New Delhi, the political capital of the country, witnessed two book launches on Tuesday that seemed to pit the two national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against each other.
One was clearly a show of opposition unity, while the other was a one-man show trying to clear the air about “misunderstandings" pertaining to the Sangh.
The first event saw Jaipal Reddy, a former minister in the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, getting his book Ten Ideologies—The Great Asymmetry between Agrarianism and Industrialism released by former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Many key opposition figures, including former Janata Dal (United), or JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, chief Sitaram Yechury and CPM leader Prakash Karat besides former ministers in the Congress-led UPA government, P. Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh, were in attendance.
Singh steered clear from referring to politics. But Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the vice-chancellor of the Sonepat-based Ashoka University, noted the “extraordinary galaxy" of politicians that Reddy’s book launch had gathered, and wondered whether the social bonhomie manifested by the presence of the leaders would translate into “political unity" —a reference to various calls for unity among the opposition to take on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2019 elections.
And not far away, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav released the second book titled RSS: A View to the Inside —on the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), authored by Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle.
With the RSS contending with the allegation of being a polarizing organization and an interfering one with the current structure of governance, former RSS member Ram Madhav said that it was imperative for people to understand the dynamics of the organization.
Speaking at the launch, he said that for the Sangh, there was no option of choosing between RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “In a democracy, the power is always with the people. I believe in the RSS philosophy, which believes that power lies with the people and not with one particular individual."
With the Sangh grappling with allegations of interfering in electoral politics, Madhav fought hard to bust the myth that the RSS actually controlled the government from outside.
“As an organization—and I’ve been in the organization for four decades—we do not participate in elections or control governments. But there were times when it was felt that the party (BJP) needed support. You cannot be a pracharak and want to practise politics everyday. We are not allowed to contest elections or take positions in everyday political activity."
In a move that was uncharacteristic of the Sangh, Madhav also stated that the RSS had begun to soften its stand on homosexuality and women. “In 2009, I said that the criminalisation aspect of Section 377 should be looked into. Over the years, gradually, the RSS has started taking a stand on a lot of issues," Ram Madhav said.