Where’s Ni­tish Kumar’s RSS?

Un­like anti-Congress forces in past polls, the JD(U) leader doesn’t have anti-BJP foot-sol­diers

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Ashok Ma­lik

Ni­tish Kumar, chief min­is­ter of Bi­har and pres­i­dent of the Janata Dal (United), has po­si­tioned him­self as an early starter in the race to the 2019 elec­tion and called for a grand al­liance against the BJP. He has couched it in the lan­guage of a ‘Sangh-mukt Bharat’ (an In­dia free of the RSS net­work), and said he is op­posed to ‘Sangh­vaad’ (RSS thought) rather than to the BJP po­lit­i­cally. But that is only se­man­tics.

Can Kumar suc­ceed? As a thirdterm chief min­is­ter with no cor­rup­tion scan­dals or fam­ily bag­gage, with a rea­son­able record in gov­er­nance and a cer­tain name re­call, he may be­lieve he has it in him to lead an op­po­si­tion front against Naren­dra Modi. He has been en­cour­aged, of course, by the suc­cess in Bi­har, where the JD(U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress com­bined to van­quish the BJP a few months ago.

The prospect – or hope – of an all­com­ers coali­tion against the BJP is a throw­back to sim­i­lar ef­forts against the Congress in pre­vi­ous decades. While some such ef­forts did suc­ceed – and this would give Kumar room for op­ti­mism – the ex­pe­ri­ence also points to the chal­lenges. In sum, there are two con­tra­dic­tions Kumar needs to tackle.

First, the op­po­si­tion to the BJP is tak­ing two di­ver­gent parts, with the fault line be­ing the Congress (or, per- haps, the Congress-CPI(M) part­ner­ship, should it sus­tain it­self be­yond Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity and West Ben­gal). Kumar and the JD(U) are clearly see­ing a sup­port­ive, but in­trin­sic, role for the Congress in a pre-elec­tion al­liance. This has not gone down well with key non-BJP groups such as the Tri­namool Congress (TMC), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

Non-BJP Cat­e­gory

An­other big gap is in Ut­tar Pradesh, where nei­ther Mayawati nor Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav would want to give the Congress oxy­gen by of­fer­ing it an al­liance. Oth­ers in the non-BJP cat­e­gory, such as the Dravida par­ties in Tamil Nadu or Sharad Pawar’s Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party (NCP), are less con­se­quen­tial at this stage be­cause they can do a deal with any­body, at any time.

In West Ben­gal, Kumar’s de­ci­sion to tie up with the Congress-CPI (M) front and send Sharad Ya­dav, se­nior JD(U) politi­cian, for a com­bined elec­tion rally with Congress and CPI(M) speak­ers has put off Ma­mata Ban­er­jee.

The AAP, which has eaten into the Congress space in Delhi and is tak­ing it on (as well as tak­ing on the Akali Dal-BJP com­bine) in Pun­jab, and pos­si­bly Goa and Hi­machal Pradesh in later months, too doesn’t want a slot for the Congress or the com­mu­nists. The AAP is pitch­ing it­self as left-of-cen­tre, but de­cid­edly non-com­mu­nist.

Sec­ond, while Kumar wants a Sangh-free polity, he can­not run away from the fact that the con­ven­ing and mo­bil­is­ing ca­pac­ity of the RSS net­work has been crit­i­cal in ev­ery suc­cess­ful anti-Congress elec­toral move in the past. Who or what will fill this gap for pro­po­nents of an anti-BJP al­liance?

In an Emer­gency

Con­sider his­tory. There have been three com­pelling anti-Congress elec­tions – in 1977, 1989 and 2014. What was the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the win­ners?

In the 1970s, in the fer­ment be­fore the Emer­gency and then in the cam­paign in 1977, the Sangh played a sig­nif­i­cant role. In 1989, RSS or­gan­i­sa­tions gave VP Singh a push in large parts of north­ern, cen­tral and western In­dia. In 2014, the RSS net­work made up for the BJP’s in­sti­tu­tional weak­ness, es­pe­cially in states such as UP, to win a man­date for Modi.

This is not to sug­gest the RSS did it alone. The so­cial­ists were equally heroic in the Emer­gency pe­riod and in 1977. In 1989, the Janata pari­var, the south­ern re­gional par­ties and the com­mu­nists in their states (as well as in pock­ets of UP and Bi­har, where they then counted) bol­stered VP Singh.

In 2014, the non-Sangh in­cre­men­tal vote was in­stru­men­tal in tak­ing Modi and the BJP to an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity. Yet, the RSS was also needed. Its labours may not have been suf­fi­cient to win an elec­tion, but they were nec­es­sary.

Ni­tish Kumar can­not dis­count and ig­nore this fac­tor. An ad blitz and a me­dia cam­paign will need to be com­ple­mented by door-to-door can­vass­ing and booth man­age­ment. Who will pro­vide Kumar’s ‘Sangh­mukt Bharat’ mis­sion the foot-sol­diers for this?

The com­mu­nists, mar­ginal at the best of times, are con­tract­ing still fur­ther, even in their tra­di­tional bas­tions. As for the Congress, if it had the ca­pac­ity to mo­bilise votes and sup­port at the grass­roots in sub­stan­tial num­bers, it would be do­ing so for Rahul Gandhi. Why would it set­tle for Plan B and Ni­tish Kumar?

The fact is the BJP and Sangh net­work’s abil­ity to build groundlevel sup­port and bring out vot­ers is un­matched in In­dia to­day. Does it cover a ma­jor­ity of all In­di­ans? No. Is it big­ger than the Congress’ abil­ity to do all this in, say, the 1950s or in the 1971 elec­tion? No. Even so, is it big­ger than the Congress as it is to­day, with the shrink­ing foot­print of that party? It would cer­tainly ap­pear so.

What does this mean for 2019? Any so­cial and po­lit­i­cal coali­tion, whether the BJP-led Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance or a Congress-backed Ni­tish-De­signed Al­liance, will need a ful­crum around which to build a nar­ra­tive. The RSS fam­ily gives Modi that ful­crum. Where is Ni­tish Kumar’s RSS?

Damn, he gets to wave the flag

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