June 14, 2024


Do the election results affect the BJP-RSS relationship?

The results of the 2024 elections were a mixed bag for all. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took a lot of hits, and the Opposition gained some traction. It’s a coalition government at the Centre. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister for a record third consecutive term. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

One curious aspect is how the results affect the BJP’s relationship with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The two have been inexplicably linked on several fronts over the past decade. While it has seen its fair share of roadblocks, will the dynamic change?


To most people, the RSS is something of an ideological front for the BJP. But last month, BJP National President JP Nadda said in an interview that the party’s structure has become stronger and now runs itself. He was answering a question on how the RSS’ presence within the BJP has changed since Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.

This type of answer isn’t unprecedented. In 2005, after the party was defeated, LK Advani gave a landmark speech where he acknowledged the party’s continued interactions with the RSS but said its decisions must be independent.

When the RSS was founded in 1925, it was interested in politics as unequivocally stated by its founder KB Hedgewar. It had some rivalry with an outfit called the Hindu Mahasabha which even tried to create an RSS-like organisation called the Ram Sena.

Gandhi’s assassination and the ban on the RSS in 1948 changed things. For some inside the Sangh, staying out of politics was no longer feasible. Voices inside began calling for a political representative. Things moved forward when former congressman Syama Prasad Mookerjee who resigned from the Nehru government was looking to float a political party.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was born in 1951. The challenge was to balance the RSS and non-RSS forces within the party. Eventually, it became an extension of the RSS. The only time the RSS participated in an election was in 1977 after the Emergency was lifted. Sangh workers were asked to campaign against the Congress.

When the BJP was formed following the disintegration of the Janata Party government in 1980, party members decided to maintain their distance from the RSS. Once Advani took over the reins of the BJP in 1986, it turned back toward the RSS.

By the early 2010s, even though some within the RSS weren’t keen on Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, he was too popular and the RSS didn’t want a repeat of 2004’s defeat. 10 years out of power wasn’t as good as being in power with some compromises.

In the long history of the BJP-RSS partnership, it can’t be said they’ve seen eye to eye every time. In fact, some would say it’s rare when they do. The RSS is coming up on an important milestone – it completes 100 years next year and it’s going to be interesting to see what the equation will be with a BJP coalition government that’s got a weakened mandate.

Is it likely to be completely different or more of the same?

VIEW: More of the same

Some pundits and analysts believe that the BJP’s performance, while weaker than last time, isn’t a complete disaster and they can regain lost ground. To do that would require some organisational rejig striking a balance between original party workers and outsiders. The RSS is likely to play the same role as it has recently in all of this, i.e., not get into the weeds of day-to-day politicking. Also, the RSS and BJP are more ideologically aligned than not.

During election season, RSS workers are loaned out to help the BJP as organisational secretaries and joint organisational secretaries at the state and national levels. They’re called Pracharak, which Modi once was. The Sangh understands that electoral politics and governance are best left to Modi, Amit Shah, and their cadre. If there’s anything to be communicated, it happens through the secretaries.

While tensions have risen in the past decades, the two have come to something of a mutual understanding to make clear where the other stands. Both sides aren’t interested in dominating the other. After all, Modi is an intrinsic part of the Sangh. Some have even refuted the narrative that bubbles up when the BJP is against the ropes that there’s a power struggle with the RSS. The RSS understands that with someone as popular as Modi, the party is more than capable of steering the ship.

COUNTERVIEW: It could get complicated

It’s not unreasonable to say that the mixed bag of results could change the equation. There were some signs during the campaign phase since the RSS cadre wasn’t as involved on the ground. JP Nadda’s remarks only added to that. The BJP has become a much stronger organisational force over several years. It has relied less on the RSS’ outreach at the ground level.

With a coalition government taking shape, the BJP realises it’ll have a check on its agenda. It’s not going to be as reformist as its past two terms. That could change the party’s equation with the RSS. While Nadda and others might claim that the BJP and RSS are independent of each other, that’s not exactly the case. The RSS can’t call itself a purely cultural organisation not having anything to do with politics. It does. RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat’s first comments post-results criticised both sides for their campaign decorum. But his comments on Manipur, under BJP rule, “which is still burning”, were particularly noteworthy.

The BJP and RSS are committed to the Hindutva project. However, if the results in Uttar Pradesh are anything to go by, that card might not have as much power as people initially thought. If the decades-long quest for a Ram Mandir coming true couldn’t take the BJP to a dominant position, the RSS might have to rethink its equation with the BJP. In more ways than one, the party is an extension of the Sangh. That could change.

Reference Links:

  • Does RSS help BJP politically? JP Nadda’s ‘runs itself’ reply – Hindustan Times
  • Public spats, private grumbles — how and why frictions have defined RSS-BJP relations over 7 decades – The Print
  • Why RSS cannot sabotage BJP in elections – Deccan Herald
  • BJP and RSS relationship is not going to change in wake of poll results – Moneycontrol
  • RSS stalwart Mohan Bhagwat criticises Modi-led BJP poll campaign – Onmanorama
  • It’s time for BJP’s ‘ghar wapsi’ into RSS fold now—2024 LS election results are a signal – The Print

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The election results won’t affect the BJP-RSS relationship.

b) The election results will affect the BJP-RSS relationship.


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