HOW far will the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) go in asserting itself as a separate power centre? The question assumed significance last fortnight when the steering committee of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), consisting of the top RSS leadership, criticised two advisory committees on trade and economic affairs set up by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The committees, the SJM felt, are dominated by persons (handpicked by the prime minister) "hostile to the very idea of swadeshi".
It is being seen as a personal attack on the prime minister. And an attack from within the Sangh parivar itself. The criticism is part of an overall RSS move against the economic policy of the BJP. The SJM, an RSS front organisation, attacked the Vajpayee government for "side-stepping" the national agenda for governance. And threatened to launch a mass movement against the Vajpayee government if it didn't roll back its "anti-swadeshi" policy. "The BJP which stands for swadeshi, must not betray hope, otherwise we will be forced to prepare for a struggle," the SJM declared. The attempt, apparently, is to corner Vajpayee for not "consulting the RSS on important matters".
With the threat, the tension among the various Sangh parivar outfits has come out into the open. While the RSS banner was avoided, there was no ambiguity about its being the actual force behind the move. The SJM steering committee consists of K.S. Sudershan, joint general secretary of the RSS, tipped to be the next sarsanghchalak after Rajju Bhaiya, as well as Dattopant Thengdi, the founder father of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya.
Sources say that Sudershan took personal interest in ensuring media publicity of the press conference in which P. Muralidhar Rao, organiser of the SJM, sharply attacked the BJP-led government. In a procedure somewhat unusual for a top-ranking RSS leader, Sudershan even wrote signed letters to various front organisations of the Sangh parivar, instructing them to make sure the matter got nation-wide coverage. Obviously, the RSS considers the SJM statement of great importance.
Sudershan is a key figure in the RSS-BJP relationship. Being the RSS' man in charge of the BJP, Sudershan expects to be consulted on important policy matters. And one of the biggest complaints against Vajpayee has been that he is running the government "on his own". This year's Budget reinforced the complaint. The RSS top brass was unhappy with the Budget's focus, claiming that it was "only following the policies of the previous governments". The main grouse, however, was that it had not been consulted.
Insiders say that Sudershan and Vajpayee don't see eye to eye on many matters and that the RSS heavyweight is closer to home minister L.K. Advani. When Vajpayee tried to rope in Jaswant Singh as finance minister, Sudershan personally met Vajpayee and scuttled the move.
THE swadeshi brigade also did not take kindly to several incumbents. Muralidhar Rao named N.K. Singh, secretary in the PMO, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, member, Planning Commission, as "proponents of anti-swadeshi". He alleged that these officers wanted to continue the legacy of the previous governments. The editorial of the SJM mouthpiece Swadeshi Patrika, voiced a strongly-worded criticism of Mohan Guruswamy's appointment as advisor in the ministry of finance. It stated: "The man (Guruswamy), who unambiguously advocates heavy dependence on foreign capital because it is cheap and tries to play down the role of Indian capital in pursuit of economic development, now will give advice to the finance minister in the implementation of the swadeshi agenda. This is the height of irony".
The actual irony, however, is that S. Gurumurthy, convenor of the SJM, was instrumental in getting Guruswamy into the finance ministry. But Guruswamy is unfazed. "Muralidhar Rao has clarified to me that the editorial was unauthorised. And I am not bothered about such criticism," he told Outlook.
SPECIAL significance is now being attached to the country-wide 'swadeshi chetna yatra', a 15-day agitational programme called for by the Manch. All organisations affiliated to the Sangh parivar have been asked by the RSS to participate in the yatra beginning on September 17. The last time such directions were sent out was for the Ram Janaki Yatra that galvanised the rank and file in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the mid-'80s.
Announcing the yatra, Muralidhar Rao said: "The present government is at times side-stepping its own solemn declarations to the people". The SJM cornered the government on awarding the Neyveli Lignite project to the Italian firm Ansaldo. It said that while the BHEL had done the basic work, at the last moment the Italian firm was preferred. The Manch also expressed reservations over the government's decision to allow 100 per cent direct investment in the tobacco and liquor industry.
BJP spokesman K.L. Sharma refuted the SJM's charges but conceded that 'positive issues' will be considered by the party. He told Outlook: "The SJM will work within certain limits. They will not do anything that will go against the BJP". Yet, a section within the BJP feels that the party has to be at least seen to be working differently from the previous governments.
The BJP's main worry is the elections to the four assemblies—Rajasthan, Delhi, Mizoram and Madhya Pradesh. These, party leaders feel, will be the litmus test. The all-round failure of the government on the Kashmir front; its 'diplomatic failure' at the NAM summit which was stressed upon by Congress spokesman Salman Khursheed; inadequate and erratic supply of water and electricity in the national capital; and the ever-rising price graph are negative points for the party. All its claims and concerns about the welfare of the uprooted Kashmiri Hindu community ring hollow in the light of unabated massacres in the lower Jammu and Kashmir.
Says Virendra Singh, the BJP's wrestler MP from Mirzapur, UP: "Pura gaon pahelwan ko badhiya khana khilaye, doodh pilaye. Lekin uska fayda kya agar pahelwan akhare mein patkhani kha jaye." (What is the point of feeding the wrestler healthy food if he can't fight in the arena.) The implication is that there is no point in supporting a party if it cannot resist the pressure from vested interests and various lobbies and cliques.
The aggressive tone of Sangh parivar's pronouncements may be part of a two-pronged strategy. One, by painting the picture that Vajpayee doesn't obey even its diktat to run the government, the RSS wants to silence the critics who blame the RSS for acting as a super government. Secondly, the Sangh parivar wants to retain its credibility by reiterating its stand on "matters of principle". The same strategy was adopted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which issued fiery statements on the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya so as to keep the rank and file satisfied. Whereas in private conversation even the VHP leaders agree that the construction of the temple is not possible at least for three years.
As an offshoot, this game-plan will force the BJP to look to the RSS for help in the election. For the BJP doesn't control any of the parivar's mass-based fronts. Its only strong front organisation is the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJUM). And leaders like Govindacharya, basically an RSS man, say that outfits like the BJUM will lose their utility after a point.
By virtue of being a political party—especially after coming to power—the BJP is naturally more visible. But there has always been a thinking in the RSS that none of its front outfits should be allowed to overshadow the mother organisation. And the BJP cannot be allowed to be an exception.