Not just a Parivar matter: why ministers trooping to RSS meet is worrying
- PM Narendra Modi says the RSS gave them guidance
- RSS says they discussed the economy, national security, education
- Opposition parties say the meet proves the government is run by RSS
- Critics say the ministers\' participation \'is completely extra-constitutional\'
- Modi should explain to citizens who\'s running India - BJP or RSS
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's three-day "Samanvay Baithak" in Delhi was an exercise in deliberate ambiguity.
It officially maintained that the meeting wasn't called to seek accountability from the NDA government or review its performance, but the optics on display indicated otherwise.
The event was a conclave of 15 organisations that operate under the umbrella of the RSS, presided over by its chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Before the conclave began, RSS spokesman Manmohan Vaidya had told reporters that its objective was to get inputs and discuss issues, not to review the functioning of the government or take decisions.
Yet, over the past three days, nearly a dozen senior ministers trooped to the meet and reportedly gave presentations on their work. They included Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Nitin Gadkari, JP Nadda, Radha Mohan Singh, Smriti Irani and Ananth Kumar.
The issues discussed, according to Vaidya, were the "economic scenario of Bharat, measures to improve growth and development, national security and national educational scenario".
The question is: should ministers be discussing such sensitive issues with a self-proclaimed socio-cultural organisation?
Are ministers Swayamsevaks?
Certainly not, say opposition parties, activists and political analysts. And for more than one reason.
According to Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, ministers giving presentations to "non-elected shenanigans (sic) of a supposedly non-political organisation" and getting appraised by it is a "grave travesty of democracy".
And it confirms, he added, that a "constitutionally-elected government is reporting to and taking orders from an extra-constitutional organisation that does not believe in India as defined by the constitution".
He reminded the BJP that the country has not voted for the RSS and advised the prime minister "to realise that his reporting, appraisal and accountability lies with the people of India".
In a series of tweets, AAP spokesperson Ashutosh said the "RSS' review meeting" with the Narendra Modi government was "a fit case for imposing ban on the RSS as the organisation has violated the promise given to Sardar Patel in 1949".
PM must realise that his appraisal and accountability lies with the people, not RSS, says Congress
The RSS was banned following Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948. The ban was lifted, according to Ashutosh, "when the organisation promised Patel that it will not indulge in politics".
The RSS hasn't helped its case by admitting links with the government. Speaking to reporters at the end of the conclave, the Sangh's joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale referred to the ministers as "our swayamsevaks who are holding the reins of the country".
He, however, asserted that like every citizen and organisation such as FICCI, CII, the Sangh has the right to meet ministers and discuss the country's issues with them.
His master's voice?
This is not the first time the RSS has held such a conclave. But, as Hosabale admitted, Delhi, the seat of the government, was chosen as the venue for the first time.
That's not all. At his press briefing before the meeting, Vaidya had preempted the inevitable question. You all will be wondering whether the prime minister will attend? he told the reporters.
It's better ministers attend an RSS meet openly than go to Nagpur secretly, says Prof Ashwini Ray
"Yes, he will," Vaidya answered himself, "but as per his convenience".
It almost sounded like Vaidya showing off that the Sangh had the power to summon the prime minister himself.
Modi did eventually attend the meeting, where he said the Sangh offered them (government) guidance. He added that everyone will have to work together so that initiatives taken by his government reach out to people on the ground.
This, analysts point out, isn't as innocent as it sounds.
Writer and political commentator Purushottam Agarwal said the problem is that even though everybody knows the BJP is an arm of the RSS, the two never admit to the relationship.
"I have never before seen the entire government going to an organisation and giving its full report," Agarwal said, adding it was time the RSS and the BJP openly admitted their political relationship.
Whose agenda is it anyway?
Another commentator, Dilip Simeon, called the ministers' participation in the conclave "completely extra-constitutional". "The RSS is an NGO," Simeon said, "What business does an NGO have summoning ministers in the Union cabinet?"
He added, "It is deceitful of the RSS to compare itself to FICCI and CII, rather than the National Advisory Council to which they had strenuously objected."
"Neither FICCI nor CII exercise ideological control over the government and maintain a vast cadre of political activists. None of them can summon the entire cabinet for discussions."
"Indian citizens are entitled to inquire whether they elected the BJP or the RSS to govern the country," Simeon said, "The RSS is functioning as an extra-constitutional authority. Modi did not tell his prospective voters in 2014 that he would give the RSS informal entry into the government."
Prof Ashwini Ray, Professor Emeritus at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the RSS has always been the BJP's mentor and had the power to "advise, encourage and warn" the party.
Therefore, he added, the ministers attending an RSS meet openly in Delhi is better than them going to Nagpur secretly, which they would have done in any case.
The nature of the relationship between the BJP and the RSS has always been shrouded in ambiguity.
While the RSS admits that BJP leaders are its members and the latter vow allegiance to their ideological fount, neither admits that the Sangh dictates the party's political agenda.
But whatever the relationship, the key question is this: should ties between individuals and an organisation they are affiliated to, other than their political party, stand if when they are elected to constitutional positions?
Particularly when the organisation is as powerful and influential as the RSS?