Home / Opinion / Online-views /  2014’s RSS story

After six months of being upbeat, is the public discourse now turning somewhat edgy? 2014 is the year when that the “remote control" became unapologetically mainstream and emerged at centrestage. A 2009 Faking News spoof “RSS appoints Goldman Sachs as investment bankers for acquiring BJP" seemed to have come true without any help from Goldman Sachs.

The Prime Minister, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) president, several ministers and three current chief ministers have all been a part of its cadre, and now the chief ministerial contenders in Jharkhand include men with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) backgrounds.

Early into the new government’s tenure, both TV and print took it upon themselves to acquaint us with what they called India’s and the world’s biggest social organization, which had now assumed its role in governance. The day before election results were counted in May, India TV was running a programme called Modi ki Bhagwat Katha, tracing the likely new prime minister’s relationship with the chief of the RSS. Mohan Bhagwat’s father, it said, had been Narendra Modi’s guide and mentor as a young recruit into the RSS in Gujarat. In the months to follow, another channel, ABP News, got the Prime Minister to talk about his relationship with Bhagwat’s father, the man who gave him his hand to clasp when he was very young.

Then in June, News 24 broadcast a long special programme on the RSS, its founding fathers and its emergence at key periods in the country’s political life, including during the 2011 Anna Hazare-led movement. And by late August, ABP News was telling us that Mohan Bhagwat was the most important man in the country outside of the government. And Bhagwat in turn explained animatedly that the RSS was not a remote control, it made each person discover the confidence to rule within himself.

RSS leaders are no longer either remote or faceless; they were on TV for much of the year explaining themselves and the “human resource exchange" taking place between the BJP and the RSS, as BJP general secretary Ram Madhav put it to Aaj Tak. Increasingly though, as the media sees it, the relationship seems less benign than a human resource exchange and it is showing up in the language newspapers and TV channels are now using.

“Conversions come to Delhi on Christmas day," the Hindustan Times reported earlier this week about Hindu organizations planning to felicitate converted Muslims from Meerut at a ceremony at Ramlila Maidan on 25 December. “BJP rakes up Hindutva" is what a recent Karan Thapar programme kept flashing. The worrisome keyword today is not remote control, but the terms that the groups around the ruling party are coining: Love Jihaad, Ghar Wapasi and Hindu Rashtra. The last from Bhagwat himself. The Dainik Jagran quoted Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patriarch M. Karunanidhi as asking the government to put the brakes on Hindutva forces.

Modi has demonstrated so far that with his emphasis on governance and “Swachh Bharat" that a strong leader can set the terms of discourse for the media. But only so long as more discordant disruptions don’t take place under his watch.

Even as the government stages the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat summits in the state, Bhagwat, according to the Indian Express, is getting ready to preside over another meeting in Gujarat around the same time. This will be a three-day RSS karyakartha shivir (workers’ camp) near Ahmedabad “where the RSS will chart its course for the future—one of the issues being buttressing the Hindutva agenda". The paper goes further. “Sources said that the saffron outfits, including the VHP, are detailing plans to introduce rewards for Hindu women who have more than five children in rural areas." (The VHP is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad). Family planning to be scuttled by incentivized Hindu procreation? Funny this did not get picked up more widely.

Meanwhile The Economist saw fit to run three stories this year on India’s Hindu nationalists, featuring a long profile on Vinayak Savarkar earlier this month. (“The man who thought Gandhi was a sissy.") And said in conclusion that if his influence grows, India’s tradition of tolerance and moderation will be at risk.

Overall though, there have been few negative reports so far from the ground on the performance of the new chief ministers drawn from the RSS for Haryana and Maharashtra. BJP president Amit Shah, who offered many quotable quotes this year, was reported as saying M.L. Khattar was picked for chief minister in Haryana because he was honest before, and would remain honest after he became one. In his “Walk The Talk" with Shekhar Gupta, Khattar sounded measured, and Maharastra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis talks about governance very animatedly in his interviews.

Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, however, has been more controversial with his remarks on environmental conservation and tourists coming to Goa only to do drugs.

The more controversial ministers at the centre, however, are another story and have drawn their share of prolonged flak. And within TV studios, the ubiquitous presence of Subramanian Swamy (who thinks secular critics of this dispensation are “westernized black Englishmen") ensures that contentious discourse will flourish into 2015, hijacking blander issues such as governance.

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

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