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A common enterprise

The high command of the BJP, the RSS, and the VHP, who in fact overlap to a significant degree, engage in a direct coordination of rituals, agitation and political manoeuvring.

A. G. NOORANI

THE Sangh Parivar is playing a monstrous fraud on the Indian electorate generally and on Muslims in particular. Its attempts to suggest that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) differs from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) are as dishonest as they are desperate. Everyone knows that the two are partners in a common enterprise run by their parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). "I am Atal Behari Vajpayee and I am different from Mr. Ashok Singhal, Working President of the VHP. Ask the VHP about its stand on Kashi and Mathura. Our stand is clear. Kashi and Mathura are not on our agenda. Full stop." Vajpayee said in Lucknow on December 30, 1997. He added:"Everyone knows that the VHP and the BJP are different organisations."

In that very city only the day before, Singhal had said, "It is time to catch Muslims by their necks and tell them where their place lies." He added: "Kashi and Mathura are ours. If the Muslims want to avoid further humiliation, they should hand over those shrines quietly" (The Telegraph; December 31, 1997; emphasis added, throughout).

Vajpayee did not denounce these remarks. Formal dissociation became necessary only because of the barbaric nature of the remarks. These two issues provide a good test of the BJP's sincerity - its relationship with the VHP and its stand on Kashi and Mathura, not to forget its stand on Ayodhya.

On both, the BJP and its partners in the Parivar stand exposed. Their own words suffice to damn them. On December 29, the day on which Singhal was fulminating in Lucknow, BJP president L. K. Advani spoke at Tirupati, the temple town. He denied reports that had quoted him as saying that Kashi and Mathura were very much on the BJP's agenda. The Hindu reported: "He took the occasion to affirm 'categorically and unequivocally' that Kashi and Mathura were not on the agenda of the BJP. He, however, said that Kashi and Mathura formed part of the BJP manifesto, while the dominant issue in the elections would be stability and good governance. He hastened to add that it did not mean that the two temple issues were put on the backburner but said that just as each election had its own 'key issues', it was 'stability' this time." Get votes in the name of stability to implement a communal manifesto.

There is something significant and sinister when a person uses a set expression repeatedly to fend off an awkward question; more so if several persons declaim it in chorus over a period of time. Soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, several figures in the BJP kept prattling the same metaphor apropos Kashi and Mathura - "not on the agenda." On one occasion Advani did qualify that - "at this point of time" (February 28, 1995).

Vajpayee gave the game away completely in a very recent interview to The Times of India (January 8, 1998): "When asked to elaborate on that oft-repeated phrase, 'not on our agenda' and whether that indicated a permanent time-frame, the BJP leader said, 'It means that they (Kashi and Mathura) are not on our agenda for the time being. Nobody can say what will happen in future. But as I have said in my interview, they are not on our agenda. Full stop'." Nothing could have been more explicit. It is a unilateral and temporary self-restraint. It is not a permanent commitment to Muslims or to the country as a whole. Advani once recalled that even Ayodhya emerged "on the agenda" only in 1989, on the eve of the elections, in the BJP's Palampur resolution. "They (Kashi and Mathura) are not on the agenda. Ayodhya, to begin with, was also not on the agenda" (Sunday, March 16, 1997). The hint is clear, indeed all three are on the ultimate agenda. The aftermath is noteworthy.

VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia with Atal Behari Vajpayee.

On January 1, 1998 in Lucknow, Singhal poured scorn on Vajpayee's denial. He "knew very well the meaning of such statements... the decision of the Sangh Parivar was final and binding."

He also said: "Advani has already spilled the beans on the BJP's stand on the two shrines at Kashi and Mathura." A day earlier (December 31) he had said in Ayodhya: "There is no difference between the BJP and the VHP on the temple issue. Their language might be different, but ideologically we are one." On January 9, he pledged that "there won't be any conflict between the two arms of the Sangh parivar in this regard," as The Indian Express quoted him.

RSS supremo Rajendra Singh's speech on January 10 made the situation crystal clear. He justified the BJP's ostensible shift in emphasis from Ayodhya, Article 370 et al. "If you are ill, you don't take a bath. But that does not mean that this will be the arrangement forever, in all the circumstances". The Sanghites had not been sidelined in the BJP as some people imagined. "If that were the case Atalji and Advaniji and many others would not have been at the helm of the party's affairs." He added: "If the BJP comes to power, they will remove the difficulties put up unnecessarily by their predecessors and the people will build the Ram Mandir."

The unity of hearts is richly illustrated in an issue of the Parivar's organ Organiser, of January 4, 1998. "VHP for a Rambhakta Government at Centre" says one headline, while another says "Muslims should forgo their claim on Ayodhya, Kashi & Mathura - Prof. Rajendra Singh." Both headlines appeared on the same page. Another page carried the BJP's resolution on "Mandate for a stable government".

As with the VHP, so with the RSS. Vajpayee says: "The two are independent organisations with separate identities". (India Today; December 29, 1997). This, from one who wrote not long ago that "The Sangh is my soul" (Organiser; May 7, 1995). Advani is more explicit. "The RSS has a kind of moral authority which I believe is health-giving for the BJP" (Outlook; August 6, 1997).

We have a detailed and authoritative exposition of the triangular relationship from Advani at a BJP camp in Coimbatore on March 17, 1990 (vide The Telegraph of May 17, 1990 for the text). He recalled that the Jan Sangh faction broke away from the Janata Party in 1980 on the dual membership (with RSS) issue: "So while in the case of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh the linkage was only ideological, in the case of the BJP the linkage was both ideological as well as historical. With such a closer link from its origin in 1980 till today we are about to complete 10 years of existence. There has been a conscious effort on the part of the Swayamsevaks who are working in the BJP to make each one understand the ideological base to which we belong, and our connections with the sister organisations like the VHP, the ABVP, the BMS, the Seva Bharati and the Kalyan Ashram which are all based on the inspiration from RSS... We have to intensify our efforts, we have to project the viewpoint of the RSS, which is not being reflected, so that with the instrumentality of the BJP in politics it gets more acceptance...."

This puts paid to all the talk about "separate" organisations. It is a clear admission that the BJP is but a political instrument of the RSS and so is the VHP, one of its "sister organisations". Incidentally, in this very speech Advani declaimed that India's "culture is essentially Hindu culture." The BJP rejects the concept of India's "composite culture".

Yet Rajendra Singh told the Tribunal on VHP on oath that he had "little knowledge of the working of VHP and Bajrang Dal" (vide this writer's article, "A touch of gloss"; Frontline, September 10, 1993). He said that he learnt of that from newspaper reports. As S. B. Chavan told Parliament on December 21, 1992, the crucial decision on the Babri Masjid was taken at the RSS' Ujjain conclave in October 1992. Advani confirmed the RSS' lead role. "It is fortunate that the entire Ayodhya movement is headed by the RSS" (The Indian Express; February 4, 1991).

THERE is an air of deja vu about all these efforts. The people of India were treated to the spectacle of "distancing" in 1996, as Virginia Van Dyke noted in a brilliant article on "political sadhus" (General Elections, 1996; Economic & Political Weekly, December 6, 1997). Based on field work in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, she discusses in detail "the relationship between the VHP sadhus and the BJP". She notes that "the use made of political sadhus by the BJP underwent a restructuring in 1996 as the BJP consciously distanced itself from the VHP." Earlier, there was even a "VHP quota" for the party ticket. Singhal's remarks show that the VHP has not been discarded like a squeezed lemon. The BJP has "consciously" distanced itself from it by mutual agreement among the two "sister organisations" and the parent, the RSS. There is a division of labour organisationally as well as personally. "While Vajpayee was charming interviewers on television news shows and countering the image of the BJP as a rabid Hindu party, Advani was touring in his Suraj Yatra and trying to whip up some enthusiasm for Hindutva, claiming that the Ram Mandir was still on the BJP agenda."

Advani will, one hopes, not demur to this. He said once that "studies on the working relationship between the RSS and the BJP have been done, unfortunately, in large measure by foreigners. In the Indian media, any writing of all this is absurd, even amusing." Evidently, he has little respect for swadeshi scholarship in this field.

Let me therefore quote only "foreigners". Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle said in their able work The Brotherhood in Saffron that "it is questionable if the BJP could survive politically without the RSS cadre and the cadre will not stay unless the leadership of the party stays firmly in the hands of the "brotherhood". Christopher Jaffrelot's superb work The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India notes how "a division of labour... took shape between Advani and Vajpayee," how the RSS "pushed it (the VHP, which it had founded) to the forefront in the framework of a new electoral strategy which had taken shape as early as 1979," and, more pertinently, that "the VHP network operated in symbiosis with the RSS... the official union of the VHP with the BJP only came about later, but for a long time there were already unmistakable organic links between the two organisations at the local level, where the triple network of the RSS, the VHP and the BJP worked with ever-increasing vigour as the (1989) election approached."

Jaffrelot's view is supported by RSS supremo Balasaheb Deoras' announcement in Mumbai on August 23, 1989 that the VHP "will play a major role in reviving the self-respect of the Hindus," as The Times of India reported. He was commemorating the founding of the VHP in the city on August 29, 1964.

Recent works by foreign scholars hold the same view. Prof. Richard H. Davis, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Yale, has contributed an incisive essay on the iconography of Rama's chariot to the book Making India Hindu, edited by David Ludden (Oxford; Rs. 495). The VHP's Ekatmata Yajna was launched in 1983 and its move then was to "liberate" the temples in 1984. It played a very important role in Advani's rath yatra in 1990. "The procession was planned jointly, with the VHP leadership setting the stage and offering strategic advice behind the scenes. What is most interesting from an iconographical point of view is the way in which this double agency engendered a two-level message throughout the event. "Hard-core" and "soft-core" imagery occurred side by side.

"The hard-core imagery, for which the VHP and related groups were primarily responsible, was religious, allusive, militant, masculine, and anti-Muslim. Making much use of Rama as paradigm, it played out themes inherent in the primary terms of the mobilisation. The BJP and Advani placed themselves often in the position of trying to reframe this imagery or put a softer spin on it.... This message-doubling held advantages for both parties. For the VHP and kindred groups, the participation of the BJP ensured coverage of the procession by major media, enabling them to project their message to a much larger audience than had been previously possible. The BJP, on the other hand, was able to disavow the more militant imagery as originating from the VHP and so attempt to maintain its electoral respectability, while at the same time profiting from the undoubted power and commitment that militant imagery evoked for some." The Bajrang Dal came to the fore in this venture.

His essay examines "the Sangh campaign as an enormously successful mobilisation in which an aggressive, risky and adept manipulation of cultural symbols through a variety of mass media provoked wide-spread popular response, transformed the marginal VHP into a major religious-cultural organisation, and generated considerable electoral gains for the BJP. The organisers put forth a complex message calculated to appeal to differing audiences, found ways to pose difficult dilemmas for the ruling authorities, and advance themselves as a viable alternative to the current political powers." This is precisely what is afoot currently - different messages to different groups.

The Ram temple issue was an artificial creation of the VHP at the instance of the RSS. "Until then, the controversy over the Ayodhya site had been largely parochial and largely forgotten. The VHP's task was to advance the liberation of Rama's birthplace as a compelling issue of national significance. Their problem was that the VHP itself remained a small, peripheral religious organisation with limited resources and cadres." It was the RSS other wing, the BJP, which lent it respectability in 1989.

Peter Van der Veer expresses the same opinion in his work Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Oxford; Rs. 395): "The temple-mosque controversy did not evoke strong feelings between 1949, when the image of Rama was installed, and 1984, when the VHP started its agitations. By transforming the mosque in Ayodhya from a local shrine into a symbol of the "threatened" Hindu majority, however, the VHP has been instrumental in the homogenisation of a "national Hinduism". Vajpayee dubbed the issue a matter of "national honour".

The author holds that "the political success of the BJP depends squarely on its alliance with two Hindu nationalist movements, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an organisation of religious leaders, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant youth organisation. This alliance allows it to use religious discourse and mass-scale ritual action in the political arena. The party's programme stresses Hindutva. The term Hindutva equates religious and national identity: an Indian is a Hindu, an equation that puts important Indian religious communities, such as Christians and Muslims, outside the nation. The argument for the term stresses that Hindus form the majority community in the country and that, accordingly, India should be ruled by them as a Hindu state (rashtra)."

In 1989, the BJP made Ayodhya an "absolutely central" issue. "At least from this point onward - and probably already in 1986 - the political agenda of the BJP cannot be separated from that of the VHP. There is a direct coordination of rituals, agitation and political manoeuvring by the high command of the BJP, the RSS, and the VHP who in fact overlap to a significant degree. Vijaya Raje Scindia is a vice-president of the BJP and a leader of the VHP; Lal Kishan Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee are leaders of the BJP, but have a background in the RSS; an important leader of the RSS, Manohar Pingle, has the VHP in his portfolio. Significantly, the VHP leadership also draws extensively on the experience of retired members in the higher echelons of the Indian bureaucracy, such as former directors-general of police, former chief judges, and former ministers; it is not simply an 'extremist' organisation, far removed from the mainstream of Indian society. Obviously, the support of persons with strong links to the bureaucracy is critical in the planning and execution of mass-scale demonstrations." The book contains a detailed description of the founding of the VHP.

Finally, Prof. Stanley J. Tambiah of Harvard has written a most instructive work on ethno-nationalist conflicts and collective violence in South Asia (Leveling Crowds; Sage; Rs. 450). In a chapter on "Hindu Nationalism; the Ayodhya campaign and the Babri Masjid", he writes: "The RSS, BJP, and VHP, which aspire to power at the Union centre and in state governments, claim to be movements sponsoring causes with national significance, exemplified by the very concept of Hindutva. The building of a new temple to Ram in Ayodhya was portrayed as an all-India Hindu nationalist cause. For these movements, Ayodhya was an axis mundi and a locus classicus, a condensed symbol signifying the whole."

He holds, as every scholar does, that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was jointly planned by the RSS, the BJP, the VHP and the Shiv Sena and records the bloodbath that followed.

All these are "foreigners" and scholars of impeccable credentials. Advani should accept their findings. Regardless, their researchers - and the record as people in India know it - suffice to expose the deception which the BJP is practising so brazenly and sedulously about its separateness from the RSS and the VHP.

 

 

Disown Sangh outfits, say allies; helpless, says BJP

The Times of India News Service
Friday 5 February 1999


NEW DELHI: The issue of the BJP's links with Sangh Parivar
affiliates like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal have
threatened to plunge the ruling alliance into yet another crisis with
the coalition partners asking the party to either restrain such
organisations or disown them.

The Samata Party on Thursday said that being the largest partner
in the coalition, the Bharatiya Janata Party could in no way evade
its responsibility to restrain these organisations from controversial
activities and utterances.

``Being a signatory to the statement adopted at the coordination
committee meeting, the BJP should make adequate efforts to
prevent such organisations from pursuing their present course of
action. It should either control or disown them,'' Samata general
secretary Jaya Jetley said.

``The ball is in the BJP's court,'' she said, regretting the party's
``confrontationist'' attitude to its allies in states like Andhra
Pradesh and West Bengal. ``They seek Mr Chandrababu
Naidu's support at the Centre, and at the same time the BJP is
opposing his policies in the state. They have adopted a similar
attitude towards Mamata Banerjee in Bengal too,'' she said.

Under pressure from its coalition partners and in the face of
defiance from the Sangh organisations, the BJP almost admitted
its helplessness stating that it was in no position to hold them back
from their present activity. ``They are not linked to the BJP at all,
the only common thread being our approach to nationalism,''
party vice-president J. P. Mathur said. He, however, said that
being the major partner in the coalition the BJP had a
responsibility to persuade political parties and other organisations
to accept the collective viewpoint. He said the BJP had as much
responsibility to get the AIADMK and the Trinamul Congress
accept a decision as to convince the VHP of the need to maintain
peace.

``They have got every right to express their views but their action
should not pose any threat to peace and harmony,'' Mr Mathur
told The Times of India. He said that while the VHP could talk
about Ayodhya, it should not opt for any action that could have a
bearing on the law and order situation. In reply to a question
earlier, Mr Mathur said he was proud of being a swayamsevak
of the RSS.

That the activity of the VHP has caused acute embarrassment to
the government is clear from the fact that home minister L. K.
Advani has decided to ignore the former's invitation to attend its
dharam sansad in Ahmedabad. VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and
Giriraj Kishore told reporters on Wednesday that they had called
on the home minister at his North Block office to invite him to the
conference. According to BJP sources, Mr Advani is unlikely to
attend the meet.

While the BJP has expressed its inability to control its allies in the
RSS family, its coalition partners on the other hand are likely to
make the VHP activity a major issue. Two major allies -
AIADMK and Trinamul Congress -- have already declined to
sign the coordination committee statement which, apart from
blaming the BJP associates in the Sangh Parivar, has urged the
coalition partners not to raise any disputed issue outside the
coordination committee forum.

The VHP leadership's meeting in Ahmedabad from Thursday is
likely to set a new deadline for the construction of the Ram
temple at Ayodhya.

 

There is no Sangh Parivar, says BJP spokesperson
Feb 6, 1999
The Hindu
By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, Feb. 5.

Is there a Sangh Parivar? Most of the BJP leaders refer with affection to the
``family'' of organisations fathered by the RSS as the Sangh Parivar, but Mr. J. P.
Mathur, one of the BJP spokesmen, was today quite shy of admitting the existence of
the extended family of the BJP and virtually wanted to disown the party's siblings, the
Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

In an informal chat with correspondents, Mr. Mathur said there was nothing called
the Sangh Parivar. Then he was asked to explain why the party president, Mr.
Kushabhau Thakre, signed the joint statement issued at the end of the coordination
committee of the BJP and its allies on February 2. The statement promised that the
BJP ``shall make every effort to ensure that the prestige and cohesiveness of the
coalition (Government) are not diluted by organisations belonging to its ideological
fraternity.''

Which were the ``organisations'' referred to in the statement? Mr. Mathur said it was
not a reference to the VHP, the Bajrang Dal or even the Swadeshi Jagran Manch or
the RSS, for the ``BJP was independent and had nothing to do with them. It had no
links with these organisations.''

He went to the extent of saying that the BJP was also independent of the RSS, when
all the facts point in the other direction, with almost every senior party leader having
been a senior RSS leader before being asked to work for the political arm of the
RSS, that is the BJP and its former incarnation, the Jana Sangh.

When asked about the identity of the ``organisations'' he added that the word in the
statement ``must have referred to Arya Samaj or the Hindu Mahasabha'' or other
bodies which believe in Hindutva. Clearly, the effort was to disassociate his party
from the VHP and the Bajrang Dal particularly. But what did not quite gel was the
fact that he defended the Bajrang Dal and stated that he was convinced it was not
involved in the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two
children.

How could he then explain the fact that former Bajrang Dal chief, Mr. Vinay
Katiyar, was the BJP MP from Faizabad, or that Mrs. Vijaye Raje Scindia, was for a
long time an office-bearer of both the BJP as well as the VHP? Or that the RSS
played a major role in determining who the party's chief minister should be in any
State where it wins an election? Or even the fact that a senior RSS office-bearer
ensured that Mr. Jaswant Singh did not get sworn-in as the Finance Minister when
the Vajpayee Government took office?

Unrelenting Sangh Parivar outfits to defy BJP, allies

By Bhaskar Roy
Feb 3, 1999
The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: The Sangh Parivar outfits have affirmed in no
uncertain terms that they would pursue the agitational agenda,
disregarding the concern expressed by the Bharatiya Janata Party
and its coalition partners over the recent incidents in Gujarat and
Orissa.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which has been at the centre of the
controversy following the anti-Christian violence in Gujarat, is
significantly holding a three-day dharam sansad in Ahmedabad
from February 5.

VHP president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya said here on Wednesday
that apart from the conversion issue, the conference would also
discuss the possibility of reviving the Ayodhya agitation.

``We cannot wait indefinitely for a judicial verdict, the work is
going on for the temple's construction, now we have to take a
decision at the dharam sansad about a mass awareness
campaign on Ram Janmabhoomi,'' Mr Dalmiya told The Times of
India.

He affirmed that the VHP programme to prevent ``forced
conversions'' would continue. Reacting to the ruling coalition's
statement on Tuesday which practically accused the Sangh outfits
of spoiling the government's image, Mr Dalmiya said this had
been prompted by the grouping's ``political compulsions''.

The VHP chief said that the campaign against conversions was
part of ``our normal activity'' and claimed that the judicial
pronouncements in the past had corroborated the VHP's position
on this issue.

When pointed out that BJP president Kushabhau Thakre had
signed the coordination committee statement which urged the
party to restrain its allied organisations, Mr Dalmiya said: ``It
shows their helplessness, poor fellows - they are being attacked
on all sides - I pity them.''

This defiant mood in the VHP was in sharp contrast to the BJP
statement which merely hoped that it would persuade its
ideological allies in view of the concerns expressed by the
coordination committee. ``We want to make it clear that we can
only persuade these organisations,'' party vice-president K L
Sharma said.

Interestingly, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh - the trade union
wing of the BJP - will discuss the government's economic policy
during its three-day national convention in Nagpur from February
15. The BMS had hit the road to demonstrate against the
Vajpayee government's decision to open up the insurance sector
to foreign participants.

Mr Dalmiya, however, welcomed the Prime Minister's suggestion
for a debate on conversions. He said the ``reality'' was very
different from what was being said and claimed his organisation
was ``crucified'' even before the judicial inquiry instituted to
probe the missionary's killing in Orissa had given its report.

Lay off my Govt, PM warns Sangh Parivar
The Indian Express
ARATI R. JERATH
Wednesday, February 3, 1999


NEW DELHI, Feb 2: The war within the Sangh Parivar is
likely to intensify with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
using today's coordination committee meeting to fire another
warning at the hardliners to lay off his Government.

The routine pre-budget exercise was suddenly recast last
night to give Vajpayee a weapon with which to silence his
detractors in the Sangh. A joint statement issued after four
hours of deliberations squarely blamed ``certain elements
perceived to be close to the BJP'' for undermining the image
and prestige of the Government.

It was as close as Vajpayee could get to rebuking the VHP,
Bajrang Dal and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch without actually
naming them. And by using the shelter of the coordination
committee to do so, he drew on the support of his coalition
partners to carry on his battle. Some like Trinamool Congress
chief Mamata Banerjee and Lok Shakti leader R K Hegde
are already on record blaming Sangh hardliners for not
allowing the Vajpayee Government to function.

Thedecision to fight the Sangh through his multi-party alliance
was taken last evening. Initially, today's coordination
committee meet was slated as pre-budget consultations, to be
chaired by the convenor and Defence Minister George
Fernandes in his room. The Prime Minister was not to attend
and had planned to ``just drop in for lunch'' after the meeting.

But the ghastly murder of Australian missionary Graham
Staines in Orissa and the obdurate insistence of the VHP and
the Bajrang Dal to continue with their anti-Christian
propoganda changed all this. Vajpayee called a war council
at his residence late in the evening which was attended by
Fernandes, Commerce Minister R K Hegde, Home Minister
L K Advani and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.

It was at this meeting that the agenda for today's gathering
was totally reworked. The venue was shifted to Race Course
Road and it was decided that Vajpayee himself would chair
the deliberations.

The meeting also finalised the draft of the joint statement
releasedafter today's meeting. Significantly, Vajpayee's aides
in the PMO prepared the statement, leaving no room for
doubt that the decision to up the ante in the fratricidal war
was a prime ministerial initiative.

At the same time, realising the need to present a united front
to the hardliners, the leaders sought to buy peace with the
dissenters in the alliance by clearing a partial rollback of the
hike in food prices. Vajpayee launched the damage control
exercise by communicating this decision to Telegu Desam
chief Chandrababu Naidu over the telephone this morning.
Naidu has been the most vocal critic of the price rise and
yesterday his partymen had threatened to withdraw support
to the Government on this issue.

Although Vajpayee did not talk to AIADMK supremo
Jayalalitha directly, her representative at the coordination
committee meeting, Law Minister Thambidurai, was in
constant touch with her at the Vajpayee's behest.
Thambidurai, of course, hesitated to sign the joint statement
without Jayalalitha'sclearance and the three-page document
was faxed to her for approval from the Prime Minister's
residence.

Similarly, the Shiv Sena representative, Rajya Sabha MP
Pritish Nandy, was held up and could not attend but
according to BJP sources, he was on the line with those at
the meeting over his mobile phone from Mumbai airport. He
drove directly to the venue of the meeting and appended his
signature to the statement on behalf of his party, the sources
said.

Negtive uttarances

``Sometimes, negative utterances and positions by certain
elements perceived to be close to the nucleus of our coalition,
BJP, have also undermined the prestige of the Government.
More than anything else, it is these public utterances and
postures that have adversely affected the image of our
Government and cast a shadow on its numerous undeniable
achievements.''

Cracking The Whip
Editorial - The Times of India.

Feb 2, 1999

The Shiv Sena chief, Mr Bal Thackeray's decision to replace
Manohar Joshi with Narayan Rane on the Maharashtra gaddi
marks the logical conclusion of the rift that had set in between the
former Chief Minister and his self-avowed puppet-master. Given
that he was condemned to steer a course between the whims of
the Thackeray dynasty on the one hand and his BJP partners in the
ruling coalition on the other, Mr Joshi had slowly begun to assert
his independence on several issues. Mr Joshi had declined to
implement Mr Thackeray's unrealistic Dussehra announcement
that farmers in Maharashtra would be exempted from paying for
their electricity. The final blot in Mr Joshi's copybook, it is believed,
was the loss of face he caused the Senapati recently, when he
buckled under pressure from the Union government and `permitted'
the arrest of the Sena activists involved in the ransacking of the
BCCI office in Mumbai. By cracking the whip as he has done, Mr
Thackeray hopes to achieve several goals. Not only has he
demonstrated the power of his much-vaunted `remote control' by
switching Mr Joshi off, but he has also, by surfing on to the Rane
channel, attempted to appease the growing resentment within the
Sena against its upper-caste leadership. The Sena, for all its
advocacy of the underdog, has so far reflected the social structure
of dominance which prevails in Maharashtrian society in Mumbai:
the party's top leadership has always been drawn from the
Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus, the Brahmins and the Pathare
Prabhus, while the foot-soldiers and the storm-troopers are
recruited from among the Marathas and the OBCs.

Mr Thackeray no doubt believes that he has displayed a sensitivity
to Maratha sentiment by putting Mr Rane in charge. But here, the
Senapati has displayed his inability to function effectively outside
the socio-political arena of Mumbai and its Konkan hinterland, the
caste realities of which are not identical with those of interior
Maharashtra -- where, to put it bluntly, the votes are. For the
45-year-old Mr Rane embodies a different kind of Maratha than
the sort represented by the Y B Chavan-Vasantrao Patil-Sharad
Pawar tradition in the state's politics. Mr Rane is a Maratha from
Sindhudurg on the Konkan coast. Neither in terms of social
perception nor class interest would the Maratha landed gentry of
interior Maharashtra recognise Mr Rane as one of their own. A
typical product of the Sena culture, Mr Rane has made the
transformation from government employee to flourishing
entrepreneur over two decades; and while his popularity, diplomatic
skills and noted ability to mobilise financial support may hold him in
good stead in the run-up to the assembly elections in mid-2000, it is
far from obvious that he will be able to undo the damage that the
Shiv Sena-BJP administration has inflicted on Maharashtra over
the last few years. The administration's populist proposals have
come to nothing. Its attempt to redress the woes of Maharashtra's
agrarian sector has been half-hearted at best, like its attempt to
curb the increasing lawlessness in Mumbai. Although it is rather
late in the day, electorally speaking, Mr Rane would be well
advised to substitute the rhetoric that marked the Joshi
administration with action

Fascistic movement plays critical role in India's ruling coalition

By Keith Jones
20 June 1998

As a result of last month's nuclear tests the capitalist press in the West turned its attention to India, a country of 950 million whose travails and tragedies rarely merit a mention, even in the back pages, by the "serious" dailies. Yet in all the commentary, little of substance has been said about the political and ideological makeup of India's new government.

According to Time magazine, the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party)--the dominant partner in India's coalition government--is "a Hindu nationalist" party "that has been forced to make a series of compromises in its climb to power." Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee, according to Time, is "a portly, affable ... scholarly moderate."

In reality, the BJP is, even from the standpoint of current-day capitalist politics, a party of the extreme right. It espouses Hindu chauvinism, militarism and anticommunism, while exalting entrepreneurial initiative. At its core stands a mass, fascistic organization associated over many decades with communal violence--the Rashrtiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

In 1992, a BJP-RSS campaign for the building of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya culminated in the razing of a famous mosque, in defiance of the Supreme Court. This outrage precipitated the most extensive communal bloodletting in the post-independence history of India.

The immediate objective of the Ayodhya campaign was the erection of a temple to the Hindu god Ram. But for the BJP, the RSS, an extensive network of RSS-affiliated groups, and the Shiv Sena (King Shivaji's Army), a Maharashtra-based Hindu chauvinist and fascist organization, the Ram Rajya mobilization was part of the drive for a radical, but ill-defined change in the Indian polity--the establishment of Hindu rashtra (or Hindu rule). According to the Hindu chauvinists, transforming India into a "true Hindu state" will revive the alleged glory of India's past and raise her to the status of a superpower in the modern world.

The bond between the BJP and RSS goes beyond shared objectives and ideology. RSS activists effectively control the BJP party apparatus and dominate the party's leading bodies. The two most important BJP leaders and the two most powerful figures in the current government, Atal Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani, are RSS cadre. Advani's replacement as party president, Kushabhu Thakre, is a lifelong RSS member. Some 75 percent of the current party executive have RSS roots.

What is the RSS?

 

Throughout its more than 70-year existence, the RSS has been associated with communal riots and virulent anticommunism. The organization was founded in 1925, ostensibly to defend the Hindus of Nagpur, one of many Indian cities that were convulsed by communal violence after the collapse of the first mass mobilization against British rule (the 1920-22 Non-Cooperation Movement). Two years later, RSS members drilled in the use of the lathi (a traditional Indian weapon made of wood) routed a procession of Muslims, to the delight of sections of the local Hindu elite that claimed Muslims held a disproportionate share of government jobs.

To this day, the life of the estimated 40,000 RSS cells or shakhas revolves around a daily martial arts drill, in which youth, from their early teens on, are schooled in fighting and taught complete obedience to their RSS superiors. The RSS refuses to divulge membership figures, but several million people are known to regularly participate in the shakhas. The RSS also has built an extensive network of affiliated organizations--for students, workers, women, and religious devotees--that are both broader in membership and take up socioeconomic grievances specific to their clientele.

From its origins to today, the social composition of the RSS has been overwhelmingly urban petty-bourgeois: students, small traders, civil servants, and office clerks and managers. In conjunction with the BJP, it founded a trade union wing in the 1950s, but it remained small until the 1980s. Today the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh claims a membership of more than 3 million, largely among white-collar workers. The urban petty-bourgeois character of the RSS is underscored by its relative weakness in the countryside. Although two-third's of India's population is rural, there is no significant RSS-associated farmer-peasant organization.

The RSS and Hindu rashtra

 

The RSS first emerged as a mass organization during the horrific communal violence that surrounded the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent. N.V. Godse, the man who assassinated Gandhi in January of 1948, was a former RSS cadre and ardent Hindu nationalist. In the months leading up to the assassination, the RSS had subjected Gandhi to a tirade of abuse for interceding to protect Muslims.

Following Gandhi's death the RSS was banned for close to two years. The organization has always vigorously denied any connection to Gandhi's assassination, but it is hard pressed to suppress its sympathy for Godse. In the words of current RSS supremo Rajendra Singh, Godse's "intention was good but he used the wrong method."

The RSS's ideology of Hindu rashtra--that India is the nation of the Hindus and the Hindus alone comprise the nation--was developed in opposition to the liberal-democratic program elaborated by the Congress Party leadership. Congress maintained that all Indians, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or caste, should enjoy equal citizenship rights.

At times the RSS and its associated organizations, particularly the BJP, try to camouflage their communalism by pointing to the contrasting meanings of Hindu. (A word of non-Indian origin, it originally denoted all those living east of the Indus River.) But the principal ideologues of Hindu rashtra, the RSS-leader M.S. Golwalkar and V.D. Savarkar (head of a like-minded communal political party, the Hindu Mahasabha) have made clear in their writings and speeches that Muslims and Christians are alien groups who in a Hindu nation will enjoy citizenship rights only at the sufferance of the majority.

Both Golwalkar and Savarkar draw direct inspiration from Nazi Germany. "Germany has ... shown," writes Golwalkar, "how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole--a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by."

While Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani of the BJP refrain from praising Hitler--unlike their ally, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thakeray--they do insist that India's 120 million Muslims must "nationalize" themselves.

The RSS-BJP have a thin, anti-capitalist veneer. They denounce capitalist or "Western" society for its individualism and corrosion of community, but they uphold private property and profit.

The RSS has always described itself as a cultural nationalist, and not political, organization. This has been a stratagem to avoid direct conflict with more powerful political opponents. But the denigration of politics, the claim that there is a "national" interest that stands above both traditional bourgeois politics and the class struggle, is central to the RSS's mystical-fascist ideology. Moreover, in totalitarian fashion, the RSS considers itself to be the Hindu nation in embryo.

Golwalkar derides democracy for promoting social conflict and disrupting the harmony and tranquillity of the nation, while lauding the caste system, purged of its worst abominations, as a model for a corporately organized society. At the same time the RSS and BJP leadership have found it politic to routinely pledge support for democracy and India's constitution.

However, the Ayodhya mobilization must be taken as a measure of the RSS's commitment to the bourgeois-democratic institutions of the Indian Republic. That enormous provocation ended in a communal carnage, despite pledges made to India's Supreme Court by Advani and the BJP's chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (the state in which Ayodhya is located) that the mosque would not be touched.

The RSS's antidemocratic ethos finds expression not only in its communal ideology, but also in its methods of organization. The organization is led by a sarsangchalak (a supreme director), who is appointed for life by his predecessor. Other leadership positions are also determined by appointment.

While RSS violence has principally targeted Muslims and the ex-Untouchables, fanatical anticommunism has always been central to its ideology. In appealing to J. Nehru, the then-prime minister of India, for the lifting of the 1948 ban on the RSS, Golwalkar wrote: "The RSS having been disbanded, the intelligent youth are rapidly falling into the snares of communism.... The one effective check, the RSS, no longer exists."

The Indian National Congress and the RSS

 

Gandhi and Nehru, the foremost leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC), were vigorous opponents of religious chauvinism in general, and the RSS in particular. In the 1930s Nehru analyzed communalism as a form of fascism. Gandhi characterized the RSS as "a communal body with a totalitarian outlook."

Yet the INC proved unable to fight communalism and ultimately connived in the partition of India. Gandhi employed Hindu phraseology in his appeals to the masses, and Nehru chose to unite India from above by inheriting the state apparatus built by the British. They both feared the consequences of a struggle to unite India from below, through an appeal to the class interests of the workers and peasants, i.e., by uniting the Hindu, Muslim and Christian masses in a struggle against their landlord and capitalist oppressors.

Following independence, S.P. Mookerjee, a former president of the Hindu Mahasabha, was invited into the Congress-dominated cabinet. Nehru's Home Minister Vallabhai Patel, the Congress president and a virulent anticommunist, was plotting to bring the RSS into Congress. Gandhi's assassination, however, cut across Patel's plans, enabling Nehru to isolate the RSS from the mainstream of ruling class politics.

The resurgence of the RSS and the tasks before the working class

 

The emergence of the RSS as a potent political force is a testament to the organic incapacity of the Indian bourgeoisie to overcome the legacy of India's feudal and colonial past and bring about the genuine, democratic unification of its many peoples. Indeed, the history of the Indian republic has been characterized by growing social inequality and the ever-increasing communalization, caste-ization and regionalization of politics. Unable to offer any progressive solution to the prevailing conditions of mass unemployment, poverty, disease and illiteracy, the bourgeoisie has dredged up the most retrograde ideologies as a means of channeling the frustrations of the people in a reactionary direction.

The rise of the BJP-RSS is a consequence of the acute crisis brought about by the collapse of the nationalist economic strategy on which the Indian bourgeoisie based it rule until 1991, the collapse of the Congress-centered political system with which that strategy was associated, and the absence of a broad-based, independent working class alternative. Historically, the Indian working class has been amongst the most combative in Asia. Its current paralysis is the product of the betrayals of the Stalinist parties, which have systematically subordinated the working class to so-called progressive sections of the bourgeoisie.

Already in the latter half of the 1980s the BJP was able to capitalize on the turn of its bourgeois rivals to communal and caste-based politics. It also garnered considerable support by voicing the demand of sections of the middle class for a loosening of import controls and greater access to Western consumer goods. The RSS, meanwhile, has exploited the absence of proper public services to extend its influence through a network of schools and social service organizations.

The post-1991 dismantling of import controls and the reorienting of India's economy more openly and directly to the world capitalist market has generated contradictory impulses in the Indian petty bourgeoisie. It has whetted its appetite for more privileges, while increasing its anxiety over the pace and direction of economic change and its sense of inferiority in relation to its Western counterparts.

The Indian petty bourgeois, anxious about his future and debilitated by his present position, takes solace in a mythical past of Hindu greatness--RSS-inspired academics argue that virtually all modern inventions were anticipated in the Vedas--and by striking out against the minorities, the former Untouchables and the toilers. Hindu rashtra holds out to aggrieved petty-bourgeois layers the delusion of a radical, but ordered change, which will give them access to all the consumer goods of the West, without subjecting India to imperialist domination.

A government of extreme crisis

 

The BJP-led government is a regime of extreme crisis. Its majority in parliament is paper-thin and dependent on parties that are agitating for the central government to use the constitution's emergency powers to fire various state governments. Moreover, the Asian economic crisis is increasingly impacting the Indian economy.

In the three months that the BJP-led coalition has held office, government, BJP and RSS spokesmen have repeatedly made contradictory declarations about Ayodhya and other contentious issues. Undoubtedly, there is a measure of calculation in this, for the BJP leaders are striving to keep the ruling coalition together and at the same time maintain the allegiance of the extreme Hindu chauvinists who comprise the rank-and-file RSS-BJP activists.

But tensions between the RSS and BJP are inevitable, for the two organizations, although intimately linked, are not synonymous. The BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, have always included non-RSS elements--princes, ex-zamindars (feudal landlords), Congress defectors and others with closer ties to ruling class circles. The BJP's role in parliament, and now in government, has given the RSS cadre in the BJP leadership a base of power independent of their mother organization. It has also made them more dependent on the financial and political support of India's largest business houses.

Its much-touted discipline notwithstanding, the RSS is, by its very nature, unstable. It is not based on a coherent socioeconomic program, but rather on the contradictory and ephemeral moods and phobias of the petty bourgeoisie. Unable to satisfy the real needs of its petty-bourgeois constituency, the RSS must engage in the politics of spectacle, communal demagogy and violence. In the long run, Vajpayee, whether heading a coalition government or a majority BJP regime, cannot but disappoint his petty-bourgeois RSS followers.

Nothing, however, would be more dangerous than for the working class to conclude that the threat from the extreme right will collapse of its own accord. The BJP will use its control of the machinery of government to install its supporters in leading positions in the bureaucracy and repressive forces of the state. The former chief of India's naval staff, Admiral J.G. Nadkarni, recently warned, "Sympathy for Hindutva [another name for Hindu rashtra] is far more widespread amongst senior officers than suspected."

Most importantly, behind the BJP and the RSS stand the big bourgeoisie. Whatever the fate of the Vajpayee government, the ruling class will press forward with the dismantling of all barriers to imperialist exploitation, through the gutting of social expenditures, privatization and the abolition of land controls. It will employ caste-ism and communalism and authoritarian forms of rule to contain and divert the resulting social unrest.

To avert a catastrophe, the Indian working class must take a new road. It must organize itself as an independent political force and elaborate a democratic and socialist program for a workers and peasants government. The workers must rally behind them the peasantry and urban petty bourgeoisie in a common struggle against the national bourgeoisie, and unite the struggle of the Indian masses against imperialist oppression with the struggle of the international working class.

RSS plans a cleansing operation within BJP

 John Dayal  New Delhi

The RSS has seized the moment, and is preparing to enforce on the poll- shocked BJP both a strict political ideology and a stronger regimen of discipline. On the agenda is a set of guidelines to the BJP on how it must in future choose its state and district leaders and candidates, and plans to raise a 1000-strong corps of ideologues to bring the BJP back from `Congress culture' to which, RSS stalwarts say, the party had fallen prey in the last five years. The points themselves are not new, and have been spoken by various senior leaders in recent months. The BJP defeat has now brought them out of the cupboard and to top of the agenda. The RSS -- the mother organisation of the BJP -- has not yet chosen its fall guy. And there is no open talk against Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee or party president Kushabhau Thakre. Home minister LK Advani, once a RSS favourite, has been careful in deflecting all criticism away from him in the campaign leading upto the polls, and after the poll, he has carefully kept out of the review limelight. The RSS is, however, said to be pleased with Human Resource Development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. Party chief Thakre, whose first year in office as the successor to LK Advani has seen the BJP plummet to the worst defeats in its history, is trying a damage control exercise with the RSS, and is expected to assume harsh postures in the coming days on the Hindutva agenda. Thakre, like his name-sake of the Shiv Sena, has already said the BJP lost because it alienated its traditional Hindu voters who were put off by the coalition government's inaction on the Hindutva agenda. This `soft line' was a double whammy -- it failed to woo the Hindutva right, and did not appease the liberal Hindus and the minorities, Thakre says. It is in this context that the RSS has intervened, reports in media owned by RSS and BJP leaders suggested this morning. While agreeing that a full-steam Hindutva agenda has to be followed, the RSS think-tank says the problem is more basic and lies with the rot that has set in within the party. The RSS has identified a few of the major factors -- corruption and love of office in BJP cadres, lack of ideological training and discipline, and a loosening of the command structure. Its first suggestion is to train 1,000 upper level cadres to strengthen the party in every district. This works out to at least two men in each district who have the confidence of the RSS high command. The BJP is also being told to ensure that its district and state leaderships go to people who do not want to fight legislative or local elections. The district and the party chiefs must be men who will not contest themselves, but will manage the election camoaigns of others to ensure victory.

 

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Last updated: October 28, 2000 .