It takes two to ‘Tango’: Modi & RSS matching steps to perfection

Why make a song and dance and step on every toe? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unwittingly reveals how silently the Government is pursuing its agenda



Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Kay Benedict

“If you can’t hit like a rhino, proceed like a swarm of bees.” This was the tip-off Arun Shourie unravelled (as disinvestment minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government) after the successful sale of public-sector (PSUs) oil companies—HPCL and BPCL—culminating a year-long battle with the Rashtriya Swawamsevak Sangh (RSS) and others opposed to divestment of PSUs. Between 1999 and 2004, Vapayee and Shourie had to face stiff opposition to disinvestment and FDI from BJP’s ideological mentor.


Then RSS chief KS Sudarshan unleashed Sangh affiliates such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh on the Prime Minister to constrict his reform agenda. These outfits organised nationwide protests against the Vajpayee Government’s economic policies, terming them “anti-people, anti-farmer and anti-labour.” Vajpayee was also under constant pressure to build the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.


Some RSS leaders had called for Shourie’s sacking while Sudarshan urged Vajpayee to retire.

There was not even a murmur from Nagpur on the sale of PSUs and uncharacteristically RSS was also silent on FDI and the controversial demonetisation decision, which made the cadre restive and alienated traders (BJP’s core supporters) and many other reform measures. There were, of course, some token protests by Sangh affiliates.

In this backdrop, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s boast about disinvestment of PSUs, (after he presented the Union Budget on February 1), is telling. Participating in a Times Now-Open magazine interaction with industry honchos on the budget, hosted by Sanjiv Goenka, the FM revealed that the government has made quite a killing through disinvestment away from public glare.


He was replying to Aroon Purie, chief editor of India Today, who asked some pointed questions on the sluggish state of the economy. “After the audacious demonetisation I expected an audacious budget”, Purie began. “You are not aggressive enough in terms of your PSUs disinvestment. It’s there, but it is not part of your top agenda,” he said.


Jaitley differed; with a disarming smile, he said “I always believed that disinvestment is the art of the possible. It is true that this government does not make a song and dance about disinvestment. I fix a target in every budget...In the entire five years of Vajpayee government, we achieved a disinvestment total of ₹27,000 crore....... This year, I am going to touch ₹45,000 crore....in one year! Now, there is no point in stepping on every shoe and foot in the town costing my party millions of votes in order to get a brownie point from you ...you made a lot of noise about disinvestment......Next year, I have fixed a target of ₹72,000 crores.........”


There was not even a murmur from Nagpur on the sale of PSUs and uncharacteristically RSS was also silent on FDI and the controversial demonetisation decision, which made the cadre restive and alienated traders (BJP’s core supporters) and many other reform measures. There were, of course, some token protests by Sangh affiliates.


In mid-2015, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had even given a certificate to Modi saying that his government was moving in the “right direction”. In sharp contrast, an irked Sudarshan had advised Vajpayee to retire while RSS ideologue Govindacharya publicly slighted Vajpayee dubbing him a “Mukhauta” (mask).


The government has been facilitating planting of RSS apparatchiks in cultural, media and academic institutions such as Indian Council of Historic Research, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, National Book Trust, Film and Television Institute and universities, to name just a few. Last month, the union cabinet also approved restoration of land to over 20 socio-economic organisations affiliated to RSS taken away by the UPA II government.

In a 2002 public meeting in Delhi, Sudarshan had warned that “those in government who espouse the need for FDI will have to go.” Vajpayee promptly hit back saying that “uneducated comments cannot be the basis for accusing his team of selling the country cheap.”


Why is the RSS not so belligerent now? There apparently, is a quid pro quo involved. Cautious not to antagonise the Sangh, the PM has remained silent on divisive issues. His token disapproval of motor mouths and rabble-rousers was for public consumption.


The government has been facilitating planting of RSS apparatchiks in cultural, media and academic institutions such as Indian Council of Historic Research, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, National Book Trust, Film and Television Institute and universities, to name just a few. Last month, the union cabinet also approved restoration of land to over 20 socio-economic organisations affiliated to RSS taken away by the UPA II government.


Kay Benedict is a political commentator based in Delhi. He tweets at @benedict18

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