Devanik Saha wonders if saffronisation of India is on the rise
The capital of any country is generally defined as a place which is the administrative centre of the country and from where important decisions concerning policy matters are taken. On February 13, 1931, then-Viceroy Lord Irwin inaugurated New Delhi as the new capital of the country and ever since, it has always served as the power center until May 16, 2014.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, headquartered in Nagpur, is touted as the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has longed for an opportunity to advance its cultural agenda. It worked extremely hard in the 2014 campaign, reaching out to the voters in vast rural hinterlands through their ground workers known as “Panna Pramukhs” and supported the BJP wholeheartedly.
Their efforts paid dividends and with 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, the BJP formed the first ever non-Congress majority government on May 16, 2014. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance formed the government in 1998 and 1999 and ruled for a full five-year-term, but (former prime minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee kept the RSS at an outlying distance and never allowed them to control the BJP and its decisions fully.
As the new BJP government began settling in and time progressed, it became clear that Modi, being a dedicated RSS pracharak, would never interfere with the Sangh’s ambitions and the RSS began to wrap various important positions and places of influence with its saffron ‘fangs’.
Appointing persons to important educational and institutional posts who swear by the RSS ideology was the topmost agenda, which it has aggressively pursued since 2014. Right from introducing religious texts and changing history books to appointing RSS ideologues in educational institutions and organisations, it is evident that ex-HRD Minister Smriti Irani accepted their demands, though it is another matter that she denied this in her own dramatic way in Parliament.
More recently, her minister of state for education, Ram Shankar Katheria recently said that 'bhagwakaran' (saffronisation) of education will definitely take place in India. He went on to say that saffronisation and 'sanghwad' (federalism) will be good for the country and is inevitable.
A senior journalist friend of mine, who reports in the education circles told me that whatever Irani may have said openly, but internally, she gave a leeway to the Sangh to advance their agenda.
Promoting ultra-Hindu nationalism and equating nationalism as support for Hindutva through the BJP have been the two major successes of the Sangh. In the past few months, I have personally witnessed several hoardings and painted walls in Delhi especially in Muslim-dominated areas such as Seelampur and Nizamuddin, advocating for ‘gau raksha’ (cow-protection) and making the cow the national animal.
Furthermore, reports of obsessions around cow urine’s magical abilities to cure ailments and even cancer, vigilante groups lynching cattle traders, repeatedly banking on the nationalistic agenda and branding almost half the country as anti-national with differing views, and promoting chanting of nationalistic slogans. In a particular case in Uttar Pradesh, the home ministry went out of the way to revoke the National Security Act slapped on a Bajrang Dal member Vivek Premi who paraded a Muslim man on the streets.
Even science hasn’t been spared and has been given religious and cultural hues. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t minced his words. In 2014, while addressing a gathering of doctors, he said “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”
In the last Indian Science Congress, a paper was presented about Lord Shiva being the greatest environmentalist ever, another paper on the medical effects of blowing of a conch shell. All this has been backed up by significant funding cuts in the research sector.
Furthermore, the appointments of Gajendra Chauhan, Pahlaj Nihalani and Chetan Chauhan indicate that sycophancy has replaced meritocracy. Recently, senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi wrote in a piece for DailyO as to how “The next frontier for the Sangh is the PSU bank director and government nominee appointments and her sources in the BJP mention that they are apprehensive that this will lead to further stress in the worsening bad loans situation.”
However, the Raghuram Rajan controversy, perhaps, was the most evident example of how far the RSS can go, at the cost of India’s international reputation. It was amply clear that his ouster may lead to investors losing some faith in India and bring down its reputation in international financial markets, but there are clear indications that the whole drama of hounding him, questioning his patriotism and eventually forcing him to resign, was backed by the RSS which hired Subramanian Swamy covertly to fight their battle openly.
Apparently, the saffron brigade wasn’t happy with Rajan speaking out of turn and commenting on political issues. This is further given credence by a recent Economic Times interview by S Gurumurthy, who is considered an RSS ideologue and is influential in Nagpur circles, wherein he questioned Rajan’s policies and talks about hiring governors who “know India well”.
He went on and tweeted: “We are rag-pickers from the dustbin of global think tanks. What they have discarded also we pick up and follow.”
The hoopla around Rajan’s resignation hadn’t even reduced when Swamy fired his next salvo at Arvind Subramanian, the chief economic advisor, eventually suspending his demand post the controversy and a negative effect on the party’s image.
All decisions of significance within the BJP are always taken in consultation with the RSS top brass but given the nature of essential policy and national decisions; clearly signify that Nagpur has replaced Delhi as the de-facto capital of India.
The recently released National Education Policy has accommodated all requests made by the RSS such as introduction of value education in schools, giving preference for teaching in mother tongues, the reversal of the no-detention policy, the promotion of Sanskrit as a living language instead of a classical one and the introduction of yoga across the educational spectrum, the Asian Age reported.
Though the electoral defeats in Delhi and Bihar were huge setbacks, but winning Assam helped them get on course for their next big ambition -- the BJP’s as well as the RSS’ -- secure a majority in the Rajya Sabha, which if achieved, will allow the RSS to push for national legislations without a hitch, a nationwide beef ban for instance.
The debate on the Uniform Civil Code has also attracted much attention. While many in the civil society advocate for gender equality and rights for Muslim women, but they fear that with RSS being the umbilical cord of the BJP, the UCC would end up being a majoritarian code being forced on women of other religions.
Last but not the least, the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week had a big RSS stamp over it. It appeared as if Modi and BJP president Amit Shah took a dip in saffron coloured waters before going to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Irani made way for Prakash Javadekar, an RSS man, to lead the HRD ministry.
It is speculated that the saffronisation agenda wasn’t taking place at a desired pace and too many controversies hurt the party’s image.
Therefore, picking Javadekar as the HRD minister would ensure more agenda based work with less noise. As many as nine of the newly-inducted 20 ministers (45 per cent) are RSS men; thereby indicating the deep influence of the Sangh in the reshuffle.
While many have argued that India should shift its capital to a more central location in the country such as Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh suggested by Lord Meghnad Desai in a piece for the Indian Express, it appears like the capital has been shifted long ago, albeit covertly and silently.
IMAGE: Volunteers of the India's Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh take part in a drill during their workers' meet. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters