The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat recently announced that it is a cultural organisation and irrespective of the results of the general elections of 2019, it will continue with its work. RSS is known to claim and distance the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as per its convenience. It works relentlessly for the BJP and uses state power to advance its Hindutva agenda, and coyly distances itself when BJP begins to lose its popular mandate.
This has been a long-term strategy of RSS, part of its Chanakya Neeti, to evaluate others but never allow its own work to be scrutinised by the public. In a true age-old brahminical fashion, it considers itself above society’s collective gaze and suffers from a disdain of public morality, even as it uses and routinely condemns it. It does not maintain a registered list of its swayamsevaks (volunteers), and argues that a cultural organisation is open to all.
RSS self-deluges itself of being a cultural organisation that has nothing to do with politics but continues to play a political, including an active role during the elections. It fuses acceptable public norms with its insidious designs. None of their pracharaks who offer routine comments to news dailies ever identify themselves. They believe, or rather would-have us believe, that they don’t crave for recognition and, therefore, wish to remain anonymous. Perhaps, for the first time in television news channels, Desh Ratan, Raghav Awasthi and Sandeep Mahapatra identified themselves as RSS ideologues or spokespersons. But as the elections are drawing closer, while the latter two have disappeared, the former is now designated as a political analyst.
Ram Madhav, a full-time pracharak is now the general secretary and a key election-strategist for BJP. It wouldn`t come as a surprise if he gradually disappears from public eye or returns to the fold of RSS. This is a strategy to enjoy power without taking responsibility for their actions. Responsibility and brick-bats are borne by either the BJP or other affiliates, often known as fringe elements that are otherwise recognised as part of the Sangh Parivar.
Again, the affiliates are distanced when it doesn’t suit them, but continue the affiliation and tacit support. This has been a routine practice that RSS brought into the BJP, with its various firebrand leaders making incendiary and often insensitive comments that are condemned or disowned by the BJP central leadership which has never acted against any of them. As part of its Chanakya Neeti, this in a sense a mode of normalising a language, a world view and even a certain kind of violence without directly confronting with the counter viewpoint or owning up the inflammatory language.
As among many other standard practices of the Sangh is its ability to shoot and scoot. It routinely blames the Opposition of exactly what it itself is guilty of. It blames the Opposition of being violent, communal, vulgar, conspiratorial, of speaking lies, indulging in backroom machinations, intolerance, and hatred. Methods of the Sangh can be understood from what they blame others of. This allows them to both nuetralise the critique against them as well as creates confusion about who is doing what. It creates a sense of detachment, disgust, and cynicism in the minds of the ordinary citizen. This mode of disempowerment through detachment from everyday politics and large-scale cynicism is perceived by the RSS as a precondition for its authoritarian agenda to fructify. This is also the reason the RSS has actively worked against the institutions of higher education.
Informed citizenry that has self-confidence, especially from the lower rungs of the society, is a hurdle in creating a hierarchical social order, where the RSS leads and the rest follows. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) came for special battering precisely because of the role it played in creating elites out of the subaltern castes and classes. JNU is disliked not merely for its ideological proclivities but this social role of creating elite from subaltern groups that the RSS perceives as a major threat to its centralised state structure without any kind of opposition or difference of opinion.
The RSS, and much so the Hindu Mahasabha, began essentially as social reform movements to transform practices, such as untouchability, within the Hindu fold. Madan Mohan Malviya was championing the cause of Hindu unity through social reform and social inclusion of the depressed classes or then Harijans. However, with ideologue MS Golwalkar, and the rise of the RSS after the 1930s, it took a turn to a paranoid imagination of threats to the nation-state, which were essentially anxieties of the possible liberation of lower castes, and the weakening of the Hindu hierarchical order that would allow it be succumbed to Muslim rule. A Muslim in many ways became a signifier of a declining brahminical order. This paranoia, combined with an absolute claim over the ancient past, lends the RSS legitimacy, in its own self-perception, in practicing retributive politics.
RSS perceives its strategy as that of those wrongly displaced from the position of social superiority, first by Muslim rule then by colonial modernity. RSS and its love of the ancient past and ‘Indian culture’ are synonymous of its brahminical anxiety, led by the Chitpawan brahmins of Nagpur. In course of time, this paranoia got institutionalised as a deep sense of inferiority and an unfulfilled ego to achieve the old kind of supremacy.
Colonial modernity in many societies across the world creates a sense of subject-hood that suffers from perennial inferiority. However, in the Indian context, brahminism adds a dimension of exalted ego combined with an idea of natural superiority. This inferiority-superiority dialectic finds itself articulated through criminal subversion of all egalitarian principles and disdain for democratic practices. Inferiority and diffidence then become part of the personality structure of not just the so-called lower castes but also of the caste Hindus. It is, therefore, difficult to generate alternative politics, and what the RSS is succeeding is in generating a politics that drawing equivalence between various kinds of inferiorities that eventually translate into a mass phenomenon of self-hatred that is on the look-out for a target and Muslims become the ‘vulnerable other’. The global discourse of jihad and aggressive neo-liberalism has only further boosted and justified this kind of self-actualisation.
The writer is with the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He recently authored the book, ‘India after Modi: Populism and the Right’. The views are personal.