RSS: The anti-Constitutional “power centre” of the Modi Sarkar

Written by Madhu Prasad | Published on: October 13, 2016
This article was written between the two elections to the Delhi assembly and just before the results that announced a triumphant win of the Aam Admai Party against the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in February 2015. Since the basic postulate holds true, given the widespread influence within power centres –central and state—of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) it is being published again for the benefit of our readers
Image: Shome Basu

The role of the RSS in the 2014 general election has been astonishing not only in its extent and influence, but even more so, in its very public and direct involvement in the most significant political event in the nation’s calendar.

The door-to-door campaigning and booth management by more than six lakh RSS cadres who worked under RSS committees during the general elections, was then repeated for the impending Delhi Assembly elections. The organisation has again announced that the BJP cannot be relied upon to carry out these tasks efficiently.

For an organisation which repeatedly proclaims its “cultural” and non-political character, so that it is often carelessly portrayed as a `non-governmental organization’ (NGO), this is even more surprising. Its intrusion in the electoral campaign and processes was clearly not providing any voluntary delivery-system service for the implementation of government policy which is the appropriate definition of the term `NGO’. Its intervention can more accurately be seen to reflect the desperation of the RSS to promote its political goal of the Hindu Rashtra after the uninspiring outings at the hustings of its political protégé, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), in both 2004 and 2009.

 The choice of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to lead the charge was singularly appropriate, although at the time its sheer audacity shocked many even within the Sangh Parivar.  For despite the white noise produced by the propaganda of the “development model” and of “good governance”, Modi remains embedded in people’s consciousness as the icon of either an alarming or inspiring (depending on one’s ideological predilection)  laboratory experiment of the Hindu Rashtra in practice. Complete with its initial genocidal assault aimed at teaching `the other’ a lesson and subsequent ghettoisation and marginalisation of minorities, this process started in Gujarat against the Christians in the Dangs district (1999) and then emerged in its full-blown form all over the state with the 2002 pogrom against the Muslims.

‘Hindu Rashtra’

The RSS idea of the Hindu Rashtra is not merely a `majoritarian’ concept. It is a Hindu supremacist notion which views nationhood, citizenship, and socio-political rights as being grounded either in a person’s belonging to the Hindu religion, or at the very least, in an acceptance of, and subordination to, what the Sangh Parivar sees as Hindu dominance in what it calls the `history’/ `culture’/ `civilization’ of the country. Consequently, Narendra Modi’s reference to himself as a “Hindu nationalist”, in reply to a journalist’s query, cannot be trivialised as a factual statement that he is a Hindu and a nationalist at the same time. For one trained and steeped in the RSS ideology, it is a fundamentalist assertion that being a Hindu is integral to being a nationalist.

It follows that the very concept of the Hindu Rashtra constitutes a repudiation of the secular republican conception of the state enshrined in the Indian Constitution. It is not just a particular variant of the Rashtra, either `harshly’ or `tolerantly’ interpreted and practiced, that is in question. Unfortunately, Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s well-intentioned plea, that Modi “requite the applause of your support-base but equally, redeem the trust of those who have not supported you”, fails to appreciate this. (“An Open letter to Narendra Modi”. The Hindu, May 19, 2014). Still less does the attempt to contrast `secularism’ with `religiosity’ address the relevant issue of what constitutes the protective grounds of the rights of all citizens in a democratic republic. (Shiv Vishwanathan. “How Modi defeated liberals like me”. The Hindu, May 22, 2014). It is Ashutosh Varshney, enamored of the opportunities promised by Modi’s “political claim on behalf of markets”, who appears more perceptive and wary. “. . . if Modi is unable to change the RSS, considerable difficulty lies ahead. The narratives of development and anti-Muslim Hindu nationalism will become embattled twins, coexisting not peacefully but in great tension, one threatening to consume the other, creating potentially serious problems of governance. Can the RSS accept development as the master narrative of Indian politics? We simply do not know.” (“2014, like 1952”. The Indian Express, May 19 , 2014)

During the general elections, Modi’s campaign was devised, strategised and controlled by the “RSS-led core group” with a few Gujarat leaders including the less than savoury Amit Shah. This mode of political functioning is apparently also part of the `Gujarat model’. At the national level it represented “a departure from the past when top party leaders made a show of strength from the dais in rallies”. However, it has been argued that Modi has successfully won three terms in the state because he “largely banks upon people from the organisation (RSS) and his own team” instead of depending on “top-rung party leaders with high public recall” which is the standard democratic practice. (BJP sources quoted in Archana Shukla’s report, “RSS-led core group maps Modi campaign route”. Indian Express, April 15, 2014).

The early announcement of an RSS pracharak as the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate”, after publicly humiliating and side-lining several prominent senior leaders, bore the imprint and compelling force of the RSS on the BJP. However, in what would soon become a familiar tactic, this would be promoted as the adoption of an alternative “democratic” model of the United States presidential system in which the “leader”, emerging from contests through primaries in a basically two-party system, canvasses the electorate directly to become the head of the state. Although some important questions were raised about the relevance and implication of the model in the context of India’s parliamentary form of governance, there was a failure to emphasize a crucial difference - that in Modi’s case, the former inner party democracy had been supplanted by the totally non-transparent will of the RSS.

Referring to Modi as “prime minister-elect” in a period of “transition”, barely ten days after his victory and before his “inauguration”, completed the fake convergence with the U.S. pattern. Practical exigencies strengthened this projection. It was more `natural’ to the way of thinking of the sizeable NRI support base of the Sangh Parivar, to social media users, and the international public relations company that handled Modi’s personality projection and electoral campaign. However, more significantly, the apparent convergence served to cushion outrage against the phenomenal costs of the Modi campaign, and to mute questions about where the money was coming from and how it would be recouped. Viewed in the Indian context, the funding for the Modi display, which almost matched the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, was obscene as the per capita income in India is less than 30 times that in the United States. But hadn’t Barack Obama run the most expensive modern election campaigns to become the first African-American President of the United States? Perhaps something along these lines encouraged Ramachandra Guha to soothe troubled `liberal’ nerves by suggesting that Modi, the self-proclaimed OBC messiah, should not be seen as an Indian Hitler, but as a South-Asian Hugo Chavez! (“The Fear of Fascism”. The Telegraph. March 22, 2014).

Foreign Funding
Affiliates of the RSS have been receiving millions of dollars from corporates in the United States to propagate the Hindutva ideology in the country. This was exposed by the report of the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (SFH), a group of professionals, students, workers, artists and intellectuals. It identified the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), a Maryland-based charity organisation established in 1989, ostensibly to provide funds for `relief and development work’, as the key fund-raiser for the SanghParivar in the U.S. The 91-page report, titled “A Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hate” (November 2002), revealed how the IDRF obtained considerable amounts from leading U.S. technology companies such as Cisco, Sun Microsystems, AOL-Time Warner and Hewlett Packard and distributed it among RSS affiliates. Swayamsewaks working in U.S. corporations project the IDRF as the `best’ way to provide funds for `development and relief’ work in India and target Indian migrants to the U.S., especially professionals working in the software sector, to encourage their companies to put the IDRF on the corporation’s list of grantees.

The report is based on primary sources, including documentary evidences from tax documents filed by the IDRF; articles from Sangh Sandesh, the newsletter of RSS; and reports published by Sangh Parivar organisations in India and abroad.

While 83 per cent of the funds went to the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other SanghParivarorganisations, only 2 per cent went to secular organizations. In 2000, around $1.7 million was channeled to SanghParivar organizations such as the VanvasiKalyan Ashram (VKA), which has been linked with anti-minority violence against Christians in Madhya Pradesh in 1998 and against Muslims and Christians in Gujarat. Between 1994 and 2000, the IDRF disbursed close to $4 million to SanghParivarorganisations all over India. IDRF funds were distributed among RSS organizations dealing with reconversion programmes and efforts to Hinduize society, including the VHP-run EkalVidyalayas (One Teacher Schools), engaged in indoctrination of tribal students in remote villages.

Some other long-term recipients of IDRF funds include the VikasBharti (Bihar), the Swami Vivekananda Rural Development Society (Tamil Nadu), the SewaBharati (New Delhi), the Jana SevaVidya Kendra (Karnataka), the GirivasiVanvasiSewaPrakalp (Uttar Pradesh) and the G. DeshpandeVanvasiVastigrah (Maharashtra). While organizations like the SewaBharati are openly identified with the RSS, others like the Swami Vivekananda Rural Development Society profess to work for the development of tribal people but stress on teaching them the `Hindu way of life’. Collectively, these organizations have been supported by the IDRF since its inception.

According to the report, the links between the IDRF and the RSS go beyond financial support. One of the founder-members of the IDRF is BhishmaAgnihotri, RSS ideologue and a leader of the Hindu SwayamsewakSangh (HSS), the equivalent of the RSS in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Unconstitutional Governance

However, RSS statements and media reports are already indicating that we can expect an increasingly aggressive involvement of the quasi-fascist organization, not just in the political functioning of the BJP, but in the constitution and functioning of the Modi sarkar. Modi and BJP president Rajnath Singh rushed to the RSS leadership after the results were declared and continue to seek “directions” on government formation and policy.

What has been publicly experienced during this election is an actual shift in political control and performance away from the BJP, whose declared adherence to the Constitution is the source of its legitimacy in the political process, to the anti-constitutional and non-transparent organization of the RSS. Open only to Hindu males, the RSS organization maintains no membership records. It has resisted being registered with the government of India as a public/charitable trust, has no known bank accounts and does not file tax returns. It functions through shakhas which supply the swayamsewaks, the volunteer foot-soldiers who control and man its hundreds of front organizations whose activities cover every facet of sociopolitical life not only in India, but increasingly also among the Hindu diaspora.

This is not `normal’ in a democratic polity and constitutes a grave threat to its functioning. Yet, the Election Commission (which should have questioned the electoral expenses and intervention of the RSS), other political parties, political commentators and the media, by their failure to highlight this rupture and indeed by their tacit acceptance of its reality in the political practice of the BJP as a part of the Hindutva brigade, have allowed it to gain currency unhindered.

(The author is Associate Professor (retd) Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi and member, Presidium and spokesperson, All India Forum for Right to Education)

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