In his statement, Dattatreya Hosabale played the perennial victimhood card by raising fears of “destructive and anti Bharat forces in the society” taking advantage of the current adverse situation to “create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust in the country.

By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

The recent statement by the newly-elevated Sarkaryavah (general secretary) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Dattatreya Hosabale, underscores the cessation of the ideological fountainhead’s role as the fraternity’s moral compass. In this way, it inaptly marks absolute unity within the top echelons of the Sangh Parivar.

Significantly, it also signals the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the principal emblem of the Hindu nationalistic fraternity. From a time when affiliates of the RSS would come to its defence whenever targeted by political adversaries, it is now the turn of the Nagpur-based leadership to lead the bandwagon into lending complete support to the BJP and the Union government.

In Hosabale’s statement, the BJP and government leadership were not explicitly lauded for their handling of the pandemic, possibly because this could be counterproductive in the wake of the untrammelled rise of the COVID-19 numbers. But the sarkaryavah played the perennial victimhood card by raising fears of “destructive and anti-Bharat forces in the society” taking advantage of the current adverse situation to “create an atmosphere of negativity and mistrust in the country.” Raising a bogey has long been an SOP of many, across ages and geographical territories, while coming to the aid of ineptness.

This was Hosabale’s first statement after assuming office a month ago and during this period there has been a dramatic backsliding in the COVID-19 situation and the government’s handling of the crisis. Since it was imprudent to maintain radio silence from the parivar, the newly elevated chief executive of the RSS had the unenviable task of defending the indefensible. He, in fact, chose to back the BJP and the government because it remains ideologically unswerving.

Hosabale did this by flagging threat from usual adversaries and emphasising on the role of individuals, a theme that has now run for a year in the name of Aatma Nirbhar or self-reliance. Importantly, the general secretary mentioned the “strength of society” being “enormous” although the gargantuan crisis that the nation faces, cannot be tackled without professional handling by people in government because they alone wield the institutions of the system.

The RSS prides itself for its swayamsevaks performing seva or service through the pandemic by providing food packets and assisting with medical necessities. But anyone willing to be realistic would know that such efforts are a mere drop in the ocean.

Without explaining the basis for him to hope that the current crisis will be soon overcome, the RSS leader stressed on the virtues of “maintaining patience and keeping the morale up along with self-restraint, discipline and mutual support.” From the time of its inception, the sangh had argued in favour of expecting little from the state and instead called for drawing strength from within the samaj or society.

But, this was when a colonial regime was in control of power levers and post-independence, governments were headed by antagonistic parties. This is not the case currently and a one-time swayamsevak is now the prime minister with an absolute majority in Parliament. Yet, Hosabale’s call to people to come to the aid of one another, is a pointer to the incapacity of the state to rise to the occasion.

One can empathise with Hosabale for his inability to call a spade a spade, but this also indicates the growing comfort of the RSS leadership with power politics. For the first time, the Nagpur lot can be said to be sacrificing the well-being of people — by not making demands on the governments and pointing to its failings — at the altar of ideological gains.

Throughout the pandemic period, the RSS has not flagged of the government’s shortcomings, be it last year’s migrants’ crisis or the apocalyptic situation in the country now, merely because its long-term ideological interests have addressed by the government. It is worth recalling that the controversy around the Gyanvapi mosque was opened earlier this month, well after the swiftly rising instances of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths sounded the alarm bell. In such a situation, it would benefit the BJP if the wave of anger is contained and Hosabale’s statement is an effort in this direction.

This is not the first time that Hosabale, who had to wait for several years before his widely speculated elevation became reality (Hosabale’s task is to ensure greater synergy between BJP and RSS) has taken the brief on behalf of Modi and his government. In March last year, even before the challenge stemming from the pandemic had assumed any serious proportion, he had already congratulated the Modi government for its “exemplary success” in handling the COVID-19 challenge.

Choosing words that in hindsight sound hollow, he emphasised that India had a “narrative of its own and has a unique civilizational wisdom that cannot be wished away.” Like now, last year too, Hosabale, then the joint general secretary or sah-sarkaryavah, had mentioned expectations from “society and people of the country.”

Since 2014, there has been a visible divergence in the relationship between the RSS and the BJP government combine, when compared to the state of affairs during the previous stint of the BJP led government between 1998-2004 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. At that time, the RSS leadership acted as the counter-balancing force within the fraternity, often articulating the sentiments of various affiliated organisations that are competitively engaged in various professional sectors.

But after Modi became the prime minister, it has almost appeared that the RSS leadership under Mohan Bhagwat had concluded that delivery on core socio-political issues that are central to the Hindutva campaign is of greater importance than issues that organisations like Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch rake up.

Obviously, the loss of power in 2004 for a decade rankles heavily within the brotherhood.

During this period, the RSS leadership has been visibly more at comfort with electoral politics and has veered around to the view point that political power and control over state institutions were essential for establishing hegemony and meeting with success in moulding the majority opinion in the society.

There were several occasions when the RSS chief endorsed a position or a policy already announced by Modi. Many old-timers raised eyebrows because they were of the view that the intellectual leadership vests with the RSS and not the prime minister. Last year, days after Modi unveiled his idea of Aatma-nirbhar Bharat or self-reliant India, Bhagwat endorsed Modi in totality. Expanding on his idea of self-reliance, Modi had said that the biggest lesson from the pandemic was the need to develop self-sufficiency: “Villages, at their own level, have to be self-sufficient for their basic necessities, districts at their level, states have to manage primary needs on their own and this is the way the entire nation should become self-reliant. For our needs we should never feel the need to turn to anyone, this has become absolutely necessary.”

Barely a year later, India is facing a situation where it is willing to seek the assistance of any nation to overcome government-made shortages. And, the RSS leadership has not called out these shortcomings. This underscores the alteration in the hierarchy within the Sangh Parivar.

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