From the RSS chief’s speech it is more than evident that he is satisfied with the performance of the Narendra Modi government — but the cautionary signals are also clear.
Beyond the headline-grabbing remarks on lynching, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s customary Vijayadashami address may have disappointed many observers who were looking for a strong critique on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rather, if Bhagwat’s speech is any indication, the synergy between the ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its government has shown a greater level of consonance than hitherto.
Bhagwat’s backing for the government’s handling of the economy was sound and clear. There was also fulsome praise of those dealing with the issues, particularly Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Bhagwat did not name her — as he did in the case of Modi or home minister Amit Shah for the achievements with regards to Jammu and Kashmir — but the reference to her was clear. “…We will definitely come out of this cycle of so-called recession. The personalities leading our economy are competent enough,” Bhagwat said. Sitharaman had shared stage with Bhagwat on September 25 to release a survey on Status of Women in India by a Sangh-backed women’s body.
As BJP insiders believe, Modi and his team must be happy and relieved that Bhagwat did not rap the government for the woes still plaguing different sectors of the economy — like he did during his Vijayadashami addresses in 2017 and 2018. There was more music to ears of many Union ministers. “The government has shown sensitivity towards the issue [economic slowdown] and has taken some steps…We need to trust our government. We have taken so many steps, there will be some positive impact in the coming days,” Bhagwat said.
Bhagwat showed solidarity with the government’s understanding of the economic crisis by emphasising that “discussion over it leads to the creation of an atmosphere, which affects [people’s] conduct. Too much discussion about the so-called slowdown would make the people in business and trade believe that the economy is really slowing down and they would become more conservative in their actions. It will eventually slow the growth of our economy further.”
There appears to be better appreciation of the government’s predicaments and policies on the part of the Sangh — even on issues such as foreign direct investment (FDI) and disinvestment of public sector undertakings, which are sensitive topics for Sangh affiliates.
Bhagwat welcomed the Centre’s efforts to attract FDI and encourage privatisation by putting forward a new definition of swadeshi. “Swadeshi is someone who lives in a globalised economy but only on conditions that favour India. If something can be produced in my country, why will I buy it from any other place and thus ruin my domestic trade? …We should walk on the path of swadeshi…try to buy from the other countries but on our own terms.”
This may be read as good news for investors who are counting on the government to eventually consider a broader set of bolder, hard core reforms to liberalise the economy in greater terms.
Now it is clear that the RSS will not stand in the way of or is wary of steps that the government will take for revitalising the economy, though there are areas where it may want it to step carefully after due diligence.
That said, the Sangh’s most pronounced uneasiness is directed at the state of the education in India — its quality, content and purpose. This is, notwithstanding, the government’s attempts to study the feasibility of some RSS prescriptions for ushering in a ‘value-based’ system that will churn out more responsible, productive citizens.
Another dimension, which underpins the apprehensions of the RSS, is that the continuing threat to the stability and peace within India from inimical forces that have not accepted the changes in the country since the 2014 mandate.
Of course, one cannot miss the fact that Bhagwat patted Modi and Shah for the government’s decisions concerning Article 370. However, the RSS does not want the government to rest until it has really addressed the problems in the region.
The Sangh may be as much awestruck as the rest of the nation over Modi winning the 2019 election with a larger mandate than what it won in 2014, but, it knows that Modi faces a great challenge in transforming the country. Challenges are aplenty and pitfalls are too many.
The BJP might be politically invincible in the elections that are to be held in the near future, but still there is no room for complacency — that appears to be Bhagwat’s message to the RSS rank and file, and, of course, to the BJP.Shekhar Iyer is former senior associate editor of Hindustan Times and political editor of Deccan Herald. Views are personal.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.