BJP-RSS jugalbandi

The decision to cover Mohan Bhagwat’s speech live on DD was obviously cleared at the highest level

Fourteen years ago, during his visit to the New York borough of Staten Island, Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India, famously remarked: “Once a swayamsevak, always a swayamsevak”. The claim was made to ward off criticism from an audience comprising mainly Vishwa Hindu Parishad supporters that his government was doing precious little for the “Hindu cause”.

Despite his assertion a few months later in December 2000, during a debate in Parliament on the Ayodhya dispute, that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement had been a struggle for the assertion of Indian nationalism, Mr Vajpayee never endeared himself with the rank and file of the Sangh Parivar. This had partly to do with compulsions of coalition politics, but more with the fact that beneath his saffron exterior,

Mr Vajpayee believed in consensual politics. He was often called the right man in the wrong party and this was the reason why the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leadership believed that they did not have “their man” in 7, RCR.

In 13 years as Gujarat Chief Minister, there was never any need for Mr Modi to claim that he remained a swayam-sevak — his actions spoke for themselves. Similar is the situation now. Differences bet-ween the RSS and Mr Modi since 2003 did not arise on ideology or policies but on per-sonality and hierar-chical issues. Within the RSS hierarchy, the Prant Pracharak — chief of RSS in the state — was senior to Mr Modi because he had been lower in the hierarchy at the point of deputation to Bharatiya Janata Party in the late 1980s. Mr Modi obviously contested this principle and believed that BJP leaders could not be part of RSS chain of command.

Because of this background, once it became clear that Mr Modi was poised to become Prime Minister, the evolving relationship between him and sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat became a matter of keen scrutiny. Mr Bhagwat did not hide the discomfort of the RSS with several aspects of the Modi campaign, including its personalised nature. Even after the victory, there were several attempts to play down the Modi-factor in the victory of the BJP. Naturally, this suggested that there would be a tussle for territory between Mr Modi and Mr Bhagwat. When the United Progressive Alliance was in power, the issue of dual power Centre surfaced as 10 Janpath often remote-controlled the government. Would the subtle tussle between RSS and Mr Modi now follow the same script?

During the years when the BJP was in Oppo-sition, Nagpur was very much the Big Brother and all key decisions of the party were endorsed by the sarsanghchalak and his coterie. The manner in which RSS supported the Congress Party in elections in 1984, after Indira Gan-dhi’s assassination, and in 1998, when the RSS coerced Mr Vajpayee into not including Jaswant Singh and Pramod Mahajan in his ministry because they lost their Lok Sabha seats, left little doubt about who was the final arbitrator. The question in 2014 was simple: How would the Big Brother assert authority on a sibling who had a mind of his own and was more assertive than Mr Vaj-payee or anyone else in the BJP?

When Mr Modi announced his decision to address people on radio on the occasion of Dasara, this column had argued that it would steal the thunder from the sarsanghchalak’s traditional Dasara address, which is to mark the foundation day of the organisation. A fortnight ago, the question was with regard to Mr Bhagwat’s counter-strategy. The radio talk-show and Mr Bhagwat’s sermon have come and gone and what was at display were not competitive performances but two complimentary concerts. From a time when there was nuanced disdain for Mr Modi in the top levels of RSS, why has this transformation come about?

The decision to cover Mr Bhagwat’s speech live on Doordarshan was obviously cleared at the highest level and it sent a signal that Mr Modi did not wish to overrun the event. Subsequently, Mr Bhagwat responded by saying that “in a very short period, some policy initiatives taken by the Central government in national interest on the fronts of economy, national security, international relations and many other areas have raised good hopes.” This endorsement of Mr Modi was reciprocated by the Prime Minister and after the radio address was over, he tweeted appreciation of Mr Bhagwat’s speech. Mr Modi wrote that the sarsanghchalak “talked about important national issues in his speech. The issues of social reform that he raised are very relevant today.”

This mutual admiration sounded like a jugalbandhi performance and conveyed a very significant message to their diehard followers: that they should not view the “other” antagonistically but sympathetically. Mr Bhagwat said more time must be given to the government, while Mr Modi demonstrated his respect for the institution of the sarsanghchalak. Compared to early days of the Vajpayee regime there is clearly greater amount of circumspection within RSS and its leadership has not adopted the belligerent posture of yore. Similarly, Mr Modi demonstrated that he is a better swayamsevak than his predecessor.

The fact that personal ties between Mr Bhagwat and Mr Modi go back to their youth is an enabling factor in the two reworking the relationship between the RSS and a government headed by a swayamsevak. This situation was unforeseen for almost seven decades after the formation of RSS. Neither is now willing to overstretch and subjugate the other. This relationship has entered a crucial period and will need watching. Mr Bhagwat called for patience when evaluating government performance in the hope that Mr Modi will be more sensitive to aspirations of his ideological fraternity.

For the moment Big Brother is willing to become a Twin. Time will determine where this relationship heads. The writer is the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times

( Source : dc )
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