At the end of his seventh year as the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi never thought his relationship with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) would be on such slippery ground. After all, Modi, now a Pracharak politician, has indulged at least two of the Sangh’s obsessions: Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the abolition of Art. 370 and with it the special status of Jammu & Kashmir. Yet the second wave of Covid – where the country officially reported some 40,000 deaths in the first 10 days of May – caused a lot of friction between the Modi regime and the Sangh.
At present, Sangh’s affiliates are focused on relief work, but the near absence of government and political leaders on the ground is increasingly uncomfortable. Unlike last year, the prime minister has not addressed the nation about the situation, while his ministers appear to be active only on social media. “The second wave of India was catastrophic, claiming many more victims than in 2020. Everyone is worried, but now is not the time to criticize,” said a leader of the RSS. However, the unease is palpable, reflected in the words of sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat: “Kya janata, kya shasan, kya prashasan, sabhi gaflat mein aa gaye (the people, the leaders, everyone was caught off guard)”. Known to carefully weigh his words, Bhagwat’s choice of the Urdu word “gaflat” (it can mean inattentive but also lax) raised eyebrows.
Many of the BJP members immediately began to advertise the Sangh goodie, but no one was fooled. Some have dissected the statement further: Why did Saranghchalak use an Urdu phrase, a language he rarely uses in his speeches? And the comment came at a one-day Akshaya Tritiya conference, in which Bhagwat also announced the Sangh’s great effort to enter the Covid management breach, through his new Covid Response Team (CRT). . The Sangh CRT plans to reach the base with 10 million families (see box: A parallel working group). Now figure another part of the puzzle: Bhagwat’s close confidant Ram Madhav – who was recently rehabilitated in the RSS national executive after being unceremoniously kicked out of the BJP national team – writes an article the same morning in a leading English daily newspaper highlighting the need for more transparency. , more commitment, more openness to constructive criticism and expert opinion from political leaders in the battle against Covid.
The Sangh has a tradition of being measured in his public statements. Every word is spoken after careful consideration, so Bhagwat and Madhav’s comments cannot be taken lightly. On condition of anonymity, several senior RSS leaders made very critical observations about how an honored tradition of collective leadership has been hijacked by “the extreme centralization of decision-making”, so much so that even top ministers are not. consulted on critical issues. This is when cabinet ministers argue that health is a matter of state and the Center cannot be held responsible for the current mess. “Oxygen was never a problem, but there were logistical and distribution issues,” a minister said.
With the situation spiraling out of control, Modi’s regime relies on six groups of empowered bureaucrats to deal with the Covid situation. “Today they are talking about a third wave (reference to the statement of Senior Scientific Advisor K. VijayRaghvan); why didn’t they predict the second wave in time? Sah sarkaryavaha Arun Kumar asks. “I haven’t read any articles, statements or articles from them, even at the end of March, when independent scientists started alerting the administration.” Another senior RSS leader pointed out the contradictions within the government: “The Ministry of Commerce headed by Piyush Goyal is trying to convince WTO member countries to obtain the TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) waiver. ; Meanwhile, pharmaceutical ministry officials are submitting an affidavit to the Supreme Court saying the country will not agree to a compulsory license to make vaccines affordable. Why isn’t everyone on the same page? ” he asks.
This is not the first time that the RSS has complained of overdependence on bureaucrats and consultants. This also happened during the protests against agricultural laws. In fact, after RSS leaders intervened at the coordination committee meeting in Ahmedabad (in January this year), the government proposed to suspend the laws, first through the Supreme Court and more. late via an offer open to farmers. The RSS is also unhappy with the way the Modi regime is pushing for the large-scale privatization of public sector companies.
Despite all these serious reservations, the Sangh is unwilling to force the issue beyond a certain point. Arun Kumar says, “It is a disaster, and we must give the government time to put their house in order and rescue the affected families.” But time is also running out. In February next year, five states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab – will go to the polls. The BJP is in power in four of these states. Among them, UP is critical for both BJP and RSS. The party returned to power here after a 15-year hiatus; the state also sends the largest number of legislators to parliament. But more than that, Uttar Pradesh is the heart of the country’s cow belt and is crucial in the BJP’s campaign for the 2024 general election.
The Sangh understands that Modi – and his image as a “maker” – remains their best bet to develop and advance their cultural and sociological agenda. It is therefore important that the BJP and the RSS retrieve the image of PM Modi. The hope is that the vaccination program, controlling the spread of Covid in rural areas and improving communication with the population will turn the tide. The desperation that reigns in the rural Indian hinterland today is a great threat to the party. Social protection programs such as free health insurance, electricity, cooking gas and access to toilets have won them tremendous support among the poor, but the unleashed pandemic threatens that goodwill.
“So far (in the second wave) we haven’t been able to take people with us. We need to do more, show people that the government is working for them and for their better health, ”said a BJP parliamentarian. On May 14, when Modi finally spoke to farmers while disbursing the eighth installment of the PM Kisan program, he spoke about Covid and its spread in rural areas. On May 18, on the news, the country saw him speaking to district administrators.
RSS leaders believe the tide may have already turned, with the second wave of Covid peaking and the oxygen supply boosted. BJP leader JP Nadda holds virtual meetings with party leaders on the ground every day. The next electoral test will take place in February 2022, but the public memory of the management of this ongoing Covid crisis will certainly play a role in the result. The RSS knows only too well that its fortunes are inextricably linked with that of the BJP and its continued electoral journey – and hope the government gets its hands on the situation as soon as possible. He certainly threw all his power into the problem.
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