Crossed Lines: Goa revolt reveals rift in BJP – RSS ties

September 10, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Goa, September 8, 2016: The revolt staged by Subhash Velingkar, the sacked RSS Goa unit sanghchalak, along with 300 of his followers on the issue of government aid to English medium schools is a first in the history of the 90-year-old organisation. The Goa unit has not only disconnected itself from the regional RSS Konkan Prant unit, but has even threatened to float a new party to fight the BJP, whom it accuses of going back on its regional language issue promise before the 2012 polls. But more serious are Velingkar’s accusations against Union defence minister and ex-Goa CM Manohar Parrikar, who he calls “a cheat” for betraying the people.

The RSS and the BJP might dismiss this as a one-off episode but the fact is that relations between the two, though smoother than during the Vajpayee period, are not without its problems. The latest episode came just two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called 80 per cent of gau rakshaks insincere ‘fakes’ and trouble-makers. It drew sharp reactions from VHP chief Pravin Togadia and then an RSS flip-flop. Togadia reminded Modi of his old days when he had extolled gau rakshaks for their role.

Significantly, RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi first came out in support of Modi, perhaps feeling the heat of Dalit anger in the wake of the notorious incident in Una, Gujarat. But when Togadia complained to the Sangh leadership, the organisation prevaricated, coming up with a statement disassociating itself from Modi’s “inappropriate” remarks about “80 per cent of gau rakshaks” while supporting his overall stand against ‘bogus’ cow vigilantism.

Finally, the RSS leadership also issued a strong advisory to its allied organisations that they refrain from speaking against the PM publicly. Says national RSS prachar pramukh Manmohan Vaidya: “Velingkar was removed as he had taken a political stand, threatening to float a party and showing black flags to BJP president Amit Shah. He broke RSS discipline. We have nothing against him if he wants to float a party. But he has to resign as an RSS office-bearer first. We support his stand on the language issue, but not his actions. The issue, however is not so big. It will be resolved shortly.”

In fact, the issue reveals some of the complex frictions-both personal and political-emerging between the RSS and the government. The roots of the controversy lie in a 1990 decision, when the Maharashtra Gomantak Party was in power, to give special aid to Konkani and Marathi medium schools. At that time, 126 English medium schools (most of them Christian institutions) switched over to Konkani almost overnight. The policy continued till 2011 when, after an alleged deal, the then Congress government led by Digambar Kamat extended the aid policy to English medium schools. Immediately, the same 126 schools switched back to English medium. This triggered an agitation by the BJP and the RSS in which Velingkar was the driving force and Parrikar his main supporter. Velingkar even floated the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch for the purpose. Their plea was that aid to schools which had switched back to English should be withdrawn in order to support Konkani and Marathi medium education. The issue became a plank for the BJP in the 2012 polls.

Nonetheless, the BJP was able to draw on a substantial Christian vote-a dividend credited to Parrikar’s political acumen and his ‘good governance’ campaign. Once in power, Parrikar, who may have felt obliged to his new constituency, began to temporise on withdrawing subsidies to English medium schools. This soon became a cause of friction with Velingkar and even after Parrikar shifted to Delhi, he pressed the issue with representations to the new CM Laxmikant Parsekar.

The Goa imbroglio isn’t an isolated incident. There is also tension between the BJP and the RSS over appointments to several prestigious public institutions where the Modi government has allowed old nominees to continue or left posts vacant, ignoring the RSS’s suggestions. These include the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the Auroville Foundation and the National SC and ST Commission.

At the ICSSR, economist Sukhdeo Thorat, a Congress appointee, remains in his post, to the great displeasure of senior RSS leaders. In the Auroville Foundation, where the chairman’s position has ministerial rank, Congress leader Dr Karan Singh continues. Even Mallika Sarabhai, a fierce critic of PM Modi, is still a member of the foundation’s governing board. In the National SC and ST Commission, P.L. Punia rules. Some of these incumbents are vocal critics of the Modi government, Punia being a particular thorn in the flesh. Meanwhile, the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Studies remains headless as does the Lalit Kala Akademi and the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies.

Many RSS leaders feel the government’s refusal to appoint their people-or at least non-Left, non-Congress figures-to head these bodies is sending very wrong signals. Says a senior Sangh parivar functionary, “We are making a mistake in the perception battle. It conveys an impression of intellectual bankruptcy.” The ICSSR, in particular, is a source of much heartburn as it is seen as a funding source to many anti-BJP-RSS think-tanks and research bodies. Even the Centre for Policy Research headed by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a frequent critic of the RSS and occasionally of PM Modi, is a beneficiary, RSS leaders point out.

Sangh leaders think that a strong RSS intellectual in charge of ICSSR will not just benefit their own research bodies but many others with a “nationalist bent”. That said, some in the Sangh acknowledge that the government has reason to be cautious. Says an RSS leader who prefers to stay anonymous, “The government is holding back because it has burnt its hands while accepting inappropriate RSS recommendations in some glaring cases.”

Indeed, the appointments of Gajendra Chauhan as Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) director and of ex-cricketer Chetan Chauhan as head of the National Institute of Fashion Technology were received with widespread derision. The appointment of Ram Bahadur Rai, a senior RSS-affiliated journalist to head the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) has also drawn flak. Many feel that Sonal Mansingh, the famous classical dancer and an outspoken RSS sympathiser, was more suited to the role.

When questioned about the significance of these rumblings over appointments, Vaidya resorts to his default reassurance: “These are small issues which will be sorted out.” Yet a course correction is on the cards for the RSS and the Modi government. For the moment, the mood of their relationship can best be described as tolerable.

– india today

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