Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan...

Even while the Congress-NCP and the media patronises Raj Thackeray, the RSS is trying to consolidate its base in the interiors, biding its time

Prabhat Sharan Mumbai

There are wasps - Braconidae and Ichneumonidae - that lay their eggs on or inside living creatures like caterpillars, aphids and spiders. During the laying of the eggs, the wasps inject a toxin into their victims, paralysing them. After the eggs hatch the larvae feed on the living prey, consuming the non-vital parts like fat and digestive organs in the first phase, keeping the vital organs like heart and central nervous system for the last so as to prolong the time for keeping the food fresh. Hawkins RE ed, Encyclopedia of Indian Natural History, Oxford University Press, 1986


This predatory culture observed in "lower creatures" has been refined and adopted to a high degree by the well-oiled hate machine of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its various fronts, which, in its seven decade long history, has sought to devour all other cultures and civilisations in the Indian sub-continent under the political philosophy termed Hindutva. As AG Noorani says, "(Hindutva) has nothing to do with religion and Savarkar... had little time for religion or philosophy. He (Savarkar) was engaged in a political enterprise and used history in the service of his politics of hate."  (Savarkar and Hindutva, The Godse Connection; Preface; Leftword Books 2002.)

Going by its political ambition, the RSS, in recent times, despite the overt estrangement with the BJP, its political wing, has realised that the latter is in utmost need of a rejuvenating tonic for survival. More so, the RSS, which saw phenomenal growth of its shakhas in the late 1970s -- a rise from 6,000 to 51,201, has been declining. In the last five to seven years, the trajectory is pointing down not just across the country but also in Maharashtra, its original birth-ground. In 2006-07, the number of shakhas came down to 44,417 and this obviously was a wake up alarm sending survival shivers in the organisation which prided itself for its ‘hydra-headed nature' .

With elections round the corner next year and BJP floundering and flogging the same dead horse, the RSS think-tank is desperately trying to come out of its moribund strategic islands in Maharashtra. The organisation, claiming to be a cultural body, in a bid to recapture its losing ground, is in the throes of churning out a plethora of front organisations to espouse a rabid Right-wing ideology in its typical style- calculated political ambiguity.

Says Manoj Mehta,   RSS-watcher and Mumbai city secretary to political maverick Subramnaiam Swamy: "The think-tank at sangh -the head of all its various organisations - is extremely perturbed over the waning of influence which had reached its peak in the late 1980s and 90s." "For the past three to four years, serious thinking is on as to how to get out of this stagnating bind which is corroding its base including among the trading class," Mehta adds.

The RSS always thrived as the highest organisation with its arms or fronts reaching out among the masses. However, of late, a sense of despondency has gripped the RSS think-tank and it seems a massive re-structuring is in progress. The think-tank, which, unlike its political arm BJP, had always focused on micro-level politics, trying to influence social and political life simultaneously, is now desperately trying to consolidate itself in the hinterland, rather than in the urban areas.

According to Daya Kishan Joshi, Editor, Jan Samachar, a Hindi fortnightly, the list of their front organisations which used to focus on small towns and semi-urban areas, is endless, "and if you look at their area of influence then it is certainly the semi-urban youths. In major metros, you will find shakhas operating only in the lower middle class areas and that also sparsely. It is precisely for this reason you find that the RSS is desperately trying to rake up issues in areas like Orissa - the recent attacks on Christian minorities, or in Konkan again attacking Christian minorities, or the Amarnath issue.  This is also called money-order politics. Once played out by Shiv Sena in the Konkan region, it is now being played out adroitly by the RSS. In all these agitations and controversies, the issue is raked up in such a way, so as to create a polarisation among communities. This also helps parties like the MNCs."

VHP's full-time worker and ‘zilla mantri' (Ghatkopar-North-East Mumbai), Naval Kishore Puranik, hesitantly admits that the RSS is "worried over its fading base" in the state.  "Earlier we had organisations like Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram which was and still is doing good job in organising the tribals, but this was not enough. Today we have a host of organisations concentrating on tribal and poorer sections. In Maharashtra, we have organisations fanning across the length and breadth of the state. We are constructing hospitals, libraries, opening food centres in drought prone areas. Our focus is currently on the poorer sections of society irrespective of their caste or tribe. After all, their ancestry is from here irrespective of their faith and beliefs."

Rakshit Sonawane, Chief of Bureau (Mumbai), Indian Express, who has been reporting on socio-political developments in Maharashtra for over 20 years, disagrees with Puranik. He argues: "The real reason behind the focusing on hinterlands and interiors is primarily because the RSS earlier was run by upper caste Brahmins. But today the off-springs of  RSS loyalists have left the shores in search of better pastures in Europe and the US. The upper castes which used to be brainwashed by the RSS, does not like to overtly associate itself with the Sangh these days.  Moreover, the RSS has always had a penchant for instigating violence among various communities, and the cadres who can be used for violence and vandalising come from the cauldron of lower classes or OBCs. Today, the RSS is targeting the lumpen elements and one can see how effectively they are using it. Be it in Orissa or in Gujarat. "

Taking the argument further, Sonawane says that one of the reasons that the RSS is currently not focusing on major metros like Mumbai, for example, is because the city, "already has a rabid Right wing hardliner in the form of Raj Thackeray. The newly-formed Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader's vitriolic utterances are quietly ignored by the ruling Congress-NCP combine so as to cut the Shiv Sena support base for its local political reasons. And the media, also infiltrated by RSS sympathisers, deliberately props up non-issues raked up by
Raj Thackeray."

According to Vinod Raghavan, a former activist of the Yuvak Kranti Dal and News Coordinator, TTI (Mumbai bureau): "Raj Thackeray overtly comes out as an aggressive leader and despite all his media-grabbing antics, the RSS sees in him as a replacement for the aging Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. His mindset is that of a rabid Right-winger who spews venom just like his uncle. And it's a strange twist of irony that in the 1960s, the Shiv Sena was nurtured by the Congress and industrialists to finish the communist trade unions in Mumbai, and today it is the same Congress and the same industrialist class which is helping the MNS to deflect the anger of fast growing number of homeless and unemployed Mumbaikars, seducing them on non-issues and against illusory enemies."

Indeed, the RSS knows that in the days to come in Maharashtra, even if Shiv Sena fades into political oblivion, for the BJP there will always be hidden and visible support. It's just a matter of time when the media-created Mr Spitfire Thackeray starts consolidating his hate ideology. And then, the tacit and overt alliances of the Hindutva fronts will shift.