- Situation: NDA-RSS relationship on the roll, some go so far as to say it’s at its best since the 2014 election victory.
- Complication: Youth wing has been able to draw attention and grow in strength, but wooing Dalits has become vital.
- Play-Out: Hence the sudden focus on Dr Ambedkar. The Nagaur conclave gave pride of place to the Constitution maker.
Reports on the three-day conclave of the RSS in Nagaur in Rajasthan last week focused on the decision by the Sangh to give up khaki shorts from its 90-year-old uniform and go for ‘modern’ trousers. The decision was newsworthy for more than one reason. The BJP-Sangh parivar is indeed upbeat that, after the JNU case, its youth organisation, the ABVP, has galvanised itself, rallying around the flag of nationalism. Perhaps dropping shorts might be a way of encouraging youth, who might find them risible, to join them. Alok Kumar, the Sangh’s Delhi head, scoffs at that. “It has nothing to do with attracting youth, who come to our shakhas anyway and will continue to do so,” he says.
The move symbolises the RSS’s willingness to give up old baggage and perhaps move into a more comfortable relationship with its political wing, the BJP. Insiders claim that, since the BJP’s sweep of Lok Sabha elections in 2014, aided by the Sangh’s groundwork, the RSS’s relationship with the party is at its best.
Two things, however, are worrying the RSS leadership: the furore around the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula and the attendant bad publicity, and the reservation agitations in Gujarat and Haryana. Though it is inherently against reservation, the RSS finds itself in a bind when it opposes demands for education and job quotas from sections that are seemingly well-off, such as Patels and Jats. Says a source, “The Patel stir in Gujarat and the Jat reservation demand in western UP, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan cannot be ignored any longer. So far, it worked fine. As long as groups like Patels and Jats did not ask for reservation, it saved the RSS from taking a position against its core voters.”
But with these demands now coming up, new faultlines have emerged within the intermediate castes. These faultlines lie clearly between two sections—those who availed reservations post-Mandal and those who did not. Many of those who did not avail of the benefits of reservations post-Mandal have often been part of the general ‘Hindu pool’ that has voted for the BJP and supported the RSS. With the Jats and Patels agitating for quotas now, and the RSS opposing it, the dynamics has changed. Votebank politics entails the RSS will have to start wooing non-Patel and non-Jat voters in states set to go to the polls. In Gujarat, assembly elections are just a year away. For the RSS this remains a major worry, considering what happened in Bihar where RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statements on reservations during election campaigning might have worked against the BJP, leading to its demeaning loss. So a repackaging of the RSS—not just a change of uniform—is under way. At the Nagaur meeting, the RSS unequivocally declared that women should be allowed to enter temples, perhaps with the idea of dispelling the notion that the Sangh parivar is anti-women.
As far as the relationship with the NDA government goes, the policies and programmes of the government seem to broadly go by the Sangh ideology. Add to that the constant dialogue between BJP ministers and Sangh leaders, along with the revitalisation of youth-centric affiliates—with the ABVP riding high—there seems to be an effective synergy at work.
In the months after Modi became prime minister, RSS seniors claim that membership requests from the US, UK, Europe and even West Asia went up manifold. As cyberexperts now working as consultants with the RSS look after this segment, Sangh leaders are turning their attention to issues like reservation and wooing the youth to gain further ground. Interestingly, at the same place where RSS members brainstormed last week, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar’s portrait was noticeably larger than that of RSS’s third chief, Balasaheb Deoras. Perhaps that’s a more significant sign of change than the change of attire.
By Prarthna Gahilote with Bula Devi in Delhi