Did the RSS tacitly pull up Modi? Yet the RSS drinks from the same cup of power!

In that light, the words of Mohan Bhagwat signal discomfiture. But his hesitation to name Modi and call him out indicates that the RSS is caught in a trap of its own making. 

Jagdish Rattanani Jun 21, 2024
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

A lot has been written about how the speech of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur on the 2024 elections points straight to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Without condemning or even naming him, it is argued, Bhagwat has minced no words and left no doubts on his intended target. The RSS chief has noted that an election is not a war, that both sides have a point of view to be heard and that a true sevak is one who serves with maryada, and without ego. He also pointed out that issues in Manipur have been neglected for more than a year now. Who else could all these words of wisdom be directed at! With so much of it widely seen as an anti-Modi statement, the RSS has thought it fit to clarify through unnamed sources that it intended no such dressing down for the man who has now been sworn in as Prime Minister for a third time running.

There are many who will see this as a game of doublespeak by the RSS, which as the ideological parent of the BJP must take responsibility and own up for all the excesses that we have seen during the Modi era. Modi, after all, is an alum of the RSS school of thought and he is playing the drum as the RSS has taught him to, and the rest is all shadowboxing and temporary shifts of emphasis and control under the RSS umbrella. But there is also the view that there is something more to the RSS statements in recent times, particularly as they come in the wake of the electoral drubbing faced by the BJP, including losing the seat in the very constituency where the partly-built and hastily-inaugurated Ram Mandir stands today.

The elections can be the trigger for some genuine rethinking in the RSS, given that the BJP cannot think on its own as it has been reduced to a one-man operation. This then brings to the fore a tortuous dilemma that the RSS faces today: it has its agenda items fulfilled by the government of Narendra Modi, it can draw power and resources from a government that has been in absolute control for over a decade now, but it appears to detest the cult that Modi has built around himself in the process. Put differently, policies are “good” from the RSS perspective, but the person delivering them is not. 

The RSS dilemma 

The second sarsanghchalak M S Golwalkar once pointed out that “extraordinariness” of the RSS worker was precisely in the way every worker saw himself as “ordinary”. Today, the RSS must contend with a BJP prime minister who describes himself as god-sent, a non-biological avatar, a “pradhan sevak” (principal servant) who does not tire speaking of how extraordinary he is.

From the RSS perspective, that begs the simple question: is this too high a price to pay for getting your things done, or is it not? Is this the golden period of age-old RSS wishes coming true: the temple at Ayodhya, the writing down of Art. 370 that gave the special status to Jammu & Kashmir, the ban on cow slaughter across most states, the agenda of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA), the moves towards a Uniform Civil Code, the ban on triple talaq. Or are these the “gifts” of a rotten culture that has been embedded into a party that has given us the corruption seen in the electoral bonds, the capture of institutions, the slide in India’s press freedom index, the misuse of investigative agencies to break non-BJP governments and all if it amid a rising wealth and income inequality that promises to become and remain the hot debate of the nation? The ends are there for the RSS to feast on, but what about the means? Afterall, it is the stated goal of the RSS to build character among its volunteers. How does that goal sit in the age of money power, glamour marketing and the language of disgust, with words like mutton, mangalsutra and mujra used by the Prime Minister to inject vitriol into the campaign?

Gandhi told us that the means are as important as the ends. In fact, he was concerned only about means and not the ends. The clarity shines through: “They say ‘means are after all means’. I would say ‘means are after all everything’. As the means, so the end. I feel that our progress towards the goal will be in exact proportion to the purity of our means.”

Means-ends question 

The late management guru Jack Welch drew a two-by-two matrix of managers achievements (ends) and their values (means) – some deliver the results and have the values (he said promote them), others bring neither the results nor the values (sack them), some others have the values but are short on results (give them support), and the last variety, which is the most dangerous for any system – the manager who has no values but delivers the numbers, quarter after quarter. This is the most toxic one, and the suggestion is that this is the one to be sacked first and sacked fast, if the organisation is to survive, let alone thrive. Yet, this can be the most difficult decision to take when the going is good. This framework holds when the end results are valid, legitimate and agreed.

Forget for a moment that the RSS ends in themselves are contested. Yet, these narrow ends have admittedly crossed paths with the RSS’s stated means. So within its own universe and for its own structural integrity, the means-ends question is the one the RSS will have to answer. In that light, the words of Mohan Bhagwat signal discomfiture. But his hesitation to name Modi and call him out indicates that the RSS is caught in a trap of its own making. It has benefitted a lot, not to speak of the frills like new and swanky offices, the governmental positions on offer, the respectful receptions across officialdom, the clutch of SPG-like guards that move with Mohan Bhagwat these days – all of it a representation of the RSS tasting glamour and power like never before. 

You could say that Modi is drunk on power. But the BJP could turn around and say that the RSS drinks today from the same cup!

(The writer is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR, Mumbai. Views are personal. By special arrangement with The Billion Press)

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