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March 24, 1998

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RSS tones down Hindutva, but still calls the shots

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Madhuri V Krishnan in Bangalore and Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

A Bangalore newspaper created a storm at the weekend, when it published a photograph of Union Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar in khaki knickers and sandals attending a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh conference at Chennenahalli, near Bangalore.

''There is nothing wrong in the minister spending a few hours at the conference, wearing the RSS uniform,'' RSS Sarkaryavah H V Seshadri told Rediff On The NeT. ''Ananth Kumar is very Hindutva in his expressions. He has been trained in the RSS, and we are proud of his sense of solidarity, discipline and respect for our culture. It shows his integrity and sends the right signals to anyone who has any doubts of his roots. He has never denied it either.''

In fact, Ananth Kumar told a television channel that "we are not former RSS members, we are all swayamsevaks till our last breath''.

Ananth Kumar is not the only one in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition who has strong RSS links. There are several others in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry, including Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana and Human Resource Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi.

In fact, barring newcomers like Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and senior leaders like Industry Minister Sikander Bakht and Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj, all the BJP ministers with Cabinet rank began their career with the RSS.

''As the government grows in popularity, more RSS men will join it,'' said H V Seshadri.

Will the strong RSS presence force the Vajpayee government to take some quick decisions on controversial issues like the Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura temple issues?

Unlikely. The RSS seems to have now hit a pragmatic patch. ''The atmosphere at these sites hurts the sentiments of every self-respecting Hindu. But till a national consensus is arrived at by the new government, which will not be easy due to its multiple allies, nothing can be done,'' says RSS Sarsanghchalak Professor Rajendra Singh at the end of the three-day annual conference.

''The issues cannot be pursued at present as the atmosphere is not conducive,'' he said. ''They could have been dealt with immediately if the BJP had an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.... Moreover, the hearing in the Babri mosque demolition case itself -- with more than 500 accused -- will take more than 30 years. You can imagine how long it may take for the issue to get resolved.''

He said the RSS will explore all avenues, including legislation and educating the Muslims explaining the importance of these places to the Hindus.

But Seshadri is more optimistic. ''The minute the BJP gets an absolute majority, which they will get in two-three years, the people's mandate will dictate the future couse of action,'' he said. ''And the issues will be resolved.... The BJP government is fully competent to solve all the problems. We do not have to nudge or remote control any of the leaders. After all, most of them are from the RSS.''

Remote control? But that is precisely what the RSS had done in the selection of the finance minister. Opposing the candidature of Jaswant Singh the RSS ensured the elevation of Yashwant Sinha who has been toeing the RSS-Swadeshi Jagran Manch line in matters related to economy after joining the BJP in 1991.

The RSS diktat seems to have prevailed in the case of Dr Murli Manohar Joshi too. Though he was against the low-profile human resources development portfolio, he had no choice as the RSS wanted him to 'mould the youth'.

The very fact that seven out of 11 BJP Cabinet ministers are swayamsevaks clearly indicates that the RSS would exert much influence in the government's policy decisions.

Sources said the RSS will keep a watch on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, lest the cadre gets demoralised by the government's 'unsavoury' actions and decisions.

However, a senior BJP leader said, "It will not be possible to monitor the day-to-day functioning of the government or for that matter the party. Their job would be to give broad policy guidelines and to watch from a distance."

Besides peppering its ideology with pragmatism, the RSS has now reconciled to the fact that its political front has share to power with a welter of parties. ''The fractured verdict at the Centre has several advantages,'' Professor Rajendra Singh told the conference. ''For instance, the BJP is no longer considered a political untouchable. With several regional parties flocking to the BJP front, the anti-Hindutva feelings have been neutralised. Moreover, the people's mandate proves that the masses have rejected the politically concocted maligning of the Hindutva.''

As for the Muslims, he said that it was heartening to see a positive change in their mindset. ''There are unmistakable signs of a welcome change in the Muslim intelligentsia's attitude towards Hindutva,'' he said. ''Let us hope they will overcome their fears against Hindutva and realise that it upholds the genuine interests of all communities.''

Elections '98

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