into the thinking of the RSS in the current political situation—an insight which is already causing a great deal of consternation and churning in political, academic and social circles. Many of the revelations are startling and brutally frank, indicating that the Sangh leadership is currently wrestling with a deep dilemma—about whether the RSS should continue to support the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
The new book categorically asserts that the RSS cadres will not be involved in the 2019 election campaign with the same intensity as in 2014
The authors have come out with several other eye-opening assertions in the course of their deep dive into the inner workings and compulsions of the Sangh, which has rapidly grown into a mammoth organisation in recent years and is driven by priorities that are often in conflict with the political ambitions of the BJP and the socio-economic policies of the Modi government.
The new book categorically asserts that the RSS cadres will not be involved in the 2019 election campaign with the same intensity as in 2014. As Shridhar Damle said in a recent book promotion discussion:“RSS leaders feel deeply hurt by the high-handedness of the political leadership of the BJP. They have typically been suspicious of single-personality cults. Mohan Bhagwat himself has on several occasions hinted that there is a growing cult for Narendra Modi and it’s not a good thing. It’s not that he’s against Modi but he’s against the idea of a cult. These are things one could keep in mind”.
According to Walter Andersen: “RSS also has suspicion about the ‘deep state’ or the bureaucracy. The ‘deep state’ has in many ways been a danger to it. I met someone from the RSS whom I have known for a long time. He was deeply suspicious of all governments, including this one. There is in the RSS a strain of skepticism of any government, including this one”.
The authors say: “We were told by senior BJP-RSS leaders that the RSS has participated in the elections only twice in history—first time after 1977 and then in 2014. In 2014 it was not for Modi, he is a by-product of the 2014 election”.
According to the authors, the RSS top leadership has “learnt from their mistakes during the Vajpayee government. Now again there is disquiet about Modi. Former sarsanghchalak Sudarshan was open and upset about the choices made by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and how that government behaved. For instance, he was against the appointment of Brajesh Misra as the then National Security Advisor. He was most upset with the failure of LK Advani to negotiate the release of four RSS pracharaks who were abducted and killed in Bangladesh. In West Bengal, RSS cadres openly state they would not have worked for the BJP if Advani had become a candidate for the prime ministerial post in 2014. That is how Modi came into the picture.
The RSS feels that the Modi government has become too attracted to power and is pursuing various ‘isms’ that are contrary to RSS thinking
Andersen feels the RSS is worried about becoming too aligned with the BJP and losing its own credibility. It also has mixed views of the Modi government’s performance so far. On the issue of foreign investment, the Modi government wants FDI because it hopes to create more jobs and more jobs will help the BJP to remain in power. But there is a strong sentiment against the idea of FDI because it ultimately undermines the traditional indigenous economy.
Mohan Bhagwat has been quite critical especially in his major public statements, including the Vijayadashami speeches. The criticism is against personality cult and it is also about economic issues. The RSS feels that the Modi government has become too attracted to power and is pursuing various ‘isms’ that are contrary to RSS thinking.
The replacement of the Planning Commission with Niti Aayog is a case in point. There is a feeling in the Sangh that the Aayog economists are too enamoured with theories that have been developed and are applicable only to the West, but are not suitable to Indian conditions and requirements.
The dilemma it faces is whether the Sangh should throw its full weight behind the saffron political party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Shridhar Damle has come to the conclusion that the RSS is unlikely to repeat its cadre mobilisation on the same scale as in 2014. However, pracharaks will not be prevented from helping the BJP if they want to in various regions and states. The new book elaborates on these core issues.
Because of their reputation, the co-authors were able to gain unprecedented access into the innermost zones of the Sangh. With academic research and with the help of case studies, the book explores the evolution of the Sangh into its present form, its relationship with the ruling party, the BJP, their overseas affiliates and so much more.
This article was edited at 7.20 pm on August 7, 2018 to correct a spelling error in the name of Walter Andersen
- Atal Bihari Vajpayee
- LK Advani
- West Bengal
- National Security Advisor
- Brajesh Mishra
- Planning Commission
- Lok Sabha elections
- Rashtriya Swawamsevak Sangh
- Mohan Bhagwat
- Niti Ayog
- PM Narendra Modi
- RSS: A view to the Inside
- Shridhar Damle
- 2019 election campaign
- Walter Anderson