The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has given its guarded approval to Narendra Modi’s criticism of the cow vigilantes.
Notwithstanding the caveat that Modi should not have said that 80 per cent of the “gau rakshaks” were fake, the endorsement marks a giant leap forward for the Hindu supremacist organisation since its note of consent can be interpreted as the sanctioning of a “pseudo-secular” position vis-a-vis the holy cow.
Indeed, this is exactly how one of its affiliates, the more virulent Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has seen it, for it has said that Modi will pay for his stance in 2019.
Another saffron outfit, which is not a part of the Sangh parivar, the Hindu Mahasabha, has accused Modi of becoming a “carbon copy” of the Congress.
How the fratricidal bickering pans out over the weeks and months will be a matter of interest to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s friends and foes.
But two aspects of this development involving the vigilantes are clear. The most crucial is that the BJP hasn’t faced a threat of this magnitude earlier. Moreover, the danger is from within and not from the opposition although the latter will gleefully watch the BJP’s discomfiture.
If the BJP did not suffer a serious rupture after the Babri masjid demolition, it may do so now because Modi is taking a position which runs counter to one of the saffron camp’s basic tenets such as reverence for the cow.
By calling the gau rakshaks anti-social, Modi has touched a raw nerve where the parivar is concerned. Little wonder that the VHP’s vice-president in Uttar Pradesh, Sunil Parashar, has said that “Modi’s statement is an insult to all those who have sacrificed their lives for cow protection”.
If Modi adheres to this line, it can lead to a major shake-up of the parivar’s ideology, moving it into the 21st century from its medieval moorings.
As the Hindu Mahasabha has said, Modi has “gone back on everything from Ram temple to abrogating Article 370 and is now turning his back on cows”.
Since the Mahasabha, which is on the fringe of the Hindu right, does not have to follow the politically convenient line of the RSS, it can afford to be more blunt.
It has long been felt by some in the saffron brotherhood that the BJP can model itself on the Christian Democratic parties of Europe, which are right-wing and conservative, but not fascistic.
It is the element of fascism in the BJP, with its animosity towards the Muslims and Brahminical disdain towards the Dalits, which kept it on the sidelines of Indian politics till the 1990s.
It would have remained there but for the precipitous decline of the Congress and some of the latter’s foolish pro-Muslim steps like negating the Supreme Court verdict on alimony for Muslim women.
Although the BJP’s rise has been facilitated by the Congress’s fall, there is apparently a realisation in the BJP that despite its current dominance at the national level, the pursuit of a strident pro-Hindu agenda is not feasible in a multicultural country.
So the party first clamped down on the ghar wapsi and love jehad campaigns and is now targeting the gau rakshaks.
Although a primary motivation for the criticism of the latter may be a desire to woo the Dalits before the UP elections since several members of the community were flogged by the vigilantes in Gujarat, that objective does not detract from the BJP’s green signal for punishing the law-breakers.
However, it is also true that the saffron camp was not unduly perturbed when a Muslim was lynched in a village near Delhi on the suspicion of eating beef — RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat called it a minor incident — and two Muslim cowherds were killed in Jharkhand. Even then, the latest show of outrage over the rampaging vigilantes will be widely welcomed.
At the same time, the disapproval voiced by the RSS of the lawlessness of the gau rakshaks may be a temporary instance of censure. It is difficult to believe that the Nagpur patriarchs will disown their cherished philosophy of Hindu rashtra, where the cow is the national animal, because of the BJP’s electoral compulsions.
As it is, several affiliates of the RSS like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) have been voicing their grievances about Modi’s pro-market policies, based on globalisation which militates against the concept of self-reliance.
While the SJM is opposing foreign investment, the BMS is against the Goods and Services Tax, saying that it favours the rich at the expense of the poor.
It is not only on the issue of gau rakshaks, therefore, that Modi is having to contend with dissenting voices from inside the saffron camp. He is also up against both the orthodoxy of pro-Hindu elements and the insularity of the Parivar’s economists and labour leaders.
He can however take heart from the fact that large sections of the population are with him on the matter of freeing India from backward-looking religiosity and embracing a globalised economy.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)