The RSS’ rising Hindutva rhetoric may be aimed at making gains in several election-bound states but it also turns the heat on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a time when parts of north and central India are witnessing a spurt in low-level communal violence, analysts say.
Many in the BJP squirmed last week when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said India is a Hindu nation and Hindutva its identity -- remarks that came in for all round criticism from opposition parties and left many wondering if Modi’s government endorsed such views.
Oppn parties attack Bhagwat, Cong tags him ‘Hitler’
To be fair, Bhagwat’s comments were not out of the ordinary and a mere reiteration of a longstanding RSS viewpoint. But they are in stark contrast to the politically inclusive tone that Modi has sought to strike in every major speech since becoming prime minister.
So far, Modi has not commented on the growing Hindutva clamour from the RSS and fringe right-wing groups emboldened by the massive victory of the BJP. His silence, however, could be signs of an incipient dilemma: Speaking out against such the rhetoric could undermine the RSS; silence maybe read as tacit support to an agenda of demagoguery, or worse.
“As the head of the state he has kept quiet, he wants to be seen as not getting drawn into this rhetoric,” says Sudha Pai, professor of political studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
India is a Hindu nation, says RSS chief Bhagwat
“But prolonged silence in the face of any spiralling of large-scale communal violence will put the heat on him.”
Already, the opposition has sought to put the government on the mat over rising incidence of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh, where heavily polarised voting allowed the BJP to reap rich electoral dividends in the April-May Lok Sabha elections.
Many believe Bhagwat’s comments in particular and the Hindutva drumbeating in general as well as the slow boiling of communal cauldron maybe aimed at benefiting from a polarisation of votes in upcoming assembly elections in several states, including Maharashtra, and by-polls in 12 Uttar Pradesh seat.
“The Hindutva sound-bytes are for the consumption of voters in these states,” says a senior BJP leader. “You will probably see a gradual tuning down of this rhetoric after 2017 when the UP elections are over.”
Some of the Hindutva rhetoric as well as the call for ‘swadeshi’ from RSS-affiliated groups reflect a sense of entitlement emerging from the BJP’s massive Lok Sabha election victory. Various swadeshi groups have sought to influence government policy – be it opposing genetically modified crops, opening up the insurance sector or reforming labour laws.
But it is unlikely that such criticism will sway the government which, given the pre-eminence of the RSS in the present political dispensation, will, however, try to accommodate some of the views.
To be sure, ties between RSS and the BJP have been traditionally close, but differences surfaced during the previous BJP government as its pushed for free-market reforms ran into resistance from hardline RSS members.
This time, both the BJP and RSS are undergoing a generational change. Political analysts say leaders such as Bhagwat and Suresh Soni now remain largely emblematic of a strident old guard which is being gradually replaced.
For now, however, any worsening of the communal situation because of heightened demagoguery could force Modi on to a sticky wicket.
“So far he has managed to steer a middle path with his message of political outreach,” Prof Pai says.
“It will be difficult for him to keep quiet if communal violence flares badly.”