"In the end, Indira Gandhi has earned her name as a great martyr on the doorsteps of history. With her courage and efficiency, she demonstrated that only she understood the realities of our corrupt and divided society and was capable of uniting the country dominated by rotten politics. She was a great woman and in her valiant death, she has become greater."—Nanaji Deshmukh, RSS thinker, after Indira's assassination. "Indianness means equal respect for all religions. This is the core of Indian philosophy. Atal Behari Vajpayee's vision is soaked in this Indianness. His becoming PM is the victory of this 'sanatan' Indianness. If Atal Behari had not talked about this 'sanatan' Indianness, the BJP would never have come to power."—Congress leader Vasant Sathe, in the March 29, 1998, issue of Panchjanya, BJP weekly.
THE RSS-Congress relationship can be best described as symbiotic. Though Congress now describes the RSS as 'fascist', RSS leaders say the current trend of bi-polar politics is what is needed for the country. "The RSS would be very happy if a two-party system emerges in the country," says Seshadri Chari, editor of Organiser, who points out that the RSS has no problem even if its members join any party, other than the BJP. "Of course, the party should not have extra-territorial authority," he says.
Such parties would include the Communists, who many in the RSS believe is responsible for souring of relations between the Congress and RSS. According to some of them, ever since the Communists started to influence the Congress, the RSS and indeed the BJP became political untouchables.
At least two prominent Congressmen, ex-prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and ex-home minister S.B. Chavan, interacted with the top RSS brass during the run-up to the Babri demolition. On November 24 and December 4, 1992, Rajju Bhaiyya and Rao met twice, ostensibly to discuss Ayodhya.
BJP leaders say the Ayodhya issue—a non-existent one—was a creation of the Congress. The first demands for opening up the disputed structure came up in the '50s when Hindu organisations demanded that the mosque—since the idols had been sneaked in—be opened for worship. For three decades, apart from the periodic hearings of the case in the high court and fresh appeals in the Faizabad district courts, there was little interest.
Liaison between the RSS and Congress is not new. Historians attribute some kind of saffron hue to the older variant of the Congress—Nehru's western liberal thought as opposed to the 'Indianness' of Sardar Patel, Purushottam Das Tandon, Rajendra Prasad, Balgangadhar Tilak and Gokhale.
Witness Prasad's letter to Nehru on the Somnath temple. "I note that you do not like the idea of my associating with the opening of the Somnath temple as such an association has a number of complications. There is no doubt that the Somnath temple has a historic significance and it seems that the implication of my association with the function may be that some people may not like the idea of a temple which was destroyed more than once by Muslim invaders of the time being rebuilt and revived."
For instance, when on the night of December 22-23, 1949, idols of gods suddenly surfaced at the mosque at Ayodhya, Nehru recognised the wider implications of such an act. His first reaction was to jump into the fray and take instant action. But not everyone in the Congress felt that way. Sardar Patel, for instance, stressed on the "great deal of sentiment behind the move which had taken place in Ayodhya"—at the same time agreeing with Nehru that law and order had to be maintained at all costs. At a special session of the Congress in 1949, the party passed a resolution saying that even 'swayamsevaks' would be welcome to join the party. This was the year the ban on the RSS was lifted after Gandhi's killing.
What was the Congress role in Ayodhya? Something happened on February 1, 1986, changing the situation radically. Writes Ashis Nandy in his latest series of essays, Exiled at home: "More than 30 years later in 1986, the Congress regime, apparently trying to appear impartial after a section of Muslim religious and political leadership had forced its hand in the Shah Bano case, allowed the lock on the disputed shrine to be opened and thus gave the VHP the hope that its dreams might be realised. We say 'apparently' because the aim of the Congress was no different from the Sangh parivar—to build a vote bank that would undercut the support base of the Hindu nationalists. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had not only unlocked the disputed shrine, but had sought to take electoral advantage of it." Says Maulana Wahiduddin, president of Islamic Centre: "Rajiv and Rao were not communal. They were trying to get political capital out of Ayodhya."
Even though Rajiv had no ideological truck with the RSS, his administration allowed the 'shilanyas' ceremony at the disputed site and in 1989 the Congress campaign was launched by him from Faizabad and votes solicited on the promise of ushering in a 'Ram Rajya'. Nandy quotes Vajpayee as saying that the BJP had no option thereafter "but to respond to the situation."
The organisation also has had leaders amidst it who have actively proposed a working relationship with the Congress. Among them, Bhausahab Deoras, who in 1991 proposed that keeping the Punjab problem in view, the RSS would be keen to cooperate with the Congress government. "The Congress has never been interested in such offers," says party spokesman V.N. Gadgil, but RSS leaders claim that no one in the Congress could understand the true depth of the offer, which would have helped arrive at a solution for Punjab. RSS leaders say Congress-minus Sonia is an alternative—a scenario which is certainly not happening now.