Originally Published 2016-02-03 11:41:58 Published on Feb 03, 2016
Is the present RSS chief more assertive?

On December 2 last year in Kolkata, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said that the Ram temple will be built at Ayodhya in his life time though “none can say when and how the temple will be constructed, but we need to be prepared and ready”.

Bhagwat was addressing a programme to pay tributes to brothers Ram Kothari and Sharad Kothari who were killed in police firing while performing “symbolic” karseva at Ayodhya in 1990, two years before the Babri Masjid structure was eventually demolished by Sangh followers.

Bhagwat, unlike his predecessors, has been in news headlines for his statements and pronouncements almost every other day. One wonders whether this creates troubles for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government or this is part of the long term strategy to further the “Hindu” cause. On surface of it, such interventions from the top of the mentor organisation of the ruling BJP derail the government’s developmental agenda as non-issues begin to dominate the public debate.

Is the flutter of activities by him on the issue of Ram temple in Ayodhya and other matters close to the Sangh ideology and belief a sudden development or is it a planned tactical move to demonstrate its might to keep the NDA government on the ideological track? The question cannot be answered without going into the depth of Bhagwat’s persona.

Ram temple issue had lost considerable traction after the demolition of the Babri Mssjid structure on 6 December, 1992 though it found some resonance every year on the anniversary of the demolition and at the time of elections at the centre or in states. But now, Bhagwat has a plan in place. BJP and VHP senior leaders like Subramanian Swamy are reported to have been tasked to revive the Ram temple movement.

Bhagwat, 65, is a different material all together as he is more political compared to all his predecessors. Those, who know him well, aver saying he is ambitious and is determined to assert the supremacy of the RSS over all its organisations, including the BJP-led government. He is credited to have fox like qualities.

Fact that the present RSS chief, who took over reins from K S Sudarshan in 2009, not only asserts but does it emphatically was evident when he threw his and organisation’s weight behind Narendra Modi in 2013, brushing aside opposition from BJP’s veteran leader Advani. Modi was chosen to lead the party’s campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha battle at the BJP’s national executive meeting in Goa in June 2013.

Over a decade, Bhagwat has been playing a crucial role in the BJP’s decision making. He was instrumental in bringing in his favourite Nitin Gadkari to lead the BJP in 2009. However, Gadkari, much to the dislike of Bhagwat, had to make way for Rajnath Singh to lead the party in the wake of a controversy in which the former was said to be involved. The Sangh chief played a decisive role in the choice of Gadkari’s successor.

A hands-on person, Bhagwat leads from the front. It is said that Bhagwat did not want the BJP to win the assembly elections in Bihar last year as a victory in his view would have made the Prime Minister and his confidante BJP chief Amit Shah more arrogant and despotic and may have even challenged the RSS itself.

Moving swiftly, he caused a serious embarrassment to the BJP and the Prime Minister when he called for a review of the policy of reservations for the scheduled caste, tribes and other backwards castes literally on the eve of the Bihar assembly elections but he sought to correct it by not only endorsing the Modi government’s domestic and foreign policies but also by eulogizing B R Ambedkar and coming out in support of reservation in his Dussehra address at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.

The RSS mouth pieces ‘Organiser’ and ‘Panchjanya’ have also become proactive in Bhagwat’s tenure as both not only defend the Modi government but also prescribe policy changes. Both these magazines have been carrying campaigns on issues of ‘Love Jihad’ and ban on cow slaughter.

The RSS till the time Professor Rajendra Singh became its chief used to be wrapped in secrecy and mystery. It began to come into open when Rajju Bhaiya took over the reins in 1994. He was the first non-Maharashtrian and non-Brahmin to assume charge of the organisation and credit to demystify the Sangh goes to him.

Rajendra Singh was named the successor to RSS chief Balasahib Deoras when his  health deteriorated. Earlier, a new RSS chief’s name used to be known only after the death of the incumbent, when a sealed envelope carrying the name of the next chief was opened.

Not only the past practise of the nomination of the successor was changed by Deoras but more changes were ushered in during the six-year tenure of the physics professor from Allahabad University. While earlier chiefs rarely used to step out of the RSS headquarter in Nagpur, Rajendra Singh began to function from the RSS office in Delhi known as Keshavkunj in Jhandewalan. Singh even began to interact with media.

Equation between the RSS and the BJP remained of a father and a child till Rajendra Singh was on the seat because he was senior to both former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani. But, when he named K S Sudarshan as his successor, equation underwent a change for two reasons.

First, Sudarshan was junior to both Vajpayee and Advani and second, the BJP was in power from 1998 to 2004. For administrative as well as governance reasons, Vajpayee-Advani duo could overrule the RSS chief which did not go well with majority of the members of the Sangh family.

When Sudarshan handed over charge back to a Maharashtrian Brahmin in 2009, Bhagwat began to repair RSS equations with its progenies, including the BJP. He began to take small but decisive steps to re-establish the Sangh’s supremacy.

Sidelining first veteran Advani, who was one of the main architects of the BJP, and then pushing him out of the active politics, was a brilliant operation whose strings were controlled by none other than Bhagwat.

Advani could often act independently and defy RSS diktats and it was obviously not liked by Sangh leadership and this was more than evident when he had to make way for the younger leaders as Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were made the leader of the opposition in the two houses of Parliament.

He even allowed today’s Prime Minister to emerge as the supreme BJP leader though the RSS ideologically has always stood for the concept of “dissolution of individuality into a collective”.

Not only this. Bhagwat, much against the organisation’s principles, overlooked and rather tacitly approved Amit Shah becoming the BJP president despite the fact that both Modi and Shah are from the same State, Gujarat.

Bhagwat’s ambition was fully demonstrated when he convened a RSS coordination meeting in the union capital in September last year to which top BJP ministers and the Prime Minister were called to brief on important issues. This was a clear message to the world that the RSS and its chief were supreme.

This seems to predict trouble ahead for the Modi government.

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Satish Misra

Satish Misra

Satish Misra was Senior Fellow at ORF. He has been a journalist for many years. He has a PhD in International Affairs from Humboldt University ...

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