For JP and Vajpayee earlier and now Modi, RSS has been a difficult partner

What is it about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that any political party or movement that joins up with it ends in disaster? Does the problem lie with its ideology or its leaders or is it a combination of both?

The RSS, which does a lot of good, needs to sit down and think about why its political manifestations bring grief to its associates. Had it been an isolated incident, it may not have mattered much. But it is not.

The first time this happened was when Jaiprakash Narayan (JP), who had started the anti-corruption movement in 1973, teamed up with the RSS in 1974. As it turned out, that was a mistake. Not so much because the RSS started dictating terms to JP but because Indira Gandhi got frightened.

In a recent Sharada Prasad Memorial Lecture, Jairam Ramesh, in a reference to the Emergency of 1975-77, quotes him as follows: 

Opposition Front can preserve a system based upon religious tolerance and equality."

This passing reference in the lecture, which was actually about the Planning Commission, tells us a lot about the effect that the RSS has on other parties. Even the two main proponents of Hindutva in Maharashtra have been rebelling since 2015. 

Time and again

The second time that the RSS ran into a problem was in 1979 over the dual membership issue. India's first coalition was in power back then with an old and former Congressman, Morarji Desai, as Prime Minister.  

JP's socialists, led by George Fernandes, formed an important part of that coalition. They didn't like the idea of the Jana Sangh (as the BJP was then) being a member of the government because it was the political arm of the RSS. 

They forced the issue by asking the Jana Sangh ministers and MPs to dissociate themselves from the RSS. The government fell in just under three years.

A similar thing happened to the V P Singh government, which had come to power in December 1989. It had the 'outside' support of the BJP, and hence of the RSS -- which suddenly started the Rath Yatra for the temple in Ayodhya in August 1990. The government fell in December.

In 1999, the BJP formed the government under Atal Behari Vajpayee and despite being an RSS man, soon he, too, ran into difficulties with the RSS. It took him three years to sort things out. By then, the RSS had given up on him. He lost the 2004 election. 

Modi's turn 

And now, it is the turn of Narendra Modi, who, even as chief minister of Gujarat, had had problems with the RSS. Conventional wisdom has it that as chief minister of Gujarat he kept the RSS at arm's length. But as Prime Minister, he seems to have been less successful. Indeed, he has accepted the RSS agenda in a huge measure, something he did not do in Gujarat. 

Despite that, all the evidence is again pointing to many differences of opinion between him and the RSS. There can be only one issue: The construction of the temple.

The RSS knows this opportunity -- of a BJP government with a clear majority -- will not arise for a very long time, if at all. So it is pushing for it. Mr Modi, for the moment at least, is not at all sure about what to do.

A bad result in Karnataka may force his hand. 

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