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By distancing self from 'Congress-mukt Bharat' slogan is RSS preparing for a post-Modi order?

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 2 April 2018, 18:20 IST

It has taken Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a full election cycle to distance itself from a slogan that has been at the core of the Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJP) strategy right from 2013. Coming as it does at a time when the shadow of the next Lok Sabha polls is looming large, the timing of the latest statement by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is pregnant with implications.

Speaking at an event in Pune, Bhagwat reportedly said phrases like Congress-mukt Bharat are “political slogans” and are “not in the parlance of the RSS”.

He also elaborated that the slogan smacked of “political discrimination” and the Sangh never uses “the language of excluding anyone”. Bhagwat's pitch for political inclusion is likely to have been received with much surprise in the Sangh Parivar's own political circle.

It was in 2013 that the BJP's then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi coined the slogan “Congress-mukt Bharat”. The Congress was the route of all evils in the country and therefore to uproot it was the need of the hour, he said at one of his election rallies, in Pune, in July 2013.

Modi went on to reiterate the slogan in several subsequent speeches and it eventually became a part of the lexicon of all BJP leaders.

The PM still stands by it and used it once again as recently as in February, in Parliament. Bhagwat's attempt to distance RSS from a slogan Modi holds dear is therefore a significant moment.

It indicates, at the very least, that RSS and the BJP are not on the same page in terms of a key political strategy. The slogan has always been slammed by political leaders as well as analysts, because it betrays an unusually vindictive campaign.

India's political arena is a hotly-contested space, with three dozen parties represented in the Lok Sabha. Many more exist at local levels and many others are registered with the Election Commission, fighting for recognition and space. Parties vie with each other, criticise, attack and try to demolish each other's campaigns. However, seldom do they wish for the annihilation of the rival.

Most of them realise that the existence of a rival fuels their own existence and spread. Non-Congressism is an old concept but even that campaign did not call for the end of the Congress party. The Congress too has never expressed a desire to see the end of a rival party. This was possibly the first time that an openly exclusionist campaign was carried out. Notably, RSS didn't intervene so far and has decided to speak at a time only when several indications of a weakening of the BJP's and Modi's grasp on the national consciousness since 2014 are appearing.
The BJP lost three critical Lok Sabha bye-polls; the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) just lost one of its oldest constituents (Telugu Desham Party); another ally is breathing down its neck (Shiv Sena) and two others are openly flirting with the Opposition (Lok Janashakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party).
The government's failure in timely appealing for a review of the Supreme Court's order amending the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Cruelty) Act has led to massive protests against the BJP. The all-India shutdown called by several Dalit organisations created unprecedented pressure on the government. At an event connected with the bandh in New Delhi, a Dalit member of Parliament from the BJP was not allowed to speak and was hounded out of the venue.
What could possibly be the motivation behind the RSS adding another pressure point on the BJP in such circumstances? Could it be that the RSS is smelling a decline in the fortunes of the BJP under Modi and is preparing for a post-Modi order? Only Bhagwat can clarify further.

First published: 2 April 2018, 18:20 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.