Despite its endorsement of the government’s demonetisation decision, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh finds itself in a bind. While the move has evoked massive support among its cadre, it has left its financial backers – traders and small businessmen – gasping for breath.
For almost a fortnight now, the RSS has been trying to look for ways to strike a balance between the enthusiasm of its cadre and the fury of its backers. It finally broke its silence on Thursday, when it issued a statement calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision “a noble endeavour” and asking the “patriotic people of Bharat” to cooperate with the government, “irrespective of the temporary but unavoidable inconvenience being caused”.
Yet, the confusion within the RSS – the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – was so intense that it took a clear two days for it to complete the process of issuing the statement. According to those in the know, the statement was prepared on Tuesday, the day an emotional Modi defended his government’s decision during a meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary party. However, the release of the statement was delayed as a section of RSS office-bearers were in favour of moving cautiously, so as not to hurt the sentiments of small businessmen reeling under the impact of the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.
Perhaps as a result of this nervousness, the RSS forgot to change the date of the statement that was issued by its prachar pramukh Manmohan Vaidya. “It is because of this reason that the statement issued on November 24 carried the date of November 22,” said a senior RSS office-bearer.
Big blow to traders
Traders and small businessmen have traditionally formed the core support base of the RSS, helping it financially while also providing a regular supply of cadre.
The November 8 demonetisation decision has hit cash-based retail businesses in India hard. A week after the decision, the Confederation of All India Traders, one of the country’s largest trade associations, announced that businesses “in markets across the country” had “reduced to 25%”.
Many in the RSS fear that unless the government immediately gives traders and small businessmen some tangible relief, their relationship with the Sangh could chill.
The organisation is aware of the vitality of its bond with the trading community. This is perhaps why the RSS, which generally refrains from speaking in public on the government’s policy decisions, has consistently maintained that the country should not open its doors to foreign direct investment in the retail sector. In May 2015, when the Modi government decided to allow foreign retailers a 51% stake in multi-brand retail stores, the RSS not only criticised the move openly but went to the extent of registering its protest with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
“Patriotism is all fine,” said an RSS office-bearer who is himself a small businessman. “Most of the traders and small businessmen are severely hit by the manner demonetisation has been done. They cannot live by patriotism alone. They have to run their families too.”
That, however, is just one side of the story. For, the government’s decision is said to have gone down unusually well with RSS cadre across the country, particularly in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
“The decision has all the support from our cadre,” said a senior RSS leader who did not want to be identified. “They think the present hardships are ephemeral and that it would hurt only those sitting on large amounts of cash. They have a point, but this could have been done without hurting the trading community.”
He added, “If you ask me how it would affect the Sangh, I would simply say that we all are clueless. We have to wait, just as everyone else is waiting.”