Did the RSS Undermine the BJP in the 2024 General Election?

Did the RSS Undermine the BJP in the 2024 General Election?
Image Courtesy: Mid-Day
Editor’s note: According to the author, this is a version of the opinion piece he sent to Organiser, whose editors did not respond.

In a highly skewed analysis published in the Organiser (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – RSS –mouthpiece), Ratan Sarda blames the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the 2024 poll reverses and advocates introspection but absolves the RSS. Is that fair especially when it is well known that the RSS is the parent organization of the BJP and plays a role as the author admits, behind the curtain?

Let us examine Sarda’s claims:

He blames Narendra Modi/BJP for the announcement before the polls that they would win 400+ seats labeling it as “overconfidence”. However, these are normal tactics used in a war whether real or political. Tall claims are often made to demoralize the opponent. During the 1971 Bangladesh War, for example, the BBC aired the news (probably planted) that 5,000 Indian soldiers were descending on Dhaka. The panicked Pakistan army fled. In reality, only some 500 soldiers were parachuted, and the enemy could have given a tough fight but India, psychologically, overpowered the adversary by weakening its fighting spirit.

The 400+ announcement was no different but proved counterproductive – the BJP/ RSS cadre became complacent, and the opposition rallied fearing total annihilation. Why did the message meant to demoralize the opposition backfire? Were the BJP/RSS workers naïve? Could the BJP not anticipate how the cadre would understand the message? Did the RSS fail the BJP or was BJP wrong in placing trust in the RSS?

RSS: Sarda dismisses the insinuation that the RSS failed the BJP. The RSS does not directly participate in politics but works privately he asserts. If such covert activities of the RSS could catapult the BJP to power in 2014 and 2019 why they could not do so in 2024? Sarda notes that the RSS held over two million mohalla-level meetings nationwide. Was the messaging in 2024 then different than the one in the earlier two elections? Why was that? Was Narendra Modi not advancing the cause of nation-building which Sarda considers a major plank of the RSS?

Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, himself answers. He acknowledges Modi’s awe-inspiring decade-long nation-building work but emphasizes that a volunteer’s moral character (no pride or overconfidence, takes everyone along, and watches his language) matters to him more. It seems the moral mantra got precedence over nation-building which the RSS founders believed could be achieved by uniting Hindus or working for a Hindu cause. This original agenda of the RSS appears to have been sidelined by the new RSS under Bhagwat.

The new RSS, it seems, is prepared to sacrifice the Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and Yogi Adityanath trio — leaders who are widely considered the last hope for Hindus — on the altar of a self-conceived moral mantra. Many like me felt that Bhagwat’s RSS betrayed the trio as was crystal clear from their body language in the post-poll week. Their tragic face seemed to convey a “Brutus thou too” message.

Yogi Adityanath rushed to meet Mohan Bhagwat as the BJP’s biggest setback was in Uttar Pradesh.  We don’t know what transpired but one can surmise from the news that Bhagwat probably reiterated the moral mantra. If the RSS had not been involved in the reverses one way or the other, Bhagwat as the chief of the parent organization should have boosted the morale of the trio as any parent would do if the child does not do as well as expected on an exam. Modi did give a reassuring pat on the gloomy-looking Yogi’s back in the NDA meeting. Bhagwat gave moral sermons publicly rubbing salt on the BJP wound.

We would be mistaken if we believe the new RSS is for nation-building, or to further the Hindu cause; rather, it is after petty politicking and self-aggrandizement knowing fully well that its actions would hurt the very Hindu cause that the RSS founders vowed to protect. Sarda’s article is an example of the volte-face by the RSS which refused to accept any responsibility for the reverses in 2024 but appeared to be self-congratulating for Modi’s win in 2014 and 2019. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan goes an English idiom.

Contrast this with the strategies of the anti-Hindu forces (AHF). A call for vote jihad was enough to rubbish Modi’s sabka sath sabka vikas (development of all with the cooperation of all). Religious loyalty subsumed self-interest. They quickly understood that 400+ seats would make Modi even stronger. Their objective was clear – defeat Modi or diminish him. What should have been the strategy of Hindu forces? It was simple: make Modi stronger than before.  Consequently, the RSS should have rallied solidly behind Modi. The Modi-Shah-Yogi trio’s mistake was that they wrongly assumed the parent organization would always support the child. They misread the new RSS. But Hindus need to worry. If an irresponsible or feckless RSS leadership takes over it would do more harm to the Hindu cause. Interestingly, there are no checks and balances within the RSS to impeach their chief and/or replace him.

For the new RSS, the moral mantra superseded Hindu interest. Mahatma Gandhi also made the same mistake. His morality often interfered with realpolitik.  The new RSS leadership was busy settling scores with the BJP instead of ensuring a solid, strong showing by the BJP at the hustings. In so doing, it gave a big message to Hindus that their call to unite under the Bhagva Dhwaj (saffron flag) is hollow. They wiped out what Savarkar, Hedgewar, and Golwalkar have been advocating for long – subsume your caste identity under a Hindu identity. If the RSS and the BJP leadership can’t unite, what moral standing do they now have in asking Hindus splintered in various castes to forgo caste identity and unite under a Bhagva Dhwaj?

Candidate Selection: Sarda provides some good insights for the BJP top brass to ponder over. However, the Hindu side — be it the RSS or the BJP — lacked the pragmatism of the anti-Hindu forces. An instance of strategic voting in the Dhule constituency in Maharashtra provides good learning. The Hindu side was a house divided – and the blame fell on the RSS (the parental organization of the BJP). It put a moral mantra ahead of ground-level strategy.

Unreachable Netas: Sarda castigates that admitting Ajit Pawar – the Maharashtra politician – into the BJP but this is post-poll wisdom. Probably, the BJP’s strategy was to weaken the opposition. If, say, Karna left Duryodhana and joined the Pandavas would it be wise strategically to accept the offer and weaken the adversary or force Karna to remain where he was and strengthen Kaurava’s side? If the Ajit Pawar gamble had worked it would have completely dissipated the INDI-Alliance stalwart Sharad Pawar. Modi wanted to end Sharad Pawar’s control over Maharashtra politics and towards that end, every strategic move was adopted. Unfortunately, it did not work. It happens in any business. Sometimes, strategies fail but using that against Modi/BJP shows the shallowness of thought in the RSS camp.

Muslim voters obey the stand taken strategically by the religious leaders. Why did the RSS not work strategically to promote Hindu interest by assuring Narendra Modi of a resounding victory?  If the RSS wanted to fight for the Hindu cause, then it should have given a free hand to Modi/BJP and supported their political wisdom. This short-sighted leadership of the RSS will be the undoing of the BJP. Hindus have not failed the BJP, the RSS has — that is the feeling of many of us who neither belong to the BJP or the RSS but support the Hindu cause.  Special media programs by the pro-BJP YouTube channel Jaipur Dialoguesdomestic and international media, and others on the BJP-RSS rift convey a lot more than the whitewashing exercise by leaders like Ram Madhav (see here)– who is loaned by the RSS to the BJP. Interestingly, Mohan Bhagwat has not retracted his comments, and thus his criticism has emboldened anti-Hindu forces as never before.

Sarda’s other comments about communication channels, the threat of divisive politics, Artificial Intelligence, and international politics are good, and we hope they will be paid heed to by the BJP top brass. Hindus also hope that the RSS Chief will be equally responsible in his utterances in the future. His untimely interview with the Organiser about job reservation for Dalits before the Bihar Assembly elections sealed the BJP’s fate in that election. Yet, Bhagwat has not learned his lesson. Except this time, he has opened his mouth after the election.

We should, however, thank Mohan Bhagwat for ensuring a level playing field between the Congress and the BJP. He is doing for the BJP what Sam Pitroda and Mani Shankar Iyer do for the Congress. Interestingly, the Congress Party removed Pitroda – only temporarily, as we know now — and as a cosmetic action. Mohan Bhagwat is, however, like the Dhruv Tara (Pole Star) – he doesn’t have to fight elections, or face impeachment for wrongdoing. The king, it seems, can do no wrong and Bhagwat is the king of the new RSS. Hindus can only pray that the RSS leadership will acquire some wisdom and let the Modi, Shah, and Yogi trio work without interference.

The Hindu cause would be better served if Param Poojaniya Sarsanghchalak Dr. Mohan Bhagwat (the most revered RSS supremo) would pay more attention to his public utterances.

Views expressed are personal.

Milind Sathye

Milind Sathye is an Australian academic.