It must be said to the credit of the RSS that it has been able to persist — over the past six decades, ever since the Jan Sangh was born — with the pretence that it is a socio-cultural organisation that has nothing to do with politics.
But that is what the RSS has done yet again, with its sarsanghchalak (president) Mohan Bhagwat telling the RSS cadre that it should not take an active part in promoting the cause of BJP candidate Narendra Modi becoming prime minister. However, even a cursory look at the history of the RSS-BJP partnership will show that the RSS’s claim of it being non-political is not true.
Of course, the RSS can have its own definition of politics just as the BJP has its own narrative on secularism. But going by the most commonly accepted characteristic of politics — that state power is germane to it — the RSS has interfered in the affairs of the BJP whenever the situation has demanded, the latest being Mr Modi’s candidature for prime ministership, which had the RSS’s endorsement.
When LK Advani, as BJP president in 2005, praised Pakistan’s founder MA Jinnah, the RSS forced him to step down from his position. After the BJP’s electoral defeat in 2004, then sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan bluntly said in a TV interview that both Advani and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should make way for new leaders. Going further back, in 1998 the RSS did not allow Jaswant Singh to become finance minister because he was a defeated candidate even though Vajpayee wanted him in his Cabinet.
This posture helps the BJP as well because no political party worth the name, not even the Communist Party of India in the Soviet days, would like to admit that its controlling authority lies elsewhere. In 2000, some state governments run by the BJP took a decision to allow their officers to take part in RSS activities on the same grounds that the Nagpur-based organisation was non-political. Fortunately better sense prevailed and the idea did not get off the ground.
But in this day and age it is difficult to convince people that not taking part in electioneering necessarily makes an organisation apolitical. The RSS should communicate to the people of India what brand of politics it practises.