Formed in 1925 as a social service, spiritual and cultural movement aimed at reviving the pride of the Hindus in their civilizational inheritance, after hundreds of years of conquest and colonization, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sanghatan (RSS) chose to enter India’s political mainstream in 1951 through the Jana Sangh. The Jana Sangh and its later political manifestation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (formed in 1980) found it difficult to gain power in New Delhi as long as the Nehru-Gandhi family dominated national politics. It was only in 1998 that a coalition government led by the BJP, called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), was formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an RSS member and founder of the Jana Sangh and BJP. In May 2014 Narendra Modi made history by becoming the first RSS member to form a BJP majority government.
Modi’s victory in 2014 was his own and owed little to either the RSS or the BJP. His governance style is shaped by this reality, as well as the 3-way tussle for influence between the RSS, BJP and Modi. Part of this tension is built into their very different political and policy agendas – the RSS seeks to revitalize Hindu society and religion; the BJP seeks to win elections every five years and retain power. While both need each other to pursue their different agendas, this tension between them will shape Indian politics in years to come.
About the Speaker:
Sanjaya Baru is Distinguished Fellow, United Service Institution of India. He was Media Advisor and Spokesperson of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2004-08). He has been Editor, Economic Times, Financial Express & Business Standard (1992-2004 & 2009-11). He was Visiting Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (2008-09) and Director, Geo-economics & Strategy Programme, International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). He was a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board (1999-2001) and of the ASEAN-India Eminent Persons’ Group (2011). His books include Strategic Consequences of India’s Economic Performance; The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh; India and the World: Essays on Geo-economics and Strategy; & 1991: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Made History.