The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 16, 2002

A glimpse of the politics of Sangh Parivar
Navprit Kaur

The RSS and the BJP: A division of labor
by A.G. Noorani, Left Word Books, New Delhi, Rs 75, Pages 112.

THE 1990s will be remembered in Indian politics for three Ms — Mandal, Mandir and Market. Issues relating to reservations for the backward castes, demolition of the Babri Masjid, the rise of Hindutva politics, and the liberalisation of the Indian economy may be termed as events that have changed the vocabulary of Indian politics in a major way. The mandir politics has, and will continue to influence the political discourse of the nation.

A.G. Noorani addresses several important questions pertaining to division of labour within the Sangh Parivar, the extent to which the policies and programmes of the BJP are affected by its association with it, particularly the RSS, the kind of role played by the Hindutva forces in the struggle against the British, the policy and the outlook of the RSS towards Gandhi and Gandhian philosophy, the role played by Hindutva forces in the demolition of Babri Masjid, and the impact of Hindutva ideology on the policies of government, particularly with regard to issues like minorities, the Indian Constitution, the educational system etc.


Taking recourse to archival data, the author demolishes the claims of the RSS to being a cultural organisation and argues instead that its motives are purely political in nature. The organisation’s projection of cultural nationalism is a clever facade to facilitate evasion of taxes etc, he says. The political motives of the RSS are laid bare with the help of excerpts from Golwalkar’s book We or Our Nationhood Defined, considered to be the RSS Bible, espousing the ideas that politics needs to be conducted on commands of religion. The author also examines the concept of cultural nationalism as it emerges in the writings of Golwalkar and Savarkar. Both Golwalkar and Savarkar rejected the idea of territorial nationalism which, interestingly, was the pole around which the Congress strove to rope in all sections of Indian masses in the struggle for freedom.

The concept of cultural nationalism was based on the idea that those not belonging to the Hindu race, religion, culture and language need to be considered as falling out of the pale of real national life. This idea further strengthened the belief that foreign races in India must either adopt the Hindu culture and lose their separate existence, or may stay in the country as second class citizens. The author argues that all this was propagated by the Hindutva forces and still continues in the name of nationalism where the nation is synonymous with Hindu Rashtra.

The author traces the roots of BJP’s ascendance, to the formation of its parent organisation, the RSS in 1925, and the subsequent emergence of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1951. The author also makes a mention regarding the phenomenal ascendance of the BJP in the 1990s, when the party’s electoral performance rocketed from two seats in the 1984 Lok-Sabha elections to 182 seats in the elections held in 1999. Two events which took place in the 1980s are seen by the author as making a watershed— the orders regarding the opening up of the locks of Babri Masjid in 1986, and the moving of the Muslim Women’s Bill to override the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case.

The book is quite informative as it provides a glimpse into the politics of Sangh Parivar by using a great deal of archival data. One wishes, however, that the chronological account of happenings was also linked with the larger issues in Indian politics. The extent to which electoral politics has been able to mould and reshape the policies and agendas of the BJP deserved a more thorough examination.

The recent upsurge of the marginalised sections of society, such as the Dalits, has compelled the party to reconsider its position on issues like caste. It is reflected in the eagerness of the party to bring these sections into its fold. The impact of coalition politics, which further limits the scope for parties to implement their agendas, also remains unexamined. The issue of gender bias in the philosophy of the Sangh which in its symbols and slogans tends to reinforce the roles and images of the women within the traditional parameters defined by the family and motherhood are invisible in the author’s analysis. The continuous invocation of the idea of the nation in the form of Bharat-Mata, whose honour needs to be "protected" and "guarded" by its valorous sons, and the fact that the membership of the RSS is open to men only although it has a separate women’s wing, the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, are some of the issues ignored in this otherwise very informative book.