Is the RSS itching to play a new role in relation to the BJP? The answer to this question is that the RSS always looks forward to the past. The rupture with the past came during the six years of the BJP-led coalition government in Delhi, when two of its senior swayamsevaks, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, sought to break free from the Sangh’s suffocating embrace and tried to steer the BJP in a different direction. For the Sangh, nothing ever changes; any idea of change is merely cosmic play, leela, or is part of the illusory nature of the phenomenal world and has little to do with reality. In turn, reality is what the Sangh feels, thinks, knows and decrees. In Nagpur, where the headquarters of the RSS are located, this illusion of permanence and hubris of certainty is protected by the heavily armed policemen of the democratically elected government of the people of India.
What are these tenets of the RSS that will never change? The Sangh believes that politics is based on selfishness and the greater selfishness increases, the greater the need for politics, power and governance. The only way to avoid the path to politics is to have social unity, cultivate the inner excellence of individuals within that society and celebrate culture as the true representation of genuine power. Quarrels, disagreements, love and hate are possible only in a perfectly constituted unity and not as instances of individuality. Democracy is to be rejected because it encourages individualism and selfishness; democracy, Golwalkar famously quipped, was not even a historical necessity. The only ‘ism’ that the RSS finds tenable is Hinduism.
In order to achieve this ideal of purity and perfection, the Sangh took a leap of presumptuousness. The first of these was appointing itself the sole guardian, protector and defender of what they called Hindu culture. The second was to assume the mantle of the sole spokesperson for an undiluted and militant idea of nationalism, which, when translated into simple language, meant Hindu nationalism. Thirdly, they took upon themselves, unilaterally and arbitrarily, the task of what they call Hindu consolidation. Finally, the RSS believes that there is something called Hindu society out there, and it is only a matter of time that this Hindu society will be awakened, see the light of day, and run to the paternal embrace of the Sangh.
The RSS had assumed that swayamsevaks who ventured into politics were to be like sages entering the world to cure its impurities. They were to be the ‘recruiting ground’, as Golwalkar suggested for the ideology and the ultimate mission of the Sangh. These sages, over the years, instead of reforming that harlot, namely, politics, instead fell in love with her. They began to love all that she had to offer, be it power, wealth, position or glory.
A rank careerist like Jaswant Singh was not far off the mark when, after being expelled from the BJP for writing a book, said that the top leadership of the BJP had begun to suffer from the intoxication of power, or Rajmad. Not only has the BJP learned that politics and power are after all not so bad, but it has also begun to question the Sangh’s leap of presumptuousness.
The BJP can no longer pretend that the Sangh or its affiliates protect and preserve Hindu culture, especially so when it is done through dragging young girls out of a pub and assaulting them. They have also realised that the roots of democracy are deep in India and Indian nationalism, however articulated, is a democratic nationalism. The realisation has also dawned that the greatest challenge towards a Hindu consolidation comes from Hindus themselves, who neither subscribe to the rigid, anachronistic and illiberal idea of what an ideal Hindu society ought to be. Nor are they ready to buy the hysterical outpourings of some leaders within the Sangh parivar of a threat to Hindu identity in the form of Muslims, Christians and Western modernity.
Most significantly, two successive election defeats have finally driven home the message that there is nothing called a Hindu vote, a myth as exaggerated as the existence of permanent vote banks.
Truth be told, there is little that the RSS approves in terms of the functioning of the BJP, whether in power or out of power. The BJP now is like any other political party. It has factions, interest groups and islands of naked ambition. All that the RSS can do in the present scenario is to favour one faction over the other. All its disclaimers to the contrary are merely for public consumption. Without being in politics, it has been reduced to playing politics of the lowest kind, and at the same time, pretending to be an unbiased arbiter of all that masquerades as politics within the BJP. It has become the 10 Janpath of the BJP, but with a difference.
Sonia Gandhi is an elected representative of the Indian people. While her authority does not derive from this single fact alone, her legitimacy derives substantially from being part of the democratic process. The RSS, on the contrary, will have to remain content with the ecstatic vision and sinful frenzy of the BJP’s undying love for that woman of the multitude, as Golwalkar in 1954 and Sudarshan in 2004 called that entity we know as politics.
Jyotirmaya Sharma is Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is the author of Terrifying Vision: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India (Penguin)
The views expressed by the author are personal.