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Need a favour from the government? Contact your local RSS man

Badri Narayan | Updated on: 1 July 2015, 8:23 IST

The relationship

  • Media reports suggest that there are major differences between RSS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • This is far from the truth. In reality, the two are complementary and feed into each other\'s power.
  • Mohan Bhagwat summons Amit Shah to Nagpur almost every month.
  • But the best way to understand the BJP-RSS equation is to examine it on the ground.

The ground reality

  • A participant observation of the RSS office in Allahabad shows people are approaching RSS functionaries to get work done.
  • This includes contractors and businessmen bidding for projects and professors aspiring to be vice-chancellor.
  • People find it easier to go through RSS functionaries than BJP leaders because of an agent culture.

The reason

  • RSS functionaries are becoming intermediaries between the people and the BJP government.
  • As RSS worked hard for the BJP\'s victory in 2014, they have become an important point of contact for people.

Are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at loggerheads? If certain reports in the media are to be believed, Modi has been trying to contain the RSS' influence and rein in the hate-mongers in the larger Sangh Parivar. The truth isn't so simple. The RSS and BJP are complementary to each other.

The few disagreements that the media has been citing, are completely superficial. The fact that RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat summons BJP president Amit Shah to Nagpur almost every month, shows that the BJP's umbilical cord to its parent organisation is very much intact.

Also, Modi's silence on the ghar wapsi drive or on Bhagwat's jibes at Mother Teresa, can be seen as consent. But the proper way to understand the relationship between the BJP government and the Sangh is by examining how it works on the ground.

RSS functionaries as power brokers

Our method was to study how people are approaching the RSS in order to get benefits from the BJP government. It has been a year since the Modi government was formed and we can now see that a culture of power is reaching the grassroots. By doing a participant observation of everyday life in RSS offices in Allahabad, Varanasi and Delhi we can discern the RSS' growing influence on the government.

We studied the profiles of the people who visited the RSS offices in Varanasi and Allahabad over 10 days and made some interesting observations. We found that most of the people were businessmen and traders, contractors, builders, officers, a few NGO activists, and a few professors of local universities who were aspiring to become vice-chancellors.

On the other hand the people visiting BJP offices included students and youth who want to become political leaders, agents who promised to get people's work done, and of course party workers and volunteers. In the RSS office it was easier for people to get their work done directly without going through dalals (agents). In the BJP office, access was more difficult because of the 'influential political leader' culture. The institution of agents was more dominant in BJP offices and their surroundings.

In comparison, builders, businessmen, contractors and common people found it more convenient to approach RSS functionaries.

"Sangh people have more influence on the BJP government. Here (in the Sangh office) there are no discussions on bribe or sycophancy," a visitor at a local Sangh office told one of our researchers.

"However, Sangh members will help you only if they feel assured that you are a Hindu sympathiser and that you want to associate with the Sangh. Having a relative attached to the Sangh also helps," the visitor added.

In the Allahabad district Sangh office, we observed a builder who, after talking to the district pracharak for two-three hours on Hindu culture, quietly passed him a paper while whispering something in his ear.

RSS members will help you only if they feel you are a Hindu sympathiser. Having a relative in Sangh also helps

At the office, our team members also came across a Allahabad University professor who wanted to push his case for appointment as vice-chancellor. He was aspiring for the post of VC and had come to take the blessings of the district pracharak. They were told that the professor already had the blessings of Ashok Singhal, an important RSS official.

After collecting the petitions from all the people, the district pracharak of RSS took direct action. While for some people he promptly called up local BJP leaders, for others he promised that he would forward their requests to the concerned person in the party. In a few cases, he advised the petitioners to meet particular BJP leaders at the national headquarters.

Among the people we surveyed at the Allahabad district office of the RSS over the 10 days of our study, 40% were contractors, 4.5% were builders, 3.5% were professors, 5.5% were NGO activists, and around 100 were government officers. The Sangh, which earlier denied any interference with the government, now appears to be quite willing to act as intermediaries between the BJP government and the people.

Sangh: the connection between people and government

As the RSS worked hard at the grassroots level for the BJP's victory in the 2014 elections. From booth management to transporting people to the polling booth, RSS workers were an important point of contact for many voters. As a result, people feel that they have the right to request RSS workers to intervene on their behalf if they have any problem with the BJP government.

Secondly, the Sangh is emerging as an intermediary between the BJP government and the people, bypassing the growing influence of agents and dalals in the government.

Thirdly, in popular perception, the role of RSS in the BJP's power structure is very clear. Recently, when the Vice Chancellor of a Central University was appointed, everyone commented on the role played by an important RSS leader in his selection. During the earlier BJP regime when anyone obtained an important academic post, people used to comment on the role of important BJP leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra in the appointment.

But now the role of Sangh members in any important academic appointment is discussed. Thus the people find it worth their while to cultivate RSS members in order to get ahead and get their work done.

But what is the Sangh getting in return except expanding their group of sympathisers? After the work is done how do the people express their gratitude to the Sangh and to the RSS worker who helped them? Given the secretive manner in which the RSS functions, these questions won't be easy to answer.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

First published: 1 July 2015, 8:23 IST
Badri Narayan @CatchNews

The writer is a Social Historian and Cultural Anthropologist and currently Professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad