Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has stirred up a hornet’s nest by lifting the ban on employees’ participation in RSS activities. The Congress and Communist parties are agitated over the decision. They maintain that the RSS is a political and communal entity whose open flirtation with the government will have disastrous consequences. Rakesh Dixit analyses the implications of the decision.
“The ban on the RSS (government employees' participation in the organisation's activities) was, in fact, a ban on patriotism”.
That was how Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan defended his controversial decision in an interview to Hindustan Times a couple of weeks ago. The rhetoric implies that all the previous chief ministers -- including BJP's Sundarlal Patwa, Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur -- let 'patriotism' in government servants smother. Industry Minister Babulal Gaur hasn't reacted on the Chief Minister's decision to lift the ban for obvious reasons. But Uma Bharti and Patwa have clarified why didn't they rush in where angels fear to tread.
Ridiculing the decision, Uma Bharti said the RSS doesn't need such gimmick to flourish. “The decision needlessly dragged the RSS into controversy”. Patwa was more forthright. “I didn't lift the ban as RSS activists in government were, anyway, unfettered to attend its activities,” he said.
That's a fact. The ban hardly inhibited diehard RSS-minded government employees to take part in shakhas. In fact, till the then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh 'imposed' the ban, which was already there, in May 2000, few in the government were aware of it. Even the 're- imposition' of the ban and subsequent warning of the CM failed to deter sympathisers from taking part in RSS activities.
Not a single government employee was ever penalised for violating the ban. It is, however, a different matter that ninety percent of RSS sympathisers would prefer to help the organisation covertly. That suits the organisation fine.
The RSS hasn't been too keen on enrolling government servants for shakhas. It is a secretive outfit by character and compulsion. In the RSS modus operandi, its offshoots carry out assigned tasks and sympathisers in the Government are expected to act as behind-the-scene facilitators.
By lifting the ban, the Chief Minister has brought the bonding between the RSS and sympathiser government employees/officers into sharp focus. Now their activities are under the Congress scanner. Digvijay Singh has already warned that open association with the RSS would cost dear to the employees when the Congress will return to power.
Even those who were not shy of attending RSS activities are now a little alarmed. The recent RSS Path Sanchalans on Dussehra were watched across the State with more than usual interest to spot government employees. There wasn't any noticeable rise in their number though. That only proved Patwa and Uma right.
It, therefore, defies comprehension as to why Shivraj Singh stirred up the hornet’s nest by lifting the ban? If his idea was to please RSS bosses, he had better learnt from his Gujarat counterpart. By the RSS standard of patriotism, Narendra Modi is more patriotic than Shivraj.
Yet, the Gujarat Chief Minister has eschewed a repeat of his predecessor Keshu Bhai Patel's misadventure of 1999. Patel lifted the ban on employees' participation in RSS activities only to re-impose it in January 2000 after an uproar. When the Congress raised a storm over the decision nationwide, the then PM Vajpayee sought Solicitor General Soli Sorabji's advice.
Sorabji advised that the decision be withdrawn. Keshu Bhai acquiesced in the Vajpayee's directive and withdrew the decision. The Gujarat decision has come handy for the Congress to arraign the Shivraj Government.
“How can an order considered wrong in Gujarat be right in MP?” asked Satyavrat Chaturvedi, an AICC spokesman, who was part of the delegation that called on President APJ Kalam on September 28. Sonia Gandhi's letter to the President also cited the Gujarat goof-up while seeking withdrawal of the MP Government's “illegal and unconstitutional” order.
The Congress has challenged the constitutionality and legality of the order, primarily on three inter-related grounds- one, the RSS is not a cultural organisation; two, it openly guides BJP politics and hence is a political entity: three, its communal character will vitiate discipline in government employees if they were allowed to join RSS activities.
All the three grounds sound strong enough for the Congress to hope for victory in the battle against the BJP Government on this issue.
First point first. The BJP is harping on 'cultural' character of the RSS. “It is a cultural organisation which infuses patriotism” is the BJP refrain. Popular notion about a cultural organisation is that it engages artistes in some cultural activities like dance, music, painting etc, and provides stage to them to perform. On the contrary, the very name of the RSS conjures up a picture of people in black cap and khakhi knickers, wielding lathi and chanting 'Namaste Sada Vatsale..' .The ambience in a RSS assemblage is invariably redolent of Muslim-bashing.
The only RSS-sponsored cultural activity that comes to one's mind is staging of the grand gala “Janata Raja” play last year in some MP towns including Bhopal. But it was more an extravagant propaganda about the life of Shivaji than artistically designed theatre.
Now second point. Is the RSS a political organisation? Answer is both yes and no. The RSS is not a political organisation in the sense it is not registered with the Election Commission of India. Minus this, it has every thing to qualify as a political entity. The RSS is the paternal head of the Sangh Parivar of which the BJP is an offshoot.
BJP's earlier avatar Janasangh was also sired by the RSS. The RSS was born in 1925 and Jansangh in 1950. The Jansangh's constitution provided for borrowing RSS pracharaks to keep the party ideologically under leash. AB Vajpayee, Sundar Singh Bhandari and Kusha Bhau Thakre were among the firsts to go from the RSS to Jansangh.
The process remained uninterrupted till Jansangh merged with the Janata Party in 1977. Other Janata Party constituents put pressure on Janasangh to sever ties with the RSS. The Janasangh snapped its ties with the Morarji Bhai government instead. It was measure of the party's affinity with the RSS.
In its new avatar as BJP, the party has retained its umbilical cord with the parental organisation. Organisation secretaries in the BJP are still borrowed from the RSS. They work as bridge between the father and the son.
Of course, a few convolutions in the perfect family picture occurred during the Vajpayee regime when the NDA's coalition dharma overwhelmed the BJP to defy RSS dictates. The RSS mostly endured the defiance with a demonstrable sulk.
It once retaliated too. In the 2002 Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections, the RSS in coalition with 18 other outfits fielded its candidates on the electoral plank of trifurcation of the State into Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh. The Jammu Morcha formed not only drew a blank but also ensured the BJP's waterloo in the polls.
These –and more- documents are contained in the memoranda the Congress has submitted to the President and the Governor. These proofs about RSS's political proclivities nail the Shivraj Singh government's claim against the ban.
The Congress has pointed out to the President and the Governor that the MP Government's order is a violation of the MP Civil Service (Conduct) 1965 rule (5), sub rule (1). It says, “No Government servants shall be member of, or be otherwise associated with , any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or assist in any manner, any political movement or activity.”
Now comes the third and most vital point. Will open intrusion of the RSS in the Government vitiate discipline? Former bureaucrats in their memorandum to the Governor have underlined that it must be borne in mind that the RSS's ultimate goal is Hindu Rashtra.
It militates against secular character of India as enshrined in the Constitution. On the other hand, a government employee's loyalty must be only and only to the Constitution. The communal character of the RSS is bound to rub off on the employees who attend its activities.
This will reflect in their dealing with colleagues and public. In their zeal to be seen loyal to the BJP, employees might try to denigrate colleagues or officers who don't attend RSS activities. This will create bad blood in the service.
The police force has not been excluded from the order. Which means policemen too can join RSS activities. Imagine how would the cops behave during a communal riot if they had attended RSS shakha in the morning?
Novelist Sulman Rushdie once remarked in an interview that RSS is not an organisation but a state of mind. The BJP Government's order diabolically seeks to achieve that 'state of mind'. George Orwell's totalitarian world as conceived in his satire “1984” presents a horrifying picture of a regimented government. Here every body is forced to think alike, speak alike and live in fear. Defiance could be fatal. Is Madhya Pradesh heading towards that nightmare ?
Who’s saying what
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan
“Digvijay Singh is in the habit of spreading misinformation about the RSS. If he had attended Shakhas he could feel the RSS objective of infusing patriotism in countrymen. The ban on the RSS was, in fact, ban on patriotism.
Kaptan Singh Solanki, State BJP organising secretary
The RSS has always promoted social and cultural identity of the country. It is a cultural organisation. Taking part in any cultural organisation is every citizen’s right. The Congress Government made the mistake in not differentiating political and cultural activities. Shivraj Government has corrected the mistake.
Maya Singh, State BJP vice president
By calling the RSS a political organisation, Jamuna Devi has demonstrated her constitutional illiteracy. The main objective of the RSS is to develop human values in individuals. If any one has acquired these virtues in the RSS nursery and wishes to join politics, it is his or her constitutional right.
Digvijay Singh, former CM
“I had imposed ban on RSS as I’m convinced it’s an anti-social organisation. By lifting the ban, the Chief Minister has paved the way for communalising the government workforce. His decision is anti-Constitution and I would seek legal recourse against the move.”
Jamuna Devi, Leader of Opposition
Nothing could be more blasphemous than to say that RSS is a cultural organisation. Any body with a modicum of political understanding would know how RSS influences BJP politics. Now the BJP wants the RSS to influence the administration too. It is a dangerous move that will lead to fascism. This government is seeking to demolish the time-honoured service conduct rules.
Ram Madhav, RSS spokesman
RSS members are everywhere including that very party (Congress) which is making all these allegations against the organisation. Just scratch their body and you will find RSS blood inside. Congressmen know that RSS is a patriotic, social –cultural organisation.
Ram Singh Khanna, former Chief Secretary
Government employees are supposed to be loyal to only the Constitution of India. Their direct or indirect affiliation with the RSS is dangerous. The RSS may not be a political party but it’s undoubtedly a political entity. It remote controls BJP. During the Vajpayee government even ministers were changed at the RSS behest.
KS Sharma, former Chief Secretary
The argument is preposterous that since government servants are also citizens they are entitled to all the rights of free citizens. When a person joins government job he/she is supposed to surrender certain rights in lieu of certain privileges. A government servant might subscribe to an ideology but he is not allowed to make it public. Open association with RSS is bound to vitiate work culture in the government.
MN Buch, former bureaucrat
Democracy will be in peril if government servants were not impartial and insulated from political organisations like the RSS.