Keeping together: Are BJP, RSS getting 'realistic' on mutual ideologies?

Like the Bharatiya Janata Party, the BMS and BKS are mass-based, with only 10 per cent of the cadre drawn from the RSS. Antagonising them might cost the BJP the enhanced mobilisation it will require in an election
At the annual coordination meeting in Vrindavan (last September) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its constituents, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah was seated with the other heads below. While the Sangh’s sarsanghchalak (supremo) and the seniors presided from the dais.

Signifying that in the paterfamilias’ order, every progeny was equal, even if one was perceived as mightier than the others. “This arrangement distinguishes the BJP from the Left parties. The CPM’s frontal organisations are subservient to the political party. The BJP and the other affiliates orbit around the RSS,” said a BJP vice-president of RSS provenance.

At the gathering, Shah was treated on a par with chiefs of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS),  Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and the various other outfits constituting the saffron ‘parivar’ (family). Ahead of the Gujarat elections, he was warned that the goods and service tax (GST) law had not gone down well with the traders who form the Sangh’s core support. Shah said nothing.

After close to four years of the Narendra Modi government, the BJP has stacked electoral victories that belie the internal apprehensions over GST and demonetisation. The RSS parivar, however, has another concern. A powerful BJP might force the other constituents to recede into the background and increasingly engage with them only on its terms.

A Sangh source rejected the scenario, contending that 13 years since the first National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was voted out, the BJP and RSS had become “realistic” on mutual expectations. “In Atal Behari Vajpayee’s time, the first coordination meeting happened in 2002, six years after he came into power and without Vajpayee’s senior-most ministers, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha. Under Modi, the sessions happen annually. There is more information sharing, a consultation protocol is in place and the BJP’s electoral wins cohere well with the RSS’ ideological plank ,” the source claimed. 

The source ascribed the “changed” equation to the present sarsanghchalak, Mohanrao Bhagwat. Contrasting him with predecessor K S Sudarshan, who had become Vajpayee’s bugbear. “In NDA-I, contradictions were out in the open. Sudarshan issued statements against the government, the Prime Minister’s Office contradicted these and Sudarshan recanted it. Bhagwat’s expectations are modest,” a Sangh ideologue said.

This does not mean the Modi government and the Sangh share an exemplary relationship. Ashwani Mahajan, the SJM’s national co-convenor, emphasised that had his activists and he not hit the streets against the land acquisition ordinance the Centre had promulgated, it might have become a statute. “The Congress might take the credit but its leaders acknowledged the SJM’s forceful articulation against the ordinance forced the government’s hands,” Mahajan said. 

Right now, Niti Aayog is the SJM’s pet peeve. The government policy think tank’s endorsement of genetically modified crops, alleged sabotage of the drug price control regime and an inchoate proposal to tax farmers are all issues anathema to the outfit that fancies itself more Left than the Left. 

If the SJM’s campaigns have not erupted into confrontations as during the Vajpayee regime, it’s because its strategists set immense store by Prime Minister Modi’s ‘pro-poor’ leanings. “The PMO has come up with socially inclusive schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, Jan-Dhan and Mudra. Niti Aayog is bent upon scuttling these. When we first questioned the Aayog, it was like questioning God. Thankfully, there’s more criticism now,” said Mahajan.   

BMS, the Sangh’s trade union front, and the BKS, its farmers’ front, were less kind to the Centre than the SJM. The BMS had its first big run-in with the Centre over coal auctions and threatened to strike work at Coal India. It relented after the government assured that auctioning did not mean the mines would be privatised. Virjesh Upadhayay, general secretary, admitted that while the union’s access to power circles was “easier because we are part of an ideological fraternity”, “getting things done from the government is tougher”. In the Vajpayee era, daunting ‘swadeshi’ ideologue Dattopant Thengdi towered over the BMS and periodically brought the Centre on its knees. Right now, the best Upadhayay hopes for is coaxing the Centre to craft an employment policy that would incentivise only job-generating industries.

The farmers’ wing has had an uneasy correlation with Modi, going back to the time when he governed Gujarat. Its vice-president, Prabhakar Kelkar, has said if the Centre did not put in place an “umbrella” policy that linked crop import-export and legislated a minimum support price, the BJP’s rural base would “disappear”.  Like the BJP, the BMS and BKS are mass-based, with only 10 per cent of the cadre drawn from the RSS. Antagonising them might cost the BJP the enhanced mobilisation it will require in an election.

RSS fronts’ demands on Centre

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh

  • Stop curtailing workers’ rights in the name of labour law reforms
  • Stimulus package for labour-intensive sectors
  • Rs 18,000 minimum wage for all workers
  • Increase annual work days under MGNREGS from 100 to 200 days
  • Minimum pension of Rs 3,000
  • Loans with low interest rates for construction sector

Swadeshi Jagran Manch

  • Ban digital payment major Paytm because “major portion” is “held” by Chinese e-commerce, trade and retail conglomerate Alibaba
  • Disallow Chinese investment for economic and security reasons
  • Impose heavy anti-dumping duty on Chinese imports
  • Do not introduce Human Papilloma Virus vaccine developed for preventing cervical cancer

Bharatiya Kisan Sangh

  • Legislate safe use of pesticides and agrochemicals
  • Ban glyphosate and other disease-causing agrochemicals
  • Agrochemical manufacturers should supply safety equipment to users
  • Disband Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (under environment ministry), order CBI probe into its working and set up a separate empowered authority to deal with genetically modified food crops
  • Remunerative prices to farmers, procure produce at declared minimum statutory prices

Laghu Udyog Bharati

  • Better access to capital and money markets because risk perception about small businesses is high
  • Directive for working capital finance @20 per cent of annual normative turnover
  • Waiver of collateral requirements up to Rs 0.5 million
  • A credit guarantee trust to cover loans of up to Rs 2.5 million
  • National equity fund for small scale industries at five per cent service charge