Skin off the BJP’s nose

It’s a forgotten memory from the not-so distant past but with the RSS much in the news today in its bid to clean up the BJP and give the party new direction, I suddenly recalled their door-to-door campaign in Maharashtra nearly a decade ago (November 2000 to be precise).I worked for the Outlook at the time and my editor had asked me to infiltrate homes where the RSS might come calling. “Just sit there quietly when the pracharaks arrive without letting them know you are a reporter. See how it goes. Should make for some interesting insights.’’

Since this was Pune where the campaign was to be launched and I had few friends in that city who might let the RSS indoors, I knew that would be a tough act to accomplish. So I did the next best thing – I went across to the RSS office in Pune and asked them if I could tail their pracharaks through the day. “We will not let anybody know we are journalists,’’ I and my photographer said. “Let them think we are just your workers. That way we could get some genuine reactions.’’

They were only too delighted but that delight turned into dismay and chagrin as well as a good deal of sheepishness at the end of the day when they realised that the reactions had been too genuine and heartfelt for their own good. For, they had been made most unwelcome in homes they considered RSS to the core.  On the other hand, non-RSS homes afforded them a reluctant welcome nd gave them a patient hearing. Read Hindutva Unlearnt

The entire episode taught me a very crucial fact of life: that the harshest criticism, where there is no motive in sight, will indeed always come from people you consider your own. Because, perhaps, they are the ones who care. And those who are either diplomatic or go to lengths to guard your sensibilities should not be much relied upon. Because they do not care, one way or the other.

So perhaps it is just in the scheme of things that the RSS should now take it upon itself to clean the BJP stables. But I notice that all its shortfalls listed by its own supporters from a decade ago remain – their uniform is still outdated, their salute is still inspired by Hitler’s Brown Shirts and they are still not moving `with the speed of light’ as one of their critics had then advised them to do in order to catch up with the 21st century.

I think that is why the BJP is in so much trouble, “in danger of becoming irrelevant and marginalised’’ to quote that critic again just like the RSS was before it infused some new blood in the form of the young persona of Mohan Bhagwat.

He is doing everything that RSS sarsanghchalaks have shied away from in the past and he is making no bones about the fact that he means business. It is an indication of the fact that the RSS is queasy no longer about its political ambitions and if my good friend Nitin Gadkari does become president of the BJP, he will have the uphill task of weaning back those youngsters who had definitely moved away from the blood-and gore-politics of the BJP in the past half-decade or so.

For, it is very clear that the last Lok Sabha campaign in May 2009 did nothing for the BJP. I have loads of friends whose parents/grandparents have been consistent BJP voters in the past. Their children, though exposed to those home influences, I noticed, were clear about their “fundas’’ in life.

In a post-recessionary India at the time, when memories of job losses in several sectors were still fresh in their minds, one young boy from a family which had never voted anything but the BJP, told us, “I would rather have money in my wallet than blood on my street.’’

“Whatever do you mean by that?’’ I had queried.

His reply was very enlightening and one of the reasons why I knew that the UPA would win the polls long before LK Advani even began to realise he was facing defeat on counting day. Dr Manmohan Singh represented money to these youngsters and Advani, the possibility of communal disharmony and violence that might disrupt the smooth running of businesses and so the inflow of money.

Which was not unlike what one of those women had said to the RSS pracharaks a decade ago, “You don’t want us to use soaps manufactured by multinationals. Never mind that what you recommend is full of lye and peels our skin off! Its my skin! So why should I use your soap?’’

That disenchantment with the RSS then has turned into disenchantment with the BJP today. And that really seems a lot of skin off the BJP’s nose, doesn’t it?

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