By Amulya Ganguli
Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres burst firecrackers and beat drums to celebrate Narendra Modi’s nomination as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, it was in the quiet environs of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur where the mood must have been even more joyous.
For the first time since the BJP’s formation three decades ago, the organization of Hindu supremacists has been able to launch someone on the road to national political power who is not only a former saffron pracharak (campaigner), but also a person who is expected by the RSS to render yeomen’s service to the cause of Hindutva, or Hindu cultural nationalism.
Till now, the RSS had been prevented from achieving this objective by the reluctance of the BJP’s foremost leaders of the last 20 years – Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani – to pursue a pro-Hindu agenda. Not only that, Vajpayee even shelved the three main points of the agenda – building the Ayodhya temple, scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution granting special status to Kashmir and introducing a uniform civil code for all religious communities in India.
The RSS believes that Modi does not have the urge for moderation which always characterized Vajpayee’s conduct and later of Advani’s as well. It is not for nothing, therefore, that the RSS pushed, prodded and pummeled the BJP leadership as never before to anoint Modi.
The eagerness of the RSS did not stem from an appreciation of Modi’s development plank. The RSS is not bothered about the building of roads and bridges. Its preference for Modi dates back to the chief minister’s controversial role in the 2002 riots, which made the Hindu middle class hail him for “teaching the Muslims a lesson”.
Although Modi may have sought to divert attention from that chapter in his career by focussing on governance, both he himself and his hardcore supporters know that his USP (unique selling point) is his macho, no-nonsense personality dating from that period. This is the reason why the “Hindu hriday samrat” (king of Hindu hearts) has persistently refused to express regrets for that communal outbreak, which claimed 1,200 lives in official estimates, lest it should undermine his combative image.
As Modi faces the toughest challenge of his life, he may want to emphasize his “inclusive” outlook by pushing the riots further into the background – without apologizing for them, of course – but it is open to question whether the RSS will let him do so.
As the attempt of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to revive the temple issue (which was foiled by the U.P. government) showed, the saffron brotherhood seemed to believe that the reappearance of hardliner at the top provided an opportunity to the Hindutva warriors to return to the day of the Ayodhya agitation of the 1990s.
Instead of Advani who led the movement at the time, it is now Modi who is at the helm while the 85-year-old former ‘rath yatri’ (chariot rider), who was seen to have spearheaded the demolition of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya, is currently a forlorn figure, having failed in his attempt to forestall Modi’s crowning.
No one knows, however, how long Advani will be shunned by his party for failing to read the “popular” mood. Much will depend on how Modi handles the RSS-inspired pro-Hindu campaigns of which the VHP has given some hints.
Apart from the temple issue, the VHP has raised a battle cry against the alleged seduction of Hindu girls by Muslims youths in what the Hindu outfit has described as “love jehad”. Related to this campaign is one against beef-eating, which has made the VHP coin the slogan that the country and its women and cows will only be safe if Modi becomes the prime minister.
With friends such as these, Modi will not need enemies. But, it will take considerable tact, patience and determination on his part to defuse any possibility of a rise in the communal temperature, which is undoubtedly the last thing which the hero/villain of 2002 wants.
Unfortunately, Modi’s skills in these respects haven’t been tested. In Gujarat, he rode to power in three successive elections on the basis of pro-Hindu sentiments generated by communal tension. Although he has maintained a tight control on the situation for the last 10 years, it was in a state with which he was familiar.
Uttar Pradesh, however, is different. So, will be any other state where a drive against cow slaughter or Christian missionaries – two of the several targets of saffron storm-troopers – may create law and order problems.
Moreover, the RSS will not be amused if Modi acts or speaks against such outbreaks. After all, the head of the Sangh Parivar (the fraternity of pro-Hindu groups) couldn’t have put in so much effort to boost Modi only to have him play the moderate card a la Vajpayee and Advani.
It will not be long, therefore, before the RSS and the VHP express their approval or disapproval of Modi. If it is the former, then Modi’s reign will head towards a “disaster”, as Advani told BJP president Rajnath Singh, since it will confirm all the standard fears about Modi.
If it is the latter, then Modi will find the ground slipping from under his feet with the RSS withdrawing its cadres.
(14.09.2013 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)