Is the Modi-RSS combine the perfect couple?
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi being seen as the leader to take India to the next level of development and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, with its grass roots support and ever growing network of shakhas, seem to have stumbled upon the perfect combination to ensure not only a political rise but ensuring a footing in the country's political sphere that will last for the foreseeable future.
A Chinese scholar, Mao Keji, who specialises in Sino-India relations also seems to think so. He has pointed to the bonhomie between the prime minister and the RSS, saying that Modi's focus on development rather than on policies such as increasing reservation, which the group is highly opposed to, has solidified not only their relationship but also the support they enjoy among the rising middle and upper class of India.
Such an analysis does raise a very legitimate point and would be unfair to ignore. Though the reason the Chinese scholar has focused on holds true, the real reason of the relation between the two has something more basic at its core which has provided the impetus for both parties to come together. It is a situation where neither of the two would be where they are today without the other.
Modi brought legitimacy to the RSS
The RSS, which describes itself as a cultural organisation, has been involved in controversies since its inception. These include the role of its leaders in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, spreading of communal tensions through the part it played in acts such as the Babri Masjid demolition in the state of Uttar Pradesh among others, some of which have seen it banned thrice in independent India.
Though its stand on controversial issues till date and the role it has played in movements might give it a hardcore following in the country. It was only after the formation of the BJP, which has its roots in the organisation, that it first got a visible presence in national politics in 1990's. But for all its efforts it was unable to ascertain its foothold during the BJP's first full tenure at the centre during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee's NDA government from 1999 to 2004.
It was the rise of the BJP under the leadership of Modi that the RSS finally found what it had been searching for since spreading its roots through India; Legitimacy.
As the BJP came to power under Modi's leadership with a thumping majority, it was considered as much a victory of the leader as it was for the RSS. It was seen as a sign of the acceptance of the organisation into the mainstream of the country's narrative and the role it would play in deciding the policies of the country. Such an involvement can be seen from the presence of RSS representatives on debates on news channels no matter what the issue.
Though it has always had a following of committed workers given its sometimes controversial stance on various issues like reservation brought in by the Mandal commission or the Babri masjid. It was the acceptance and the normalisation of its existence, among the general public that may not agree with its extreme views on issues such as religion, or what role it played in the independence movement for example, that it had hoped for. And this what Modi's victory seems to have brought it.
Further, the organisation has realised that the changes it wants to bring to the country in terms of what is taught in schools, or the push for glorifying the Hindu way of life, can only be achieved with backing of the government. An example of this can be seen in the changes the RSS has successfully pushed through in terms of syllabus changes in BJP ruled states.
Modi of 2014 would not exist without the RSS
The fact that the prime minister started his journey in politics from the bottom ranks of the RSS is no secret. He was part of the organisation in his home state of Gujarat and eventually rose up the ranks to become a pracharak, a regional organiser, and then going on to play a role in the BJP which the RSS assigns its senior pracharaks as a conduit between them.
Then climbing up the ladder to become the BJP's chief minister in the state of Gujarat and finally becoming the prime minster of India. While still in the RSS, Modi did not always see eye to eye with other leaders of the organisation. In particular due to his political ambitions and refusal to play by the strict rules of the RSS where a leader taking centre stage instead of a strict adherence to the organisation's way of working and focusing on it.
Barring such instances, the importance of the RSS in an attempt to first becoming the chief minister and later the leader of the country was never lost on the leader. As achieving a majority on its own without the active role through the movement of the organisational machinery would not have been possible. And it was this support that he tapped into for a push to gain a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The backing of the RSS and its hardcore followers were essential to gain the numbers that the BJP did, as Modi's pitch on development through his 'Gujarat model,' without the backing of the core base of the RSS that not only voted for him, but also helped spread the pitch of development that he was making through the vast voter mobilisation exercise that the organisation is famous for.
And such a realisation of the importance of the RSS by him can be seen from certain appointments that the government has made, not only in different institutions but also as heads of ministries and states, which could be considered in line with the thinking of the RSS.
Where do they go from here?
Though so far the couple has had a relationship that has been mutually beneficial, things can very suddenly change as circumstances do. And this could take place very quickly if the reasons that helped them get together become the cause of difference.
The advantage of having different sets of following and bringing them together for the elections was the high point, and the same reasons can also lead to clashes as the demands of both sections can also be contradictory to each other. Such a situation can lead to issues developing which can only be solved by one side backing down, a quality that both the prime minister and the RSS are not well known for.
While it was clear that before the Lok Sabha election it was Modi who needed the RSS more, now with the growing stature of Modi as the country's leader which can be seen from the election results following 2014, the balance of power seems to be tilting towards the prime minister.
Modi's ever growing appeal among the people, from rural to the urban voter, and his having to take certain decisions based on real political consideration even if they are contrary to RSS's liking, the equation between the two does not seem to be what it once was. Steps such as labour reforms that are considered essential towards Modi's development push, and fissures between the BJP and its allies like the Shiv Sena have not gone down well with the RSS.
But with the rise in the support of the prime minister and his second win in 2019 almost guaranteed, barring an exceptional sequence of events which cause an upheval in the present political reality, if the arrangement turns sour, which side would come out stronger is not very hard to imagine.
For the time being though, things seem to be in a position where both sides seem to be benefiting equally with the relationship and lessons learnt from it have been kept in mind in order to keep the smaller fissures from creating a permanent divide between them.