The BJP’s hostage to off-the-wall masters

Courtesy : Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times  (November 13, 2010)

I  don’t know if you are fully aware of the remarks made by K. Sudarshan, the former chief of the RSS and the organisation’s father figure. The English TV channels and newspapers more or less blacked them out on the grounds of taste. Even I had difficulty piecing together exactly what the old boy had said because everybody seemed too horrified by the sheer viciousness of his remarks to repeat them. But from what I can gather, he said that Sonia Gandhi was a foreign agent, that she had some role in the deaths of her mother-in-law and her husband, and that Rajiv Gandhi had wanted to leave her. Asked by incredulous listeners what proof he had for such assertions, the Sherlock Holmes of the knicker-wearing classes solemnly elaborated: ‘circumstantial evidence’.

The outrageousness of Sudarshan’s allegations is self-evident. This isn’t just nonsense, it is filthy nonsense, the work of a sick and twisted mind. The BJP was quick to distance itself from the remarks though Tarun Vijay, a party spokesman with an RSS background, was careful to also pay tribute to Sudarshan’s great intellect (yes, seriously!).

Even the RSS was forced to issue a careful statement declaring that the views of its former chief were not the views of the Sangh though I noted that it did not condemn the remarks, dispute the allegations or say anything negative about Sudarshan himself.

At one level, Sudarshan’s statements are not that surprising. If you trawl the internet or go through Twitter, you will come across lunatics and cranks who will offer such conspiracy theories and direct the most vicious abuse and slander at anyone who is perceived to be an enemy of militant Hindutva.

But here’s the thing: Sudarshan is no ordinary crank or lunatic. For many years, he ran the RSS, easily the most powerful quasi-political body in the country. When the BJP was in office, he frequently called the shots, firing regular broadsides at Prime Minister AB Vajpayee and laying down the law for other ministers. Even now, he has the terrified respect of everybody who matters in the BJP. As senior a leader as LK Advani has never dared to publicly criticise Sudarshan and the rest of the BJP leadership quakes at the mere thought of the disapproval of the RSS.

About the only BJP leader who ever had the guts to disagree with the RSS was Vajpayee and even he started out toeing the Sangh line. For instance, when Vajpayee was about to finalise his first Cabinet, Sudarshan went to see him. He had heard, he told Vajpayee, that Jaswant Singh was going to be finance minister. When Vajpayee told him that this was true, Sudarshan duly objected.

And so, the legally-elected Prime Minister of India surrendered his authority to the boss of the RSS and quickly struck Jaswant Singh’s name off the list.

That was just one example of how powerful Sudarshan was.

Many relationships in politics are complicated. But the relationship between the RSS and the BJP is simple. As long as the BJP doesn’t stray too far from the broad policies prescribed by the RSS, the old men of Nagpur will let it be. But if there is any deviation from the Sangh line, the RSS can be brutal. When LK Advani went to Pakistan and praised MA Jinnah, the RSS demanded his head and secured Advani’s resignation as party president.

All leadership issues are finally settled by the RSS. For all of its criticisms about the lack of democracy in other parties, the BJP’s own idea of democracy is to phone Nagpur and to then appoint whoever the RSS selects. The current BJP president was chosen by the RSS. So was his predecessor. And so, I imagine, will be the case with his successor.

Because the BJP is one of our only two major national parties, the RSS’s influence on how India is run can be phenomenal. No matter how smart and cocky BJP spokesmen may appear on TV shows, the truth is that they only survive at the pleasure of a coterie of old men in Nagpur.

Given their influence, it is important to know more about the old men who run the RSS. What is their world view? What is the calibre of their intellect? And so on.

The BJP often protests that the liberal caricature of the RSS as a Muslim-hating, quasi-fascist organisation is unfair. The RSS has changed, we are told. Its leaders are now moderate and enlightened, etc., etc.

The BJP gets away with these lies because, by and large, the RSS keeps its mouth shut in public. It’s a disciplined and secretive organisation whose members are banned from speaking to the press without permission.

But every once in a while, a senior RSS leader speaks his mind (such as it is), the mask slips and we get some idea of the mentality of the old men of Nagpur.

They may or may not be Muslim-hating fascists. But, as Sudarshan’s remarks reveal, they are obsessive lunatics, complete nutters, whose minds are warped by hatred and whose grasp on reality is tenuous.

No wonder they so rarely speak out in public. If we heard them talk more often we would send for men in white coats to come and take them away.

Once you confront the true nature of the RSS, you recognise the central problem of the BJP. I do not dispute that many BJP members are bright and capable. Or that many BJP leaders are decent, honest, thoughtful people. During the BJP’s spell in government, AB Vajpayee was an impressive prime minister.

But Vajpayee had the guts and the stature to stand up to the RSS. He gave in on some issues (Jaswant Singh, for instance) but he defied the Sangh to run a modern, centrist government suited to the 21st century. Ever since Vajpayee stepped down, however, the BJP has failed to get its act together. It does a good job of disrupting Parliament but it stands for nothing new or original. Nor does it have a clear line of leadership for the new generation.

We have always suspected that these failings may have something to do with the RSS, which chooses the BJP’s leaders and guides its policies. Now that Sudarshan has shown us what he is really like, the BJP’s failures make perfect sense. If your ultimate bosses are crackpots, then your future will always be cracked.

The tragedy of Sudarshan’s remarks is not that they defame Sonia Gandhi. I doubt if Sonia Gandhi takes such an obvious nutcase seriously. The real tragedy is that the BJP has no choice but to be led by this nutcase and by others like him.

The views expressed by the author are personal.


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