S Nihal Singh
Mohan Bhagwat, RSS chief, got more than he bargained for in declaring that the disciplined force of workers in his organisation could raise an army in three days while the Army would take more than six months to get ready.
No one in the BJP and the broader Sangh Parivar from the Prime Minister down had the temerity to amend Bhagwat's unwise declaration, which seemingly denigrated the Army, apart from ignoring the technical nature of a modern fighting force. The oracle had spoken and the Parivar had to live with it.
Bhagwat's declaration has led to speculation that the RSS is exercising its prerogative of being the top dog in the Parivar and hence in the political scheme of things. Narendra Modi himself was reared in the RSS cradle and any number of cabinet ministers are RSS men, ready to serve the organisation that has moulded them.
This primary loyalty to an organisation other than the Constitution of India is a troubling question that needs an urgent answer. Bhagwat has, in effect, pitted his organisation against the state by denigrating the Army.
As in the case of cow vigilantes, Modi can only keep quiet once Bhagwat has spoken in contradiction to what he had suggested. Now the RSS chief has gone far beyond his policing duties to take on the Army and the nexus of the state.
One has to make allowance for the fact that it is the first time in the country's history that an RSS chief is in a position to command the resources of the country. Perhaps, Bhagwat is seeking to test the limits of his power by broadcasting his nativist belief in the power of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
However, the inherent question of the dual loyalty of the Prime Minister and many of his ministers will not go away. A simple way to test the RSS men in the government is to ask the question: Will you place your faith in the RSS ideology above the Constitution in a crisis situation?
One thing is clear. While Modi is doing all he can to muster votes in the state assembly elections, Bhagwat and his organisation are busy laying the ground work for bringing about their concept of Ram rajya.
There are bound to be conflicts in administering a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as India and the single-minded devotion of the RSS to promote Hindutva as the ultimate goal. Modi has some leeway in cutting corners, but he has to seek permission from Bhagwat to slow the pace of achieving a Hindu India.
Here it is time to pause to consider the political career of Yogi Adityanath, pitchforked into the key post of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The grapevine has it that he is being cultivated by the RSS as the alternate national leader if Modi is too tardy in bringing about a Hindu India. The Chief Minister has distinguished himself thus far in a series of encounters in which goons have been killed and the police force has remained largely unharmed.
The dual loyalty question, however, will not go away. There are, of course, many contradictions between the Sangh credo and the Constitution. To begin with, the Constitution starts with the premise that all Indian citizens are equal and the majority community does not command special privileges. This is contrary to the central tenet of the Sangh Parivar.
It was in another context in the days of the Janata government that the question of the Sangh Parivar's dual loyalty was highlighted and the Janata experiment ended. How Modi can negotiate the minefield of the new challenge posed by Bhagwat remains to be seen.
Perhaps, Modi is hoping that his devotion to electioneering in state assembly elections will eventually result in the BJP winning nearly all states and the Parivar will have the votes to change the Constitution. The question arises whether the RSS leader will have the patience to wait for the numbers to change the Constitution.
With the 2019 General Election on every party's horizon, the Opposition is still feeling its way towards a joint approach with the usual caveats and reservations. The communists, in particular, seem to have reached the end of the road, with the Marxists split between those who would cooperate with the Congress and the others who would not.
But the central figure in the campaign will remain Modi whose ability to sway voters is unquestioned. For one thing, his energy is remarkable and he throws convention to the winds in reaching the lowest depth of politics to make his point. In Modi's dictionary, the prestige of the office he holds can be set aside to make his political thrusts.
Meanwhile, Bhagwat oversees the Parivar strategy in reaching the desired end, the institution of a Hindu rashtra. The RSS chief does not reveal his hand, except to a small circle of advisers and seeks regular reports from Modi and his government.
In immediate terms, the demands of the approaching General Election will take priority. Indeed, this is the time when the supremacy of the RSS chief is unquestioned because he directs where and how the vast resources of the organisation in terms of hundreds of thousands of volunteers are deployed on poll duty.
At the end of the day, the question of dual loyalty will have to be addressed, probably in a post-election conclave. How Modi copes with the pressure while governing the country will be interesting to watch.
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