The Advani-Vajpayee years of leading the NDA coalition offer significant memories of how the duo outmanoeuvred the RSS and K Sudarshan, the then chief of the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS. Despite knowing Advani’s ambition of becoming Prime Minister, the Sangh chose a man with a liberal face for the top job while Advani was left to play second fiddle; the RSS wanted the duality to exist for the sake of balancing its own power game.
But as I wrote in my own column in 2012 “Far from backing its first prime minister, the Sangh went out of its way to needle him. It consistently attacked Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister and one of the most trusted men in the Vajpayee camp. It wanted Mishra removed not because it thought he was a bad influence – though that may have been the stated reason – but because his departure would weaken Vajpayee, never mind what it did to the stability of the government in the Centre.
In fact, the RSS had no qualms in using the opportunity provided by Operation Westend – the TEHELKA sting operation that saw Bangaru Laxman, then BJP president, accepting a bribe – to slyly attack two top officials in the Vajpayee PMO: Mishra and NK Singh. The Sangh gave a free hand to the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and its promoter, Chennai-based chartered accountant S Gurumurthy, to launch a full-scale attack on the Vajpayee PMO. Only when it realised that Gurumurthy had reduced the SJM to a proxy for fighting corporate battles did the Sangh distance itself from the Manch.”
It is not very uncanny then that the Sangh Parivaar is playing almost a similar game, this time in Bihar, which seen as a do-or-die battle for Amit Shah, the BJP president. The election will also be a litmus test for Narendra Modi who has been facing heat for increasing religious intolerance allegedly perpetrated by his own party. At risk is also his good governance model which failed the test in the Delhi election in February this year. The Sangh Parivaar is allegedly upset with him for promoting himself as opposed to the party in India and internationally.
Is the Sangh Parivaar increasingly feeling left out with the power equation of Amit Shah-Narendra Modi-Arun Jaitley, seen as the driver of all major decisions? If not, what could be the reason behind RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement that there should be a review of the reservation policy for backward classes, suggesting that the reservation policy for Dalits had become a political tool and interest groups needed to be formed because there have to be certain aspirations in democracy.
Bhagwat’s statement translated in simple English meant that while attempting to appease the backward classes, the aspirations of the upper class cannot be ignored. What embarrassed the BJP was that the statement came from Bhagwat just before the polling and just about 250 kilometers away from Bihar, in Gorakhpur. Bhagwat had previously in an interview to the party mouthpiece Organiser said that “We should have integral approach of welfare for all. It is sensible to realize that my interest lies in larger national interest. Government also has to be sensitive to these issues that there should not be any agitation for them.”
Bhagwat further went on to make a statement that could incense the dominating vote bank of backward castes in Bihar – that interest groups should not strive to address the aspirations (of Dalits) at the cost of others. Did Bhagwat not know that 70 per cent of the electorate in Bihar comprises of the backward classes, and most analysis and opinion polls had suggested a surge for the BJP in Bihar? Why would Bhagwat and the RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, divide the Hindu vote bank in Bihar which the Modi-Shah duo seemed to be successfully consolidating? Was the RSS upset with the BJP’s suggestion for a lower caste Chief Minister and candidates from the backward classes?
If that is indeed true, ideologically, there is nothing wrong with the RSS line of thought for it has a history of upper caste dominance with six sarsanghchalaks (RSS chiefs) being from the upper and brahmin caste. With a total of seven sarsanghchalaks till date, Mohan Bhagwat like other five predecessors is an upper caste and it was the RSS which insisted on Nitin Gadkari, a deshasth Brahmin being the party President of the BJP before Rajnath Singh took over. The RSS has not shied away from glossing in various documents the virtue of the Brahmanists as opposed to the Shudras and the Vaishnavas.
The BJP had been trying hard to keep the Patel agitation led by Hardik Patel for reservations not have an impact on the backward classes in Bihar. But Mohan Bhagwat has decided to open a can of worms with both Nitish and Lalu taking a swipe at Shah and Modi asking him to disown Guru Golwalkar and the RSS.
In Lalu’s statement on #BJPagainstDalits lies another uncomfortable truth that the BJP would not have wanted to remind the voter in Bihar. Golwalkar had never hidden his passionate commitment to Brahminical supremacy and Shudra slavery.
In his Bunch of Thoughts, he goes on to narrate an incident which states ‘In the South, there was an English officer. His assistant was a local person, probably a Naidu. The orderly of that Englishman was a Brahmin. One day, when this Englishman was walking in a street, followed by his orderly, the assistant came from the opposite side. The two officers greeted each other and shook hands. But when the assistant officer saw the orderly, he took off his turban and touched his feet. The Englishman was amazed. He queried, “I am your senior officer, but you stand erect and just shake hands with me, whereas he is only my peon and you prostrate before him on this busy road.
What is the matter?” The assistant officer replied, “You may be my officer, but you are a mlechha (foreigner). He may be a peon, but he belongs to that class of my people which is held in great respect all down the centuries, before whom it is my duty to bow down”
In fact, Shankaranand Shastri, a Dalit ideologue and writer considered very close to Babasaheb Ambedkar wrote in one of his works, “It is a fact that the RSS was established to save the caste system and the Brahmin priestly class. If the RSS were really sincere in uniting the ‘Hindus’ under one flag, it should make first to destroy caste. The RSS is nothing but a revival of Pushyamitra [vii] tactics to destroy the integrity of the country and divide it into watertight compartments”
As I write this, two Dalit children have been murdered in Ballabhgarh in Haryana which is ruled by the BJP. News reports have emerged that Dalit leaders from Haryana have threatened to convert if the atrocities against them don’t stop. As if this was not enough, Union Minister V.K. Singh used a rather derogatory analogy referring to the Ballabhgarh incident as “government cannot be blamed if someone stones a dog”
At this point of time, Bhagwat seems to have given credence to the hashtag #BJPagainstDalits which trended on Twitter on Wednesday.
The BJP has been forced to overnight change its election strategy, which appears to be political hara-kiri. Modi, who was the star campaigner with posters in Bihar saying ”Abki baar Modi sarkaar” (this time, a Modi government) is now replaced by local BJP leaders.
The question remains: could Bhagwat want the BJP to lose Bihar which could possibly make Shah-Modi domination stronger? Leaders in the RSS have told this reporter that Bhagwat wants to cut down Amit Shah to size even if it means losing Bihar.
The leadership in Sangh Parivaar is upset that despite their cadres being used in Bihar extensively there has been no consultation with the RSS on ticket distribution. For the first time Shah and Modi have kept RSS leaders out of the micro management in Bihar polls. This has upset many like Bihar based leaders Kirti Azad and Shatrughan Sinha who have openly backed Bhagwat’s statement on reservations. While the RSS has believed in consolidating Hindu votes across the caste spectrum during the election season, it felt that Shah’s strategy of Dalit appeasement would boomerang with the upper caste Hindu feeling left out.
Many in the RSS believe that Bhagwat has killed two birds with the same stone. By embarrassing the party with his comments on reservation, he has sent a strong signal to Amit Shah whose arrogance is being much talked about and who has kept several RSS leaders at bay in decision-making.
The Sangh has also sought to placate its cadres who were upset with the ”appeasement” of the lower castes by Modi and Shah, who were allegedly mimicking the social engineering formula used by Lalu, Nitish Kumar and the Janta Party in the past. With beef politics appearing to backfire in a state where caste dominates religion, Bhagwat may just have pushed the BJP to a very precarious precipice.
(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is working on a book on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which will be published later this year.)