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March 14, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

The RSS ruckus: maelstrom of mysteries

The recent RSS ruckus that rocked the country has been a veritable maelstrom of mysteries. The more one tried to come out rationally from the epileptic episode, the more one kept being sucked into the esoteric illogic of it all.

Mystery number one was the reason for Gujarat government's circular of January 3, 2000 lifting the ban on its employees from participating in RSS activities. The BJP government in Gandhinagar has been so firmly in power that it could easily have permitted its employees to associate with the RSS without an official circular to that effect.

Nobody would have batted an eyelid to that state of affairs, and even if someone did, the dispute could have been allowed to linger in some state tribunal without making national headlines. Ergo, the BJP-led coalition in Delhi would have been spared the embarrassment it faced and the nation's Parliament would not have been rendered as wasteful as it turned out to be.

Why, then, did the Keshubhai Patel ministry issue that circular in the first place? Was it arrogance of power? Was it lack of political foresight? Was it a genuine response to employee representations requesting the official-cum-legal removal of the ban on associating with the RSS? Or was it something deeper? Not even the professional gossip columnists have been able to get at the bottom of it all.

Mystery number two was the frenetic reaction to the Gujarat circular by the Congress and the rest of the Opposition members in and out of Parliament. Does Sonia Gandhi and the rest of the lot genuinely believe that only a so-called "indoctrinated" peon or clerk or desk officer or secretary in government can hamper or harm the government's impartial functioning? Or did the madam and the rest have no other substantive issue to make their presence felt in Parliament?

Or are the Congress and the rest so afraid of the increasing Hindu sentiment in the country that they fear their own political future based on phoney secularism? No one knows because no one can penetrate the psyche of Sonia, assuming she has one; no one knows, for that matter, whether she can correctly pronounce "Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh."

Mystery number three was that not much was revealed about Vajpayee's written reply of February 1 explaining the government of India's stand which had been sought by… President Narayanan, who else, at the behest of… madam's Congress, who else? That Vajpayee's reply had run into two pages is little known; also little known therefore is that Vajpayee's letter had explained to the President how provisions of Articles 256, 257(1) and 309 of our Constitution prevented the Centre from intervening in Gujarat's circular.

The prime minister had also mentioned in his reply that though the ban imposed by the central government in July 1964 on the Moral Rearmament organisation had been lifted by his earlier government in February 1999, there was no such move in respect of the prevailing ban on the RSS. Now why hadn't the press got hold of that Vajpayee letter of February 1? Or, rather, having got hold of it, why wasn't it used by the otherwise "vigilante" media? Was it because the letter drilled holes in the Opposition's demand for central intervention?

Mystery number four is the protest against the circular by the NDA allies of the BJP. Are Karunanidhi, Chandrababu Naidu and Mamata Banerjee so genuinely secular and caste-free as to be scared of the BJP's future rise to eminence all on its own backed by Hindutva ideology?

By siding with the "secularists" of the Congress cabal, was Chandrababu Naidu playing a diabolical game that he hopes will one day catapult him to prime minister of a Third Front government coming to power on the symbol of a computer?

Since all these so-called allies have been shouting hoarse about greater autonomy to state governments and yet were willing to rape the exercise of that very autonomy by the Gujarat government, had they not showed themselves up as contemptible frauds and hypocrites?

Mystery number five is the total failure of the RSS to present its case. The ruckus all round provided it an opportunity to educate the entire public on the facts. And the facts themselves were solid. Between 1955 and 1983 there have been 15 court judgments exonerating the RSS of pursuing any activity prejudicial to any government. Thirteen of those verdicts came from several state high courts, one from a district court and the last one, in 1983, was from the Supreme Court itself.

The unchallenged verdict of the Mysore high court, given in 1966, held that the RSS was a non-political cultural organisation without any hatred or ill will towards non-Hindus. And the Supreme Court's verdict observed that "The whole idea of seeking a police report on the political faith of a candidate for public employment appears to our mind to cut at the very root of the fundamental rights of opportunity in the matter of employment, freedom of expression and freedom of association." (The State of Madhya Pradesh versus Ramashankar Raghuvanshi).

Why then didn't the RSS present its defence to the nation at large? Was it abysmal ignorance of the modern art-cum-science of PR-cum-marketing? Or was it a cussed adherence to its long-held belief that it will not seek publicity? Or it was it the fatalistic belief that truth was on it side and that truth will ultimately prevail? Or was it a not-so discreet- message to Vajpayee that the BJP's destiny is really in the hands of the RSS, with or without any masks?

Mystery number six is the palpable failure of the BJP itself in failing to tell the nation and its Parliament that the matter of the Gujarat circular was sub judice and that, therefore, the House should await judicial pronouncement before discussing the matter.

As a result, it remained unknown to all save a minority that an outfit called the Lok Adhikar Sangh had filed a Public Interest Litigation case in the Gujarat high court pleading that the Gujarat government's circular of January 3 was "arbitrary", "irrational" and "violative" of the basic principles of our Constitution. That, surely, would have been a case to follow.

Mystery number seven is why, when the Gujarat circular's ban covered communal institutions as well, Vajpayee initially defended it only in terms of the RSS not being a political organisation but a cultural organisation. The circular, first issued on June 1986, embraces two rules. First is Rule 3 of the Gujarat Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1971, which stipulates that "no government servant shall be a member or associate with any political party or organisation". There is also Rule 24 therein which "prohibits Government servants from participating in the activities of or associating with any communal institution even if activities of such institutions are of social or educational nature."

Why, then, had Vajpayee confined himself to the RSS as a cultural organisation? Why hadn't he done his homework on the 15 judicial pronouncements exonerating the RSS of pursuing any activity prejudicial to any government? Why hadn't Vajpayee done his homework on the fact that his own government had, by its letter of July 13, 1999, conveyed that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal had not confirmed the earlier ban on the RSS? Was he suffering from bouts of senility?

Mystery number eight has to do with Lok Sabha Speaker G M C Balayogi. He is the one who somehow expects the members of Parliament to heed his pleadings merely because he, the Hon'ble Speaker, says, "I am standing on my legs."

Why did Balayogi not suspend all those misbehaving MPs who, for more than a week, brought the Lok Sabha to a halt with their disruptive tactics? Don't the Lok Sabha Rules of Business provide for disciplinary action against such behaviour by elected representatives of the people? Why didn't the media lambast Balayogi for letting the nation's Parliament be held to ransom for eight days over an issue on which he, the Speaker, had already given his ruling?

Why didn't the media ask the MPs whether their behaviour on the floor of the House symbolised democracy, parliamentary democracy, as the inviolate basic feature of our Constitution? Wasn't the media, otherwise so distressed with "Hindutva goons", silent this time around because the BJP was at the receiving end?

Mystery number nine is why, on March 8, Vajpayee take a somersault by announcing his government's willingness to discuss the Gujarat circular under that very rule that the Congress had insisted upon for all of eight days earlier? Why that show of bravura when the noose had so clearly been put around the Gujarat government to withdraw its circular hours later? Why did Vajpayee succumb to political blackmail from foes and "friends" alike when Constitutional legality and 15 court rulings were on his side? Why didn't he resign instead on the issue and dare Naidu or madam or whoever to form an alternative government if they could?

Has Vajpayee become so enamoured of power or has he become old as well as spineless? Has Vajpayee finally lost that soul of his which once belonged to the Sangh? Pick your choice from these masks of mystery.

Mystery number ten is the list of the parties/organisations with which participation or association is banned for state government employees by the Gujarat circular. The list, as announced in the circular of June 5, 1986, contained 32 names. Another circular of December 14 in that same year added two more outfits to the banned list, one of them being the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Both circulars were issued when the Congress party reigned supreme in Delhi as well as in Gandhinagar; hence, it was no surprise that the proscribed list included the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (the students wing of the Sangh Parivar) but excluded the Indian Youth Congress and the Congress Seva Dal although both these organisations are unmistakably political in nature.

The mystery here is two-fold: neither did the naïve BJP/RSS blokes draw public attention to this astounding anomaly during the recent ruckus, nor has the BJP government in Gujarat in the last few years added the two Congress units to the banned list.

Mystery number eleven is why none of our proliferating breed of human rights activists has gone to court challenging government ban on its employees being associated with political or communal bodies. After all, government employees do vote according to their political bent of mind; are they then to be barred from approaching the ballot box as well? Are they similarly to be barred from becoming members of Mumbai's Islam Gymkhana or entering the temple at Tirupati?

The last mystery is the Gujarat government's eleventh hour decision to withdraw its circular of sensation after being so honourably resilient for so long. But that, in retrospect, is no mystery at all. As the RSS chief might well and truly say, "It was Hindu cowardice on display… yet again."

Arvind Lavakare

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