Tuesday, September 8, 2015

This round goes to Mohan Bhagwat

Pankaj Sharma

7 September 2015, New Delhi

It was two days after Narendra Modi’s grand victory in last year’s general elections that Ram Madhav, who was then the national spokesperson of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), dismissed any scope of running the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government ‘through remote control’. According to Madhav, the Sangh had not given any guidelines to the BJP after its historic victory in Lok Sabha polls. 

Within two months of Modi becoming the prime minister, RSS deputed Madhav to BJP, and he later became national general secretary of the party. It was at that time when New Delhi’s power corridors were abuzz with talks about Narendra Modi scheming to tighten his grips over the functioning and decision making of RSS. Gossip clubs were busy speculating about the tense relationship between RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Modi. The general feeling that emerged from these stories indicated that RSS will have to mend its ways and ultimately Modi will have the top leadership of his choice installed even in the RSS.

Bhagwat was aware of the schemes that were taking shape in the backrooms of Delhi. In the second week of August 2014, he warned that, “some people are saying that the victory is because of some individuals”. The fact is that BJP acquired this absolute power because the common man wanted change. The same individuals and the party existed earlier also. Why were they not voted to power? 

Bhagwat was not in favour of Modi’s individualistic approach since the very beginning and had given a strong note of caution to RSS workers even before last year’s parliamentary elections. Two months before these elections, he told a delegate session of RSS volunteers at Bangalore, “we must work for BJP’s victory, but it is not our job to chant NaMo-NaMo. We must not cross our limits to support BJP”. 

A person of Modi’s mindset would have never liked Bhagwat’s utterances before and after the elections. There was growing anxiety within the RSS on its shrinking cadre base. Bhagwat took the hint and personally saw to it that the numbers of RSS shakhas are increased across the country and started a massive exercise to open overseas shakhas in different countries. Bhagwat personally crafted a special plan to cover north-eastern states, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir. These states were to have RSS offices at every tehsil headquarter.

For some time Hindu fountainhead Bhagwat decided to wait and watch and at the same time drop hints of his displeasure with Narendra Modi. Bhagwat replaced joint general secretary Suresh Soni as the point-man between RSS and BJP with Krishna Gopal.  In internal meetings, he expressed dissatisfaction with the working of Soni—considered to be one of Modi’s close associates. Soni was instrumental in Modi’s selection as the BJP’s campaign chief and subsequently, the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. Bhagwat also indicated that he is not happy with the elevation of Amit Shah as he believes both the BJP president and the prime minister should not be from one state. According to RSS insiders, Bhagwat has also been unhappy the way Nitin Gadkari has been kept out of key decision-making processes. Bhagwat expressed his displeasure over functioning of the Modi government in a closed-door meeting in Agra convention also.

Modi sent Amit Shah to Nagpur to pacify Bhagwat. Shah also flew down to Lucknow to meet Bhagwat to explain things. In the lead-up to the three-day conclave of the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhik Sabha (ABPS), the highest decision-making body of the Sangh, speculation was rife that additional general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, perceived to be close to Prime Minister Modi, could replace Bhaiyya Ji Joshi. But Joshi was retained as RSS general secretary for a third consecutive term. This was seen as a defeat for the Modi camp. An RSS insider told me those days, “Bhaiyya ji’s re-election is a signal that the RSS top brass does not want any individual to dominate the entire Parivar. When a son tries to assert himself, the father has to come forward and tell the family that he is in command. Had Hosabale replaced Bhaiyya Ji, someone junior to Modi would have been given a responsibility of negotiating with him, and everyone knows how dominating our Prime Minister is”. 

It is in the backdrop of a strong trust deficit with the BJP that the RSS summoned Narendra Modi and his ministers to tell them what to do and what not to last week. Officially the three-day meet between the Modi government and Sangh Parivar was for the ‘exchange of notes’. However, Narendra Modi’s attendance at the RSS conclave has far bigger ramifications and Bhagwat has openly established the fact that RSS is and will be remote controlling BJP and its government. That Modi had to take a diversionary route and submit himself for rigorous scrutiny before his mother organisation is an ominous sign. You may recall how a few weeks after Modi government was sworn in, a group of secretarial staffers from the Centre trooped off to Mumbai for one such event organized by RSS. In the end, the ruler of our democracy will be one of the two swayamsevaks who ultimately wins this ongoing tussle. This round goes to Mohan Bhagwat.

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