Two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his pet programme, Make In India, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) will sit down to discuss India’s development model with all relevant ‘stakeholders’ in Jaipur. Clearly, Make In India will be put under a magnifying glass—the special Sangh lens—even as officially the RSS extends a cautious endorsement of the proposed pro-manuacturing push.
Slated to begin on October 11, the birthday of Jan Sangh founder and RSS ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh, the two-day seminar will focus on issues like FDI, India as a manufacturing hub, GM and everything associated with the ‘swadeshi model’. Ironic, one might say, considering it was the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch that had forced the government to do a rethink on field trials of genetically modified (GM) food crops back in July. Again, it was the SJM that raised a hue and cry over FDI a year-and-a-half ago, organising multiple seminars under the banner ‘swadeshi jamawarah’ (congregations) on FDI when the UPA was in power.
On October 11-12 this year, the SJM will get together once again, this time under the aegis of ‘swadeshi sangam’, to discuss the impact of globalisation and leading world economies on India, bringing together farmers, labourers, students, consumers, representatives of small-scale industries and NGOs that the organisation believes “are directly affected by the government’s economic policy”.
“Lots has changed since 1991 and we are not rigid about what is right and what is wrong. But being open-minded does not mean that we will buy every idea being sold to us,” SJM’s Ashwini Mahajan tells Outlook. Mahajan, like most others in the RSS, are waiting to see the specifics of how the government acts on its ‘Make in India’ policy. “The true test of any policy lies in one fact—whether it is in the interest of the nation. The government will have to be utterly transparent about this and clear in its objectives,” he says. Considering its pro-India branding and focus, the RSS should have ideally been satisfied by PM Narendra Modi’s pet project, but because of the element of FDI-led manufacturing at the core of it, the RSS is keeping a keen eye on the specifics.
As RSS sources confirm, this is despite assurances to the Sangh from Modi himself that he wouldn’t deviate from ‘Sangh darshan’—that is, the RSS’s overall philosophy on economics built around ‘integral humanism’, meant to be the political doctrine of the BJP, as laid down by Jan Sangh founder Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay. A senior RSS member tells Outlook, “No doubt Modiji speaks a lot about Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay, evoking his name in Parliament and in his Red Fort speech, but we’ll have to see how much of his actions will be driven by Panditji’s philosophy. After all, actions speak louder than words.”
As is apparent, a clash between Modinomics and RSS ideology can’t be written off entirely, says a former RSS ideologue. “Modi has a compulsion. As a performing PM, he must propel growth; his constant reference point therefore is the eight per cent plus growth that China boasts of. That by itself is against the grain of RSS’s policy on growth,” he explains. “The RSS believes in the Hindu rate of growth, which propagates a rate of 3.5 per cent and depends on the parameters of sustainable consumption leading to sustainable production, which in turn leads to sustainable development. If by making India a manufacturing hub, you mean to bring in only low-end jobs to Indians without any real ownership, then there is bound to be a clash between the RSS and the PM’s economic turnaround gameplan.”
No wonder, Sangh members quietly point out examples from...where else, but Modi’s Gujarat. “It’s all very well to say that the Tata Nano plant not only brought in investment into Gujarat but even spurred large-scale employment. But everyone tends to miss the point that no Gujarati working in the Nano plant has any ownership rights in it. They are low-wage daily labourers. That kind of a growth model is not acceptable to us,” says a swayamsevak.
A pracharak uses the more scathing sweatshop metaphor. “Swadeshi for us doesn’t mean Indian labour under foreign ownership. By harping on making India the next manufacturing hub, you seem to be actually reducing Indians to cheap labourers employed by rich international corporates,” he says.
It’s a view that SJM’s Mahajan seems to agree with. “China has established itself as the manufacturing hub for the world and we would be happy if it shifts to India. But there should be a level playing field. Let Indian firms manufacturing in China come back. The government’s policy must clarify that there would be equity for all stakeholders, including the low-wage labourer down the chain,” he says.
Just creating employment is not good enough, says Mahajan. “We need technological empowerment as well. We can’t repeat the story of the telecom industry where the Indian market for mobile phones grows but all of that has to be imported. That a country like ours that can make a nuclear bomb cannot make its own smartphone is not what we will settle for.” It is with this express emphasis on self-reliance that the SJM is planning “intensive discussions on India’s growth story to give a boost to all those working under pressures of international economies”.
“Even foregone revenue being extended to big Indian corporates will be discussed threadbare. We will register our suggestions and criticism with the government; if they don’t understand our concerns and take them on board, we will oppose them like we did in the GM food crops case,” says Mahajan.
The SJM seminar will lay its emphasis on self-reliance, and there will be intensive debates on India’s growth story.
Any opposition, if required, from its fringes would work as the best strategy for the RSS at the moment. Sources confirm that it would seek to critique the government through bodies like the SJM, instead of openly opposing its policies. “The RSS believes that India is best suited for a labour-intensive and decentralised economy and not capital-intensive, centralised economy that the government might want to promote,” explains a source. “Therefore, over the next two years, the RSS will focus on maintaining pressure on the government through its affiliates to follow the philosophy of Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s integral humanism.”
Perhaps for the RSS, focusing on Upadhyay’s economic thoughts could not have been timed better, with the 50th anniversary of the propounding of integral humanism coming up in January 2015, with Upadhyay’s birth centenary celebrations beginning in September 2015. Plans for the year-long commemorations for each already includes some 40,000 lectures meant both for cadre and layman. Would the government’s economic tsars listen in too?