Amid trade negotiations, RSS chief cautions Govt: Don’t yield too much

Ravish Tiwari
Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur on Tuesday. (Express photo by Monica Chaturvedi)

Amid India’s ongoing negotiations on trade with the US and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat Tuesday cautioned the Centre against yielding too much in negotiations.

During his annual Vijayadashami address at Nagpur, Bhagwat invoked Dattopant Thengadi to advocate Swadeshi, and suggested that the country “create and expand trade relations with the world on the basis of our strength and terms”.

RSS chief’s remarks on economic slowdown and trade agreements are significant given that his views may trigger a section of Sangh Parivar to raise its pitch against government’s proposals on FDI, disinvestment and trade deals in the coming days.

Incidentally, Bhagwat’s remarks during his annual Vijayadashami address last year on the Ram Temple saw the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) mounting pressure on the government by organising nation-wide rallies demanding legislation to build the Ram Temple ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The government eventually moved the Supreme Court requesting it to lift the status quo on non-disputed land around the disputed site and hand over surplus to the original owners.

Read | Indianness underlined: What RSS chief said in his Vijayadashami address

And in his annual address Tuesday, economy and trade were the new issues Bhagwat chose to dwell on. He expressed hope that “we will definitely come out of this cycle of so-called recession” in the wake of steps taken by the government.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat during his Vijayadashmi speech at Nagpur.

“To strengthen the economy, government is compelled to take steps such as allowing Foreign Direct Investment and disinvestment of industries. However, while implementing many government schemes and welfare policies at the lower level, more alacrity and efficiency and avoiding unnecessary stringency can set many matters right,” he said.

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His reference to avoid “unnecessary stringency” appeared to draw attention to the impact of stringent norms in banking, cash transactions and GST in adversely impacting business sentiments across the country.


Possible leverage for affiliates

The RSS chief’s remarks are guiding lights for its affiliate organisations. Last year’s, Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on the Ram temple had got the VHP to mount pressure on the government, which struggled to wriggle out of it. Bhagwat’s remarks advocating Swadeshi and suggestions of not yielding in trade agreements comes at a time when the government is reeling under an economic slowdown and there is demand for big bang reforms. His remarks could be used by RSS affiliates as leverage to push their viewpoints with the BJP government.

Though acknowledging that the government is “compelled to take steps such as allowing Foreign Direct Investment and disinvestment of industries” amid the prevailing economic situation, the RSS chief suggested the Swadeshi route for long-term benefits even if it meant taking a “circuitous route”.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, Minister of State V K Singh, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis were also present at the event

“Forgetting the Swadeshi consciousness, while seeking answers to the pressures of the situation, will also lead to loss... Considering our economic scenario, even if we have to choose any circuitous route, we must overcome the compulsions once and for all by setting a destination and direction based on our own strength,” he said invoking the late Dattopant Thengadi, the driving force behind the RSS’s labour and farmers affiliates.

Read | Full text: ‘Work by PM Modi, Shah in abrogation of Article 370 laudable,’ says RSS chief Bhagwat at Vijayadashmi event

However, it was Bhagwat’s remarks on trade that appeared to draw a red line for the Centre which is engaged in negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, and an issue which has agitated RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and a section of domestic industry wary of China’s presence in RCEP.

RSS chief suggested that the need to think of trade relations in Indian terms without letting immediate concerns cloud our choices. “To minimise the impact of other immediate crises and ups and downs of the world economy on our financial system, we need to go to the basics and ponder. We have to formulate our own economic vision keeping in mind our requirements, profile and condition of our people and our resources and potential to realise our national aspirations,” he said.

“We have to take steps to formulate our own economic vision, policy and system that instil in us capacity to create more and more employment with least consumption of energy that is beneficial for the environment, make us self-reliant in every respect, and create and expand trade relations with the world on the basis of our strength and terms.”

His suggestions are seen in the backdrop of ongoing trade negotiations. “This has been the stated position always. However, it is significant that Sarsanghchalak ji has reiterated at this time, when officials negotiating RCEP are pushing India into an unequal and disastrous treaty, caving in to the demands of China and other countries, detrimental to the interests of Indian economy in general and manufacturing, dairy and agriculture in particular, in the name of free trade. This needs to be stopped,” SJM convenor Ashwani Mahajan told The Indian Express.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN countries along with its trade partners - India, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea. The negotiations are being pushed by the ASEAN countries.

A section of Indian industry is wary about the RCEP agreement. The SJM, on its part, voiced concerns over the RCEP and its impact on domestic enterprises in manufacturing and agriculture and dairy sectors.