A bizarre political spectacle took place in Delhi this week that no amount of sophistry can square with the principles of a modern democratic republic.
A ‘cultural’ organization known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh held a conclave for which it summoned top ministers of the Narendra Modi government to present themselves and provide an account of the official work they have been doing over the past 15 months. Among those who turned up were the Prime Minister himself, as well as the Defense Minister and the Home Minister.
This axis between the government and the RSS is unhealthy for the obvious reason that it represents a classic case of what con artists call ‘bait and switch’.
Millions of men and women, especially the young, voted in 2014 for Modi and his promises of development and not for a shadowy, all-male, all-Hindu organization that has never presented itself for election in the 90-odd years it has been in existence. Modi asked for votes in the name of vikas and not in the name of Hindutva, but the RSS clearly has a lot more on its mind.
Voters are entitled to ask who these secretive little men are who appear to be wielding so much clout from behind the scenes. What is the extent of their hold over the government? What is the nature of the remote control they clasp so firmly in their hands? What is the agenda they want the government to pursue?
During the Manmohan Singh period, the Bharatiya Janata Party went to town over the “extra-constitutional” authority Congress president Sonia Gandhi wielded in the United Progressive Alliance government. They attacked her hand-picked team of associates – the National Advisory Council – for involving itself in matters of policy. The NAC was at least established through an executive order. Where does the RSS draw its sanction from? The September 3-4 forum is arguably the most visible association between the government and the Sangh Parivar we have seen to date but we know from the functioning of various ministers and ministries that RSS functionaries are “consulted” on an almost continuous basis.
What makes this axis especially problematic is not just its extra-constitutionality but the sheer incompatibility of the RSS and its ideology with a democratic, inclusive polity and society.
Consider the following, for example. The RSS organ, Organiser, carries an article this week on the census and religion by Pravin Togadia, the working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The article is vicious and poisonous – even by the toxic standards of the Organiser. Togadia indulges in the usual fear-mongering about Hindus going extinct if urgent steps are not taken to curb the growth of the Muslim population in India. (That this is utter rubbish has been well demonstrated here, here and here.) Among the steps he proposes to fight this so-called ‘population jihad’ is to ban Muslims from having more than two children:
“[The government] must also implement the two-children norm irrespective of the political pressures. Rather than subsidising each birth of a Muslim kid, it is must that after two children, there has to be the strictest curb. Perhaps a punishable criminal offence and stopping the ration, jobs, educational facilities will streamline the population facilitation towards better development.”
What Togadia is advocating through the pages of the RSS newspaper – the imposition of “measures intended to prevent births within [a national, ethnical, racial or religious] group” – is nothing less than an act of genocide as per Article 2(c) of the Genocide Convention, to which India is a signatory.
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Siddharth Varadarajan is a Founding Editor of The Wire. He was earlier the Editor of The Hindu and is a recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award for Journalist of the Year. He has taught Economics at New York University and Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, besides working at the Times of India and the Center for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University.