Why RSS pressure on Modi government's policymaking is a good thing

Decision to cut off ties between the NTAGI and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation should be viewed in this backdrop.

 |  4-minute read |   09-02-2017
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Every government in India has its own way of doing things. The incumbent NDA government also has its own style of functioning, which can be described as the "NaMo way of doing things".

There’s no scope for complexities in understanding the policies of the Narendra Modi government when it comes to development.

Whatever one says about his right-wing Hindutva credentials, he is an administrator with a firm belief in pro-market, neo-liberal policies, with strong backing from the corporate world. That’s quite evident in his frequent rhetoric on declaring India as the most open economy in the world.

It’s always intriguing to track Modi’s economic strategy ever since he attained power in May 2014, because of the radical departure it presents from the policies of his party’s ideological mentor and parent organisation, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

Different organisations affiliated to the RSS have different takes on liberalisation, and the views of most of the outfits are in tune with the idea of swadeshi economics. We have heard the open war cries of RSS-linked organisations like Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) against the Modi government on several issues, including foreign direct investment and privatisation.

As all of the affiliated organisations have the freedom to function as autonomous bodies, it didn’t create much headache for the top brass of the RSS and BJP. Note that Swadeshi Jagran Manch recently called Arun Jaitley’s Union Budget 2016-17 “retrograde” and openly expressed displeasure over the government’s decision to abolish the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).

However, Modi has got the charisma to survive that "ire" for championing the cause of economic reforms. The PM has adopted a sensible approach in dealing with the Sangh Parivar organisations. 

For growth-oriented strategies he is banking on the liberal economists, but on policies related to certain sensitive issues, including national security and health, he is heeding the concerns of Sangh Parivar groups with due consideration. 

The Modi government’s recent decision to cut off ties between the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) and the powerful Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation should be viewed in this backdrop.

“The Centre has shut the gate on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a critical national health mission, and possible conflict of interest issues arising from the foundation’s 'ties' with pharmaceutical companies is one of the reasons,” a report in Economic Times said.

The report states that the government has decided to fund the crucial health mission project, which was hitherto funded through the Immunization Technical Support Unit (ITSU) at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) by the Gates Foundation.

gm-embed_020917014729.jpg There's hope that, in the case of GM (genetically modified) seeds, the Sangh will continue its battle. (Photo: India Today)  

As there were critical questions on the Gates Foundation’s link with pharmaceutical companies, Swadeshi Jagran Manch exerted huge pressure on the Modi government to drop the celebrity entrepreneur’s foundation, fearing that it may influence the vaccination strategy of the country.

The Economic Times quoted a study titled ‘Philanthropic Power and Development - Who shapes the agenda?’ in their report which cautions the influence of big philanthropic foundations, especially the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on political discourse and agenda-setting in targeted fields.

The point here is that RSS-inspired organisations are capable of taking uncompromising stands on various aspects of policymaking, if they find it adversely affects the Indian society.

Earlier, we have seen the positive role played by Swadeshi Jagran Manch in the issue of multi-national seed giant Monsanto. The RSS outfit was behind the NDA government’s move against US-based Monsanto over the issue of monopoly and pricing.

Despite the threats from Monsanto, under pressure from the RSS, the Modi government slashed the royalty fee by 74 per cent in 2016. There's hope that, in the case of GM (genetically modified) seeds, the Sangh will continue its battle. 

Contrary to the RSS point of view, Modi’s ambitious Make in India campaign, in 2014, pitched India as a potential investment destination for GM crops.

In a recent interview with Swarajya, the chairman of the review committee on genetic manipulation (RCGM) said, genetically-engineered mustard and fruit borer-resistant Bt brinjal should be released for cultivation because the safety of the two crops has been demonstrated.

As the government has no aversion to GM seeds, the battle will be tough for the RSS outfits. But, they can make things better by playing the role of a corrective force. Indeed, it is good for India.   

Also read: Why AAP scares Modi


Dipin Damodharan Dipin Damodharan @dipinbharath

The writer is co-founder of EduQuest and Ex-Editorial Head, DC Media, DC Books.

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