Has the RSS lost to Modi’s ambition?

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Future tense Modi’s path to New Delhi is littered with many obstacles
Future tense Modi’s path to New Delhi is littered with many obstacles Photo: AP

A day after suspended Gujarat top cop DG Vanzara shot off a 10-page resignation letter — a scathing attack on former MoS (Home) Amit Shah and the man he referred to as his ‘god’, Narendra Modi — there seemed to be plenty of turbulence within the BJP rank and file. The Modi dispensation pressed the panic button, just like it had done a fortnight ago when news did the rounds that the policemen jailed for their roles in encounter killings are ready to speak against their political masters.

At a rally held in Ahmedabad on Teacher’s Day (5 September), it seemed that the controversy had really hit Modi hard when he announced his intention to serve the people of Gujarat until 2017, triggering speculation that the chief minister was having second thoughts about his prime ministerial ambitions.

The back story had started to develop. It was Modi’s lieutenants in the RSS — Ram Madhav and Suresh Soni — who had suggested to organisation chief Mohan Bhagwat that the announcement of Modi’s candidature for the prime minister’s post should be made right after the Monsoon Session of Parliament concluded. Modi met BJP chief Rajnath Singh and Bhagwat and conveyed that if they were cowed down by the Congress strategy of using the Vanzara stick against him, it would look like the Grand Old Party had already beaten them to the game.

In a closed-door meeting with senior Sangh and BJP leaders, Modi said that he anticipated many such letters to surface in the coming months and that the Congress might also use the CBI against Amit Shah, perhaps by cancelling his bail. This line of defence did not come as a surprise to those who are close to him. “It is only Modi who can convert his weak moment into a strength in the most shrewd manner,” gushes an insider in the party.

But Modi’s elevation comes with its share of faultlines, which seems to be wearing down the RSS. The Gujarat chief minister’s opponents call him a divisive figure, but Modi seems to now have done to the RSS what years of infighting within the Sangh ranks could not achieve. Is it because the ideology that the RSS chose to represent has been taken over by the desire to be in power in New Delhi?

There had been murmurs within the BJP that the internal schism between Modi and senior party leaders LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj has a lot to do with the politics played by the RSS. The same RSS, which forced Advani to step down as party president in 2005 after his controversial remarks on Jinnah, remained a mute spectator as Modi, who once was seen as Advani’s protégé, went about his “dictatorial functioning”.

“Look at the number of times the Sangh has actually shifted its ideological position to be in power,” says a BJP insider. “In Gujarat, when Modi had issues with Haren Pandya — a staunch Sangh pracharak — the latter was forced to vacate his seat. Modi followed that by cutting Gordhan Zadaphia, Pravin Togadia and Maya Kodnani down to size. He had gone about alienating everyone in Gujarat and the Sangh forgot to crack the whip. Why? Because he won Gujarat for them, got them the funds and let them stay in power. Today, the Sangh is doing the same to regain power at the national level.”

Another section of the RSS believes that it has been pragmatic in its opposition as well as decision-making process on the Modi issue. The top shots in the Sangh, right from Bhagwat to Bhaiyyaji Joshi and Manmohan Vaidya, have been very critical of Modi’s ambitions and have reached out to Advani on many occasions in the past year, standing by his position.

Last month, when Bhagwat met Advani, Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi, he was told in unequivocal terms that while the trio had reluctantly accepted Modi as the chairman of the election committee at his behest, they wouldn’t accept him as the prime ministerial candidate even if Bhagwat insisted on it.

Kya ek aadmi ki zidd ke aage hum sab jhuk jaayenge? Sangh ki neeti thandi pad jaayegi (Should we all bow down before one man’s adamant stand? That would compromise the Sangh’s principles),” one of the leaders told the RSS chief. Bhagwat left the meeting with the assurance that he would not disappoint them.

However, it seems Bhagwat has been rendered helpless by his own position. The man who had to ask Nitin Gadkari — one of his protégés — to step aside from becoming the BJP chief for a second term fell victim not just to Modi’s cadre-morale rhetoric but also due to the dissidence of his rivals in the Sangh, most of whom are part of the anti-Brahmin lobby.

While sources close to Bhagwat sympathise and agree with Advani’s stand, they say that had Advani showed some political acumen during the Goa conclave, the party could be still functioning in a democratic manner.

As someone close to Bhagwat said, if Advani had announced Modi’s candidature in Goa and not tendered his resignation, the cadre would have respected him. And after that if Modi had spoken about being nominated as the PM candidate, then both Advani and Bhagwat could have taken the moral high ground about the RSS’ policy of “one man, one post”.

As a result, Modi would have had to give up either the CM’s post or the PM nomination. And then Advani could have taken the high moral ground and asked his protégé to follow the Sangh dharma.

However, political sense and acumen have eluded many a great leader just as the RSS’ greed for power, which has now made the BJP a laughing stock — nowadays, BJP leaders do not take potshots at the Congress or other Opposition leaders but at members of their own party.

As the issue goes to press, the dilemma over Modi’s nomination as the PM candidate is still searing on. On 11 September, Rajnath had a meeting with Advani and Swaraj in which Advani placed three options before the leadership of the party and the Sangh. One, to issue a diktat; second, to arrive at a consensus based on party ethics; third, to have a vote among key members. While the third option has been ruled out, Advani’s acolytes have dared the Sangh to issue a diktat or arrive at a consensus and stall the decision until the 2013 Assembly elections are over.

“The fact that they have not issued a diktat proves that the Sangh too is in a fix over Modi,” says an Advani aide. When asked what if the diktat was to be imposed, he said, “then we would remind them of the condition on which Advaniji withdrew his resignation”.

The rationale is clear. “The Congress has given us poll issues such as corruption on a platter. If Modi is put at the helm of affairs, despite the stigma of the recent allegations, the Congress would play it as a development vs communal fight,” warns a BJP leader on condition of anonymity.

The sword now looms large over Bhagwat and Rajnath, who is reportedly working overtime to announce Modi as the PM candidate right away. And if any serious allegations surface against Modi, which are likely to emanate from Gujarat, they will ask Modi to step aside.

“The Sangh can always cite the example of Gadkari,” says a BJP leader. “Remember he too had to step down after corruption charges surfaced against him, just around the time he was to be given the second term. If evidence against Modi and its political timing, as his followers suggest, is contrived then the same could be said of Gadkari too.”

Irrespective of what happens, one strong point that has emerged in the BJP’s political narrative in the past year is that it has centred on one man — Narendra Modi. The ideology of MS Golwalkar and KB Hedgewar that the party celebrates in Nagpur has been hijacked by personal ambition. And the RSS just can’t wash its hands of this.

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