In April last year, at the peak of the election campaign, I spent an edifying morning following a group of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activists straight from their morning shakha (some still in khaki shorts) as they went door to door in Muzaffarnagar town. The group was constituted of a mix of all the main Sangh Parivar organisations - the RSS, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, even the odd Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker. Their slogans ranged from "Hindu Hindu bhai-bhai" and "Vande Mataram", to "Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar". The personal pitch to potential voters was equally, if not more direct, along the lines of: "the time has come when Hindus need to unite. Modi is the man for the job" - a message that seemed to blithely ignore the BJP's official rhetoric of a non-sectarian campaign built around the promise of better governance. Later, when they broke for tea, I asked them if they would have campaigned with as much enthusiasm for any other BJP leader. The answer was an emphatic "no". Modi, they said, was the only one who understood the "pain of Hindus" and could remedy it.
I recall this encounter every time I read a lament from this regime's cheerleaders, some of whom have taken to complaining about how Hindutva extremist views (and agendas) threaten to dent a mandate built solely around the BJP's assertion of - and voters' demands for - better governance. To begin with, it seems acutely delusional to thus reduce the multi-layered campaign and mandate of this election - especially when it has its core as complex a figure as Narendra Modi, who can be, to his core support base and perhaps even to a wider section of voters, both governance messiah and unabashed majoritarian without any contradiction.
Which is obviously not to deny the possibility that there may have been many, many Indians who voted for the BJP because they saw Modi solely as an effective administrator (or simply because they wanted a change of regime). But it is safe to say that the RSS' unprecedented participation in the BJP's campaign was not driven solely by excitement over the high rate of MoUs signed during Vibrant Gujarat Summits. It is equally safe to say - contrary to the (faux?) surprise of some of his recent admirers - that it is for these very reasons that the Sangh believes the verdict of 2014, unlike 1999, is a mandate not only for better delivery of bijli-sadak-paani but also for the closest approximation of the fantasy of Hindu Rashtra.
During the campaign, the BJP brass would brush aside questions about managing the expectations of the RSS should the party win. If the party had a plan in place to handle quid pro quo, the current imbroglio created by an assertive Sangh doesn't seem to suggest it. It could be argued that some of the manifestations of the payback - appointments of Parivar loyalists, the entry of the RSS into policy consultations and so on - are inevitable consequences of a change in regime, politically as well as ideologically, and taking place with the BJP's sanction though with a greater vigour compared to the Vajpayee years.
But it is the other dimension of the general "this is our time" mood amongst the Hindutva parivar - the spate of publicised conversions (or "reconversions", as the Sangh prefers to think), the crudely communal speeches - which appears, at least on the surface, to have rattled the government. As well as its supporters-turned-disillusioned sceptics. Others with a less charitable view find the BJP's nonplussed air at the turn of events entirely manufactured. The jury is out (and at least on the internet will always remain out) on whether the current ratcheting up of the communal temperature is a BJP-RSS grand design, or stems from a narrative that is no longer entirely in the control of the ruling dispensation.
What is, however, noteworthy is the misleading characterisation of those responsible for the growing noise as "foot soldiers", "hotheads" and "fringe elements". The reality quite simply is that, with victory in hand, the relative restraint demonstrated by the higher tiers of the Sangh Parivar during the election campaign can be - and has been - abandoned. There is no better example of this than the RSS chief's incendiary speech where he described Muslim and Christians as "stolen goods" that needed to be returned to the Hindu fold. It contained the clearest articulation of how the RSS interprets the 2014 mandate: "Ab Hindu samaj jag gaya hai" ("now Hindu society has awoken"). Mohan Bhagwat didn't spell out the "ab", the now, he referred to. He didn't need to.
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