BJP, RSS, and the upcoming election in Nagaland

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nagaland during the Hornbill Festival in 2014, there were side stories which raised curious questions. He was reported to have cancelled State dinner and cultural program. At Kisama, he also skipped the official lunch and instead chose to eat in the helicopter. What seemed like the result of a tight schedule of a Prime Minister is made curious by the fact that he gave audience to a little known organization called the Zeliangrong Heraka Association. Governor P.B Acharya had a similar experience when he visited Longleng. He sought the audience of people of a particular religious group who happened to be little known non-local shopkeepers. He had no time left for a grand program being elaborately prepared for him in the next village. The Governor himself had chosen to visit the village for which the villagers had been preparing for a week. This resulted in chaos after his departure as the angry villagers turned on the local administration to express their resentment. These incidents of little long term consequences which can be treated as permissible stray from protocol of VVIPs, however fit into a larger scheme of things. BJP and RSS relation: No more in denial It is widely spoken that BJP is the ‘political wing’ of the RSS, or that RSS is the ‘parent organization’, ‘mentor and fatherly a figure’, or ‘ideological parent’ of BJP. Both parties have acknowledged as well as denied the existence of such a relationship. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief in 2012 denied that RSS has any relation with BJP (Rediff news). Venkaiah Naidu also in 2000 said that BJP has no ‘organic link’ with RSS which was purely a social and cultural organization. But two years later, he declared, ‘We are proud of our connections with RSS’ (cited in The Wire). Bhagwat in 2017 acknowledged that the two ‘consult and exchange notes but independent in functioning’. There are multiple published reports highlighting the dependence of the BJP on the works of RSS for election results. The ‘single biggest beneath-the-surface-reason’ for the loss of NDA in 2004 election was attributed to the infighting within the RSS (The Quint). Vajpayee government had to deal with a group protesting against the neoliberal policies of the government and another (VHP) refusing to understand the limitations of the government on the Ram Temple issue. Eventually the RSS leadership did not show up for the election campaign. Modi was not only the choice of BJP but also of RSS as Prime Minister Candidate in 2014 and has openly supported him through the campaign trail. The relation is said to have been dynamic and evolving constantly. Wherever BJP win, there was the hand of the RSS; and it is said that ‘the party’s dependence on the RSS has always been present’ (elections.in). The rise of BJP in Manipur has been described as a meteoric rise. While the credit for its success in this State has been attributed to party workers in the State and North East region, a news article in The Indian Express also attributed the success to the years of silent work by RSS in the valley as well as the hill districts where Christians are majority. Over a dozen affiliate organizations of RSS have been running formal and informal education units in Manipur. RSS leaders believe that success in Manipur is ‘just the beginning of the realisation of their potential in the hill states, and more is in store’. The works of the RSS in the social sector translates to votes for BJP during elections. Although BJP retained power in Gujarat, the RSS was displeased at the narrowed margin of victory and expressed their unhappiness that their social work among tribals, fishermen and marginal farmers was not translated by the party into votes. Under Narendra Modi’s BJP government, the earlier doubts and denials of linkage between BJP and RSS were laid to rest. There was a particular incident in point which prompted NDTV to state that the two entities ‘upgraded their relationship and will no longer be secretive about their coordination’. In September 2017, there was a three days program between RSS and BJP in South Delhi where Modi’s ministers made presentations before RSS and received feedback and inputs. This was unprecedented that union ministers would have their ministries’ performances reviewed by an organization which was claimed to be a purely cultural and social organization. Prime Minister himself attended the program and reaffirmed his stance. “I am proud to be a swayamsevak”, he said. Adivasi or Vanvasi? In an article in Outlook magazine called ‘Adivasi vs Vanvasi: The Hinduization of tribals in India’ the writer describes how the Sangh Parivar tries to assimilate tribals into the Hindu fold by recasting tribals who were known as ‘Adivasi’ to ‘Vanvasi’ to suit their ideological project of making India a Hindu Rashtra. ‘Adivasi’ means the ‘first inhabitant’ and these are people who are outside the caste system and therefore are not Hindus. The article stated that traditionally, tribal and indigenous people groups have always been excluded from the mainstream Indian society and have been doubly marginalized, being outside the caste structure and further alienated from their land in the name of progress and development. This created a problem for the ‘Hindu nation’ project as there are people in India who are traditionally not Hindus. To address this problem, the term ‘Vanvasi’ which simply means ‘forest dwellers’ is used to describe such tribals and indigenous people groups. Hindustan Times quoted Rajesh Das, Sangathan Mantri (organisation secretary) of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which runs a growing network of schools, hostels and temples in the northeast as saying “We consider every tribe to be a part of Hindu or Sanatan Dharma. We consider all Vanvasis a part of this larger Dharma”. “We’ll see what happens to them [tribal identity] after 100 or 200 years,” he added. On recasting tribal and indigenous groups as Vanvasis, assimilation of any indigenous belief, religion or deity into Hinduism and Hindu pantheon becomes easy, an example in point being the relation of RSS and its affiliate organizations with Heraka in Zeliangrong areas. The VHP had been working among the non-Christian Heraka Nagas since 1960s. Arkotong Longkumer writes, “The  ideology  of  the  RSS  and  VHP  has  already  seeped  into  Heraka rhetoric  and  their  talk  is  often  peppered  with  these  nation-building bumper stickers. Phrases such as ‘all religions have truth, compassion, and love and are like streams that go into the one ocean’ or ‘invasion of foreign religion  and  foreign  culture  will  bring  total  destruction  of  Naga  society. Beware of this danger’ – are all too common”. The glorification and projection of Rani Gaidinliu as a freedom fighter, and the recent investment for multiple institutes in the area by Patanjali are all a part of this wider project of cultural and social assimilation, and religious nationalism. BJP, Ramdev and public funding of godmen While the rise and rise of Patanjali could be attributed to wise business decisions, it would have been not as easy without help of the government of the day. Huffington Post reported that Ramdev’s company has received an estimated $46 million in discounts for land acquisitions in states controlled by the BJP since Modi came to power. The largest land acquired was in Assam measuring 1200 acres and it came free of cost. In Nagpur during a stone laying ceremony for a Patanjali food processing plant, Patanjali’s Managing Director Acharya Balkrishna asked Gadkari, Union Transport Minister for a road leading to the factory. The minister replied with a smile, “This road you’re talking about, I’ve decided to make it a national highway. Once you start your work, we’ll issue a tender.” Meera Nanda in her book ‘The God Market’ noted how during the NDA government, there was a sharp increase in the use of public money to fund religious institutions to train priests, astrologers, vedic sciences. The government gave Rs. 4000 million to Ramdev, 90 acres of land to Shri Shri Ravi Shankar to set up their centres. Rajasthan government spends Rs. 26 crores every year for temple renovations and training Hindu priests. Government of Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh gifted lands to Baba Ramdev to build 2 universities. Jharkhand gifted him another 100 acres of land. Multi-million dollar Ashram of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar near Bangalore stands on government land which was leased to him for 99 years. Orissa government gifted him 200 acres of land to build a Sri Sri University of Art of Living. Meera Nanda concludes that the government is now ‘actively seeking partnerships with private sector and Hindu establishments to run schools, universities, tourist facilities, and other social services.  As a result, public funds earmarked for creating public goods are increasingly being diverted into facilitating the work of these charitable institutions which bear a distinctly Hindu traditionalist bias.’ While it is a welcome move for any organization to invest for the common good, when an Advisor of the State government said that Patanjali’s investment in Nagaland has nothing to do with religion, he forgot that this particular investor had said that he would have beheaded lakhs of people who don’t say Bharat Mata Ki Jai, if there is no law to prevent him. BJP in Nagaland: BJP sans RSS? Firstpost chronicles the rise of Hindutva in the North East in a two series news report, taking each State up for analysis. It reported that despite the effort of RSS, there has not been any major success in Nagaland. BJP has been in alliance with the government for long and has 4 legislators but the party unlike elsewhere has been on its own without the influence of RSS. This is not to say that there was or is no effort of the RSS. While it is most unlikely that any present or intending BJP candidates within the State would espouse Hindutva ideals, it is certain that on occasions, they will brush shoulders with the party’s ideological parent. BJP MPs in the parliamentary committee looking into rules regarding tobacco sales said that there is no Indian study to prove that tobacco causes cancer, and that many chain smokers do not develop cancer. Instead, cow urine can cure cancers completely. PM Modi opines that Ganesh’s head is evidence that plastic surgery was done during vedic times. BJP ministers have claimed that Aeroplane was invented in vedic age. These are not private individual beliefs but were said in their official capacities in public forums and they permeate into policies and programs of the government: beef ban, re-writing academic textbooks, yoga promotion in schools (and putting yoga under ‘charitable purpose’ thereby reducing tax associated burden) , ghar wapsi programs, observance of good governance day, etc. While BJP in Nagaland would stand on the plank of development, anti-corruptions, good governance, etc; it would be a challenging task for the State party workers to cherry-pick issues to associate with or dissociate from their national counterparts. To try to dissociate from certain elements at the State level which are organically linked at the Central level will be a tricky task. It is for the individual (candidate or voter) to decide if what unites them is more important than what divides them. BJP and NPF: ‘Natural ally’? When he was the chief minister for a brief while, Shürhozelie Liezietsu said that the ruling NPF party is ‘the natural ally of the BJP’. He said the relation goes way back to 1977. The association he suggested is on the basis of a relation with a non-congress national party for the preservation of Naga identity and carrying forward the prolonged Naga political issue towards a settlement. Not long after, he was ousted by the Governor in favor of rival NPF faction. This prompted him and his NPF to comment, ‘The haste with which he (Governor) has acted favouring the RSS-friendly dispensation should be a wake-up call to the Naga people that there are elements fiercely and furiously doing the utmost to pierce the Trishul into the heart-land of Christ’. Therefore, … Continue reading BJP, RSS, and the upcoming election in Nagaland