At a time when ‘gau rakshaks’ are keeping the intolerance pot boiling across the country, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has espoused their cause to undermine Prime Minister rendra Modi yet again. Dalit tempers have been rising steadily with cow vigilantes going around thrashing dalits — both for skinning and disposing of cattle carcasses or for refusing to do so. PM Modi’s home state Gujarat too has become another battleground in this clash, prompting opposition parties to demand that he should come clear on this issue. And the Prime Minister responded in characteristic fashion, when in August, he castigated ‘gau rakshaks’ as anti-social elements masquerading around as cow protectors; he then called upon state police forces to deal sternly with them. Mindful of which way the dalit vote might go in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls next year, after it swung behind him in the 2014 parliamentary elections — PM Modi has been taking pains to assuage dalit sentiments. But along comes Bhagwat, easily the most political of RSS Sarsanghchalaks till date, who in his Dussehra address to the cadre on Tuesday, exhorted state administrations to protect cow vigilantes as they go about their ‘sacred mission as enjoined by the Constitution’. This is not the first time the RSS chief has sought to embarrass the Prime Minister and upset the BJP’s applecart. In the run up to the Bihar assembly elections last year, Bhagwat thought it fit to comment about something as sensitive to the Bihar electorate as the government’s reservation policy — that it should be reviewed ‘to examine who needs the facility and for how long’. Not surprisingly, the Nitish-Laloo combine capitalized gleefully on this statement, leading to angry mutterings within the BJP over Bhagwat’s indiscretion.
But there seems to be a method in the RSS Sarsanghchalak’s utterances frequently putting PM Modi on the backfoot. Just last month, the Prime Minister had to put the record straight in his weekly radio broadcast a few days before the canonization of Mother Teresa. Describing her lifelong service to the poorest of the poor in this country, the PM said: “When such a person is conferred with sainthood, it is tural for Indians to feel proud.” His reply came more than one-and-half years after Bhagwat’s much publicized charge that Mother Teresa had worked with ‘ulterior motive to convert the person who was being served, to Christianity’. Coming after several incidents of attacks on churches, Bhagwat’s comment had only served to put PM Modi on the defensive about his government’s commitment to religious minority groups. With the Opposition repeatedly stalling parliament over campaigns like ‘ghar wapsi’, the Prime Minister had to work overtime in distinguishing his government from the loony saffron fringe. What is coming across loud and clear is the RSS chief’s intent to hold fast to the role of ideological mentor of the Sangh Parivar that his organization has long arrogated to itself. But keeping the BJP leadership under a tight leash by wrong-footing it whenever necessary, has its downsides. Other constituents of the Sangh Parivar too are frequently working against the government to get on the RSS good books. The energies of the NDA government in its second innings at the Centre are in danger of getting dissipated in the shrill debate over divisive issues. The political discourse in the country needs to be more meaningful than cow vigilantism and parties grabbing credit for army action against terrorists. The RSS and the Shiv Se while heaping praise on the government for the surgical strikes in PoK, have at the same time chosen to remind the ruling BJP in no uncertain terms about their contributions to the saffron surge at the grassroots. But this saffron one-upmanship will do the rendra Modi government no good as it enters the second part of its term which will be crucial in delivering on its promise of good governce.