Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Paying for political innocence

Paying for political innocence

Virendra Parekh
The Observer of Business and Politics
March 10, 2000
Title: Paying for political innocence
Author: Virendra Parekh
Publication: The Observer of Business and Politics
Date: March 10, 2000

GUJARATIS are often derided as 'aarambhe shooraa' (brave in the beginning). By withdrawing its circular on the RSS, Keshubhai Patel government in Gujarat has lived up to that reputation. The humiliation that it brought upon itself and central party leaders was entirely of its own making. Disgraceful retreat under pressure from senior party leaders is the price that Keshubhai has paid for his lack of political acumen. With a single move devoid of all political sense, he has annoyed RSS leadership whom he might have expected to please, weakened BJP's position in the ruling coalition at the Centre and gifted a much-needed diversion to Sonia Gandhi and her party.

On their part, BJP leaders have shown once again that they tend to buckle under pressure. As in the hijack drama at Kandahar, they capitulated after making brave noises in the beginning. One may ask, now as then: What was the point in dragging the matter for so long if they did not have the guts to see it through?

The episode has also brought to the fore differences within the BJP, more specifically between Vajpayee and the rest of the party. While Advani tacitly supported Gujarat Government, it was Vajpayee who decided to give in.

No doubt, the decision to climb down was prompted by a desire to end the stalemate in the Lok Sabha and to allay fears of 'hidden agenda' among the allies if only to avoid a repetition of 1979. But there is no gainsaying the fact that BJP's handling of the matter lacked tact and firmness.

Congress took full advantage of this, although it was wrong on all counts. Constitutionally, legally or morally, there was no justification to hold up proceedings of the Lok Sabha for several days on the non-issue of RSS. The issue that it chose to highlight and the manner it chose to press its point of view showed up what the party is really good at: Confusing and blowing up issues in pursuit of petty political gains without any regard for truth or national interest.

At the centre of the controversy was the circular of the Gujarat Government permitting its employees to participate in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It justified its decision on the ground that the RSS is a cultural organisation, that it is not banned by law and therefore there is nothing wrong if government employees voluntarily participate in its activities.

Notice that the circular only permitted the government staff to join the RSS. The Congress and even BJP's allies were reacting as if they had been ordered to do so.

In a sense, circular was redundant. In many states, government employees attend RSS shakhas in spite of the prohibitory orders. They do not wear it on their sleeves and nobody makes a fuss about it. It is true that many people active in politics have an RSS background. If that is a sufficient reason to make RSS a political body and ban government servants from joining it, they should also be barred from joining trade unions. For, union activity also is a grooming ground for political activism and many unions have unconcealed political affiliations.

Technically, the state government was on a sound footing. Under Article 309 of the Constitution, the matter falls within the purview of the state government. Therefore, as the home minister pointed out, the Union Government has no power to issue a directive asking the state government to rescind the 'objectionable' circular.

If there were any doubt about the competence of the Gujarat Government or legality of the circular, it could and would have been challenged in the court. That did not happen.

The crux of the matter, however, was political and not administrative.

Congress party, especially its leader, managed to kill several birds with the single stone of stalling parliamentary proceedings. First and foremost, Sonia Gandhi gained a much-needed diversion. Even as Congress lost heavily in the recent assembly elections in four States, the orchestrated pandemonium in the Lok Sabha ensured that her responsibility for the Congress debacle, coming closely on the heels of a similar lacklustre performance in the Lok Sabha elections, did not receive as much attention as it would have received otherwise.

She could tell her critics in the party that although a loser, she could still seize the initiative and capture the headlines and TV spotlights. The Congress could also tell minorities that they could still rely on it for 'saving' them from 'Hindu fascists.'

All this, however, came as a bonus to the main objective: Driving a wedge between the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance. That is why it insisted on a discussion under Rule 184 which permits voting rather than Rule 193 which does not. By forcing a discussion which will be followed by voting, the Congress wanted to embarrass BJP's allies: either they accept the obloquy of voting in favour of RSS or let their own government lose face in an important matter.

Parties in the ruling coalition could easily see through this ploy. Nevertheless, it worked quite well because they have different constituencies to protect. It is no secret that there are sharp ideological differences between the BJP and its allies and the latter clearly and emphatically want to distance themselves from any association with RSS and its affiliates. So, major alliance partners like TDP, DMK and Trinamool Congress expressed their reservations about the circular.

Vaiko, MDMK leader, suggested that the Prime Minister should persuade the Gujarat Government to withdraw the circular. The Jammu & Kashmir Government, headed by another ally National Conference passed a resolution to this effect.

On their part, the BJP leaders in the Central Government must relieved that the circular has been withdrawn. This is not because they love RSS any less than Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel or its minister of state for home affairs Harin Pandya. But their hands are full and they could do without any additional trouble with the opposition parties and allies.

The BJP leaders took so long to intervene because they realised that the BJP too has its constituency to protect and a surrender to the secularist lobby may not be taken kindly by the party's rank and file.

The statement of the RSS chief Rajju Bhaiya has to be seen in this context. He said the RSS was unconcerned whether the original circular of the Gujarat Government existed or not. He pointed out that the RSS did not depend on the official patronage and had not sought to rescind orders prohibiting government staff from joining the Sangh. This statement of the RSS chief, believed to have been made at the instance of top BJP leaders, was said to have provided an 'escape route' to the Gujarat Government which could now withdraw the controversial circular without loss of face. That is what it has done, after some prodding from party top brass.

The controversy has virtually ended. It is all over bar shouting. But it has highlighted some interesting aspects of public discourse in India. Notice, first of all, the intolerance of those of who accuse the RSS of being intolerant and worse. If government servants can join trade unions and student bodies with avowed political affiliations, why not RSS? The intolerance of secularist lobby to anything related to Hindutva gives lie to its liberal pretensions.

The RSS has once again paid the price of neglecting ideological warfare. Over the decades, it has concentrated on organisational work, leaving the ideological field open to its enemies. It is they who dictate the notions of political correctness.

Congress would not have been able to mount an assault like this and the BJP's allies would not have been shaken at the prospect of being seen as pro-RSS, if RSS had not become a swear word in politically respectable circles. And it became a swear word because while RSS has stuck steadfastly to its views, it has not bothered to attack and demolish the secularist notions on Indian nationalism, communalism etc.

Ironically, all that Keshubhai has really proved is that RSS men are politically innocent to a fault. RSS is not a political body, after all!

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements