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The Rashtriya Swayam-Sewa Sangh 
By Tavleen Singh

Some months ago when the RSS was sending its propagandists door-to-door to persuade people of its noble, patriotic (alas, misunderstood) credentials a posse of persuaders turned up on my doorstep. Among them was M G Vaidya, who had just become RSS spokesman. He and the two gentlemen with him settled themselves in my drawing room and over tea and namkeen tried to persuade me they had a worthwhile political viewpoint. 

When this endeavour failed we talked of other things and Vaidya expounded on his economic vision. We did not need to ape Western consumerism, he said, because Indians had no desire for consumer goods and other luxuries, Indians knew how to live without them. When I replied that I had never, in all my travels, met a single Indian villager who would not buy if he could a colour TV, a refrigerator and if possible even a car he proudly announced that his son had chosen to live in a village on an income of Rs 2,500 a month. He could earn more, he added, but he is happy and so is his family. 

Imagine then my surprise when, in the first list of names in the Petrol Pump Scam, I should find the name of Vaidya’s son. Naturally, no sooner was he exposed than he graciously returned his petrol pump and gave a pontificating little speech about how his father had always told him not to use his name. He was even praised for this by some newspapers but praise is not called for. What Vaidya’s son did is very much of a piece with the sort of hypocrisy that has become an essential part of the RSS approach to life. 

For public display is their ‘‘austerity’’ and their ‘‘simplicity’’ and for private consumption are petrol pumps and all the other fruits of power that have come the RSS way ever since a swayamsewak became prime minister. So pervasive is the RSS greed for the good things that taxpayers money can provide that the word swayamsewak (self-helper) has acquired a whole new meaning. 

In the list of those who self-helped themselves to petrol pumps for their kith and kin there are many who cut their teeth in the shakhas of the RSS but this is not even the half of it.

What makes this more sickening than it was in Congress times is the hypocrisy. On the one hand, the RSS is the mother ship that produces organisations like the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch. On the other hand its spokesman’s son has no hesitation in helping himself to a petrol pump that brings in Rs 50,000 a month. Is the petrol they supply made in India? Is the idea of a petrol pump swadeshi? 

If you probe even slightly the channels of patronage that the Vajpayee government has set in motion, you will find RSS men at the receiving end everywhere. And, sadly, the prime minister has taken an indulgent view so whenever RSS greed clashes with good governance or the interests of the people of India, RSS greed has almost always won out. 

Do you remember, for instance, when Vasundhara Raje had khadi taken away from her in the mini-Cabinet reshuffle the prime minister effected last year? Ostensibly, it was only to expand the ministry—provide more jobs for the boys—but behind this little change lies another tale of RSS greed. Vasundhara was a little too eager to ‘‘clean up’’ the open loot of taxpayers money that goes on in the name of helping India’s poorest craftsmen and weavers. She noticed, for instance, that more than Rs 500 crore that had been given to the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) for disbursement to poor craftsmen and weavers was sitting in the bank instead. Who was collecting the interest? Why?

She also noticed during 60 surprise checks that the ministry conducted that large amounts of money were going as rebates to people who were not producing a single yard of khadi cloth. It was a system set up in the name of Gandhiji by the Congress Party and she should surely have had total support when she tried to dismantle it but this did not happen. 

The solution lies not in setting up an inquiry commission to find out how many swayamsewaks have helped themselves at our expense but in reducing the govt’s powers of patronage. Why should a petroleum minister have control over companies that dole out petrol pumps? Why are these companies not already in private hands? Meanwhile, to return briefly to the RSS, would its spokesman like to explain why his son wanted an income of Rs 50,000 a month? 

The opposite did. The head of the KVIC, Mahesh Sharma, is a well-known swayamsewak and he objected to her trying to clean things up. So Vasundhara lost her job even though one visit to the Khadi shop in Delhi’s Khan Market is proof that she was on the right track. And, the spate of suicides by desperately poor weavers and craftsmen across the country is more than proof that the organisation set up to help them is not doing its job. 

The RSS appears to have understood very quickly that its supporters could benefit hugely from the powers of patronage that government inevitably brings. So it ensured that the Congress system of patronage remained intact. (The Indian Express)
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