New Delhi: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale’s comments highlighting India’s poverty, unemployment and inequality at a Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) event Sunday have created a stir, as they seem to “target the BJP-led central government”.
While BJP spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal said the party “does not have a particular stance on what Hosabale said, but he has underlined some of the challenges which are common”, some leaders from the Congress — which is holding a Bharat Jodo Yatra against the rising inflation and unemployment — took the remarks as an opportunity to attack the Centre over the state of the economy.
Congress general secretary in-charge of communication Jairam Ramesh tweeted in Hindi: “Look at the effect of BharatJodoYatra. Those who break the country and spread poison in the society, today they are raising the issue of poverty, unemployment and inequality to increase their reach [sic].”
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera retweeted Jairam Ramesh and wrote in Hindi: “It’s being heard that clouds of worries have surrounded Nagpur, even Hosabale ji can see unemployed people now”.
Political experts were divided on the significance of the statement made by the senior leader of the RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP.
Political analyst Rahul Verma, a fellow at Centre for Policy Research, does not consider it as criticism of the BJP government. “The RSS has often acted as the conscience keeper of the BJP. Even during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the RSS and affiliated organisations like Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh used to make demands and protest against government policies,” he said.
But, another political analyst Rasheed Kidwai pointed out that “what Hosabale has said is something very obvious, but the open-ended question can be whether a section of RSS or BJP leaders are at variance”.
At a webinar hosted by the SJM, Hosabale had compared poverty to a demon which has to be slayed.
“Over 20 crore people who live here are below the below poverty line. Around 23 crore people are having an income of Rs 375 per day. Unemployment rate is also very distressing at 7.6 per cent. There is poverty, unemployment in the country but we also need to discuss the rising inequality,” he asserted.
“Even when India has managed to be among the top six economies in the world, we can’t say all is well. One percentage of the population in India holds 20 per cent of the country’s wealth, while 50 per cent has 13 per cent of wealth,” the RSS general secretary said. “We must do something about this economic inequality.”
In January, the Sangh-affiliated SJM, along with seven other right-wing organisations, had launched the ‘Swavalambi Bharat Abhiyan’ (SBA), which aims to make India unemployment-free by 2030. Sunday’s event, ‘Swawalamban ka Shankhnaad’, was part of a series of events being organised under the SBA banner.
On its part, the SJM has often raised issues relating to unemployment but links it to the country’s colonial past and alleged failure of the previous governments.
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Referring to Hosabale’s remarks on poverty, inequality and joblessness, Agarwal pointed out that “these challenges have been raised in speeches by the PM himself”.
“As a social organisation, the RSS has its own special initiative during which the comments were made, and the RSS always thinks about social challenges. But it is not a criticism or change of position by the RSS,” the BJP national spokesperson for economic affairs asserted.
A senior RSS functionary also said Hosabale’s speech should be seen in the context of how poverty can be further reduced by citizen participation because the government alone cannot do everything.
“He was praising the initiatives by the government and gave examples of how well the government schemes are doing, but, of course, poverty cannot be reduced in a limited time. There is a need to be more self-reliant and the Swavalambi Bharat Abhiyan focuses on how to move ahead in that direction. The opposition is creating a controversy in futile,” the Sangh functionary claimed.
PM Narendra Modi has often advocated self-reliance, which, he asserted, would lead to more employment generation. In April, he said that if people use local goods for the next 25 years, then the country will not have to face the issue of unemployment. “India cannot afford to remain stagnant at this juncture” and must become aatmanirbhar (self-reliant), he had asserted.
Verma felt Hosabale praised the initiatives of the Modi government even as he raised concerns about poverty and inequality.
“For example, he pointed to the poor level of education as one of the reasons behind unemployment and further said the National Education Policy has been ushered in to tackle that. In that sense, his comments should not be seen as criticism of the current government,” the political analyst said.
“Similarly, even [Union minister] Nitin Gadkari has often said there are not enough government jobs and one needs to find a way to generate job-creators than job-seekers. When a Union minister speaks about unemployment, it does not mean he is targeting his own government. Rather, there is an emerging consensus that we must look beyond the government to think of possible solutions,” he added.
Kidwai differed to say that “Hosabale’s statements also reflect a kind of unease and there is political messaging also”.
“The RSS has always been part-and-parcel of BJP’s wins and now when the BJP is winning elections on its own, the RSS is still trying to be the fountainhead it needs to be. For example, the BJP does not have a single Muslim MP in the country and thus, [RSS chief] Mohan Bhagwat visits mosques and meets with maulanas because 16-19 per cent of the Indian [Muslim] population cannot be excluded,” he explained.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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