Role Reversal: The Indian National Congress Should Build Its Own RSS
Despite recent setbacks, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is still the dominant party at the central level. In case it turns out that victory is not at hand for India’s opposition – that it may not be able to win the next elections of 2024, which currently appears likely – then the main party of opposition, the Indian National Congress, will probably have to work out a new long-term strategy. By this, I mean a wider engagement plan, not just a way to counter the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the next election campaign. In that case, it seems such a plan should include broader social engagement, as this is exactly one of the BJP’s central advantages.
Let us briefly compare the history of both parties. The Congress was the main party that opposed the British during the late stage of colonial rule, during which it become deeply engaged and entrenched in society. In turn, the Hindu nationalists, who were to later establish the BJP, were rather marginal in electoral politics at that time. Thus, when independence was achieved in 1947, the Congress rode into this new chapter of Indian history as a winner, despite the creation of Pakistan and the bloodbath of Partition. The party won the first national elections of 1951-52 and remained in power nearly without interruption for decades, thus becoming a party of power. In other words, the Congress’ level of popularity was now mostly dependent on how much it was helping the people in its official capacity, not its unofficial one.
For Hindu nationalists, the situation was the reverse. After independence, Hindu nationalist parties remained on the electoral margins for a long time. Yet the main organization – not party – of the Hindu nationalists, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), kept growing. It is this body that sits behind the BJP today; the membership of the two groups overlaps closely. The RSS does not neglect politics, but focuses on social and ideological work. The organization has established charities, trade unions, women’s organizations, associations of professionals, religious reform suborganizations, overseas branches, media outlets, and many other types of bodies – many of which offered help to various social groups, all the while spreading the ideology of Hindu nationalism.
Thus, the RSS’ unofficial social standing was in certain ways the reverse of the popularity of Congress governments. Whenever the Congress governments offered people enough, the popularity of the ruling party, and its ideas of socialism and secularism was retained. But the popularity of Hindu nationalists had a chance to grow in all of those fields when Congress rule failed the expectations of the citizens. For instance, it is unquestionable that the sector of Indian public education has not delivered as much as it should have. The Hindu nationalists of the RSS used this opportunity to build up its network of private schools, Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, to a point where it has become the largest such network in the country.
In 2014, the BJP won the elections under Narendra Modi’s leadership. It was not the party’s first victory, but it was its most resounding one. Many commentators focused on the electoral side of this turn of events: Modi’s charisma; the powerful media and social media machine which the BJP had built to back it; and the party’s correct reading of the electorate’s expectations, such as promising a lot to the poorer sections, and talking much more about development than ideology. But that was not all: The party has finally capitalized on the decades of the RSS’ social engagement strategy.
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This is what Soundarya Chidambaram wrote in an unpublished Ph.D. thesis completed in 2011 and focused on the RSS’ social work:
Since the Hindu nationalist movement is often understood narrowly as the electoral success of the BJP, the defeat of the BJP in the last two national elections [2004 and 2009] has begun to be seen as the decline of the movement itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The literature has tended to ignore the fact that Hindu nationalism is social movement with a wide network of organizations that have a significant presence beyond the electoral sphere.
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These words appeared in a work finished three years before the BJP’s success, in a period where many were questioning the capacity of Hindu nationalists to win the next election, and nobody was yet speaking of Modi’s charisma as an essential factor.
The Congress now finds itself in the BJP’s past position. It has been electorally decimated and may have to live with the thought it may not win the next election, despite already losing the past two national polls in 2014 and 2019. Now the BJP is mostly judged by the electorate by how its governments perform – but the RSS still remains socially involved. The Congress has neither of these two cards to play. Thus it probably should take a leaf out of the RSS’ playbook: Build a large body of socially involved organizations, which could offer services wherever and whenever the government does not deliver sufficiently, and which would promote the ideas that the Congress stands for, as well as the image of the party. This, of course, would not happen quickly: it took the RSS decades to become part of the political mainstream.
Recent events have confirmed that this may be the right approach. In May 2021, when a terrible wave of COVID-19 swept through India, taking many lives, the citizens rightly criticized the lack of preparedness of governments at both the central and state level, including those of the Congress (although the BJP has a major role among these). At that point, one opposition politician who came to the forefront was Srinivas Bhadravathi Venkata, the leader of the Congress youth wing. By replying to private requests for help, such as for oxygen equipment, and thanks to vigorous activity on social media, he and his team apparently gained a lot of popularity, which even included words of gratitude from some of the foreign missions in Delhi, which benefited from his help. Had the governments thwarted the crisis, the initiative of the Indian Youth Congress would have not been that needed, nor that popular.
To be sure, this does not mean that the Congress is otherwise not socially involved. It does have its social service wing, Congress Seva Dal, but for some reason it remains much less known than the RSS. The Congress also seemed to be long aware of the RSS’ social work and the threat it posed to the Congress’ own position. And yet somehow its attempts to counter this process have been marginal and unsuccessful. For instance, noting the popularity of RSS private schools, some Congress politicians once established their own school network in the region of Vidarbha: the Vidya Bharati Shikshan Prasarak Mandal. Yet, in comparison to Hindu nationalists’ efforts, this network remained little-known. During the aforementioned COVID-19 crisis in India, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey donated $2.5 million to Sewa Bharati – the international charity wing of the RSS – even though Twitter and the BJP’s central government are at loggerheads.
The Indian National Congress should do now is to build its own version of the RSS, similar in structure but promoting its own ideology, until it too is a household name.
Bengal Congress general secretary Rohan Mitra quits, slams Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in resignation letter
West Bengal Congress General Secretary Rohan S Mitra on Wednesday resigned from his post, saying that he was “not motivated to work” under the leadership of state party president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
“I am resigning because of Adhir Ranjan Choudhary. I cannot work with him. Ever since he became the president of the Pradesh Congress, I have reached out to him multiple times, but to no avail. As long as he is the president, I cannot be on the committee,” Rohan Mitra told India Today on Wednesday.
The son of deceased Congress heavyweight Somen Mitra, Rohan claimed that Adhir Ranjan Choudhary was given a free hand by the party high command and yet his decisions could not bring Congress any seats in the assembly polls.
READ: The once-mighty fall to (almost) nought: Left-Congress-ISF completely routed in Bengal
“Adhir’s tone was that of the BJP in attacking Mamata. Malda and Murshidabad have been considered to be Congress bastions since 1947. How did we lose them? In 2019, when the BJP gained 18 seats, we had a lead in the assembly segment by 90,000 votes in Behrampur in Murshidabad. We lost that seat to BJP,” Rohan Mitra said.
Mitra added, “When food is being delivered to the ones who need it from Congress headquarters in Kolkata, his supporters wear t-shirts with his photograph and graphics of ‘Adhir Sena’ on them. Leave pictures of Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi. Those t-shirts do not even have any logo of the Indian National Congress on them.
Asked whether he would also join the Trinamool Congress like former Congress leader Abhijit Mukherjee, Rohan Mitra says he isn’t. The son of former president Pranab Mukherjee, Abhijit Mukherjee joined the TMC last month.
“Abhijit da, too, faced a lot of ill-behaviour inside the party. He left. I won’t leave Congress,” Mitra told India Today.
‘Sycophants surrounding you have not brought your downfall’
Earlier in the day, Rohan Mitra had hit out at Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in his resignation letter.
“The sycophants surrounding you have not only brought your downfall but also led to the ultimate downfall of the party in the state [West Bengal] with no visible signs of revival in the near future,” Rohan Mitra said in his resignation letter to Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
WB Congress Gen Secy Rohan Mitra resigns from his post; writes to party’s state chief AR Chowdhury, ‘The sycophants surrounding you have not only brought your downfall but also led to the ultimate downfall of the party in the state with no visible signs of revival in near future’ pic.twitter.com/yviFecmKDt — ANI (@ANI) July 14, 2021
Accusing Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of being biased, Rohan Mitra wrote, “Your attitude towards me since the beginning has been pathetic your fragile ego could not handle your removal from the post of the Pradesh Congress president’s chair back then, you decided to take that out on me.”
He added, “It did not take you a second to join hands with the then CLP and Leader of Opposition in West Bengal of the time with whom you share a cat and mouse relationship during your tenures as president, play the religion car, stop me from even entering your district so that I don’t become the Youth Congress President.”
On the dismal performance of the Congress in the Bengal Assembly election, Rohan Mitra said, “You [Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury] humiliated me by cutting my name from the campaigning list, never spoke a word to me even when I wrote you a letter about problems and possible solutions.”
My reasons are clear, I don’t want to be fake, I continue to be a loyal volunteer of the @INCIndia July 14, 2021
“The arrogance and uncouth behavior synonymous with you were there for all to see during your campaign, which was all about you, no emphasis on the party.”
He said he had hoped Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury would take the necessary steps to send out a message to the people of Bengal. But that never happened, Rohan wrote in the letter.
“I congratulate you on your continued reign as the Pradesh president and the ‘Adhir Sena’ clique which you have founded over the Indian National Congress in West Bengal. This is your legacy,” Rohan Mitra said.
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Prashant Kishor to enter Congress’s ‘scheme of things’? Speculation rife in Delhi’s political circles
Speculation rife that Prashant Kishor may join Congress party
Key Highlights Election strategist Prashant Kishor had declared after guiding Trinamool Congress to poll win in West Bengal that he was quitting ’this space’ However, Kishor has been holding a lot of meetings with political leaders over the past few weeks The Opposition has been aiming to regroup ahead of key state elections next year and in the run up to 2024 national polls
New Delhi: There is a buzz in Delhi’s political circles that election strategist Prashant Kishor could join the Indian National Congress party. The speculation has started a day after Kishor met the Gandhis in the national capital.
There has been no official word yet on Kishor’s meeting with the Gandhis yesterday that was held at the official residence of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting with Kishor, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were present along with senior Congress leader KC Venugopal. Former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat is also believed to have attended the meeting in person.
As per Congress sources, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi joined the meeting with Kishor via videoconferencing and the discussions lasted about an hour. As per party sources, it was Prashant Kishor who had asked for an appointment.
Times Now’s Prashant Kumar reported that the Congress could be looking to include Kishor, who has several successful election campaigns to his credit, in its scheme of things ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in several states and the all-important 2024 General Election.
Poll strategist #PrashantKishor’s meeting with #RahulGandhi sparks speculations amid reports of an organizational restructuring within the #Congress party.
Prashant Kumar with analysis. pic.twitter.com/wde9OnPn04 — TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) July 14, 2021
Among the states going to elections next year are Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress is in power in Punjab but its state unit has been plagued by internal strife, with the latest tussle going on between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Kishor is Punjab CM Amarinder’s principal advisor and there was speculation yesterday that he could have discussed the Punjab poll campaign with Congress leaders. However, party sources today said there was no talk about the Punjab Congress controversy. However, Kishor did discuss the prospects of Congress in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, they added.
Sources further denied that any discussion was held about pushing Sharad Pawar for the post of president from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). It may be noted that Kishor had met Pawar recently in Mumbai and New Delhi, triggering another set of speculation about political realignments.