At a recent address in Delhi, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi declared that India should build “toilets before temples”. When BSP leader Kanshi Ram made a similar statement during the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, it had lead to protests by Hindutva groups. In 2012, Union Rural Development Minister and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had also said something to the same effect. The BJP and its allies had taken offence then and party workers had protested by urinating in front of Ramesh’s house. But when Narendra Modi repeated this apparently offensive idea, the Sangh Parivar was largely silent.
While VHP President Ashok Singhal, who had been a strong critic of Modi in the past, kept quiet, Praveen Togadia demanded strict action against him. Neither BJP leaders like Prakash Javdekar and Rajiv Pratap Rudy who had lambasted Ramesh for his comments spoke up, nor did the RSS make any public statement. However, according to sources, a meeting of RSS and VHP leaders took place regarding the issue in which they expressed anger over Modi’s statement. His controversial remark has made the leadership of Sangh Parivar doubtful of Modi’s ideology and now, questions are being raised about his candidature.
A swayamsevak (volunteer) of the RSS, Modi relied on the party’s support and followed the Sangh’s ideology to rise to power and cement his position as the chief minister of Gujarat. Following the 2002 Gujarat riots, the RSS and VHP considered him the saviour of Hindus. A Sangh Parivar member, who is well-acquainted with Modi, says, “Modi joined the RSS as a bal swayamsevak at a very young age. Due to his contacts with Sangh leaders, he started working at the party’s office. There his duties included cooking, cleaning, etc – activities which all Sangh activists are expected to do. He then participated in the RSS training camps, where he quickly progressed. In 1987, the RSS launched his political career, handing him the charge of coordinating between the RSS and the BJP. In 1991, he was made the organiser of BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi’s ‘Ekta Yatra’ – his first major responsibility at the Centre. Later, he was given the charge of Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. In 2001, the BJP lost two bypolls and one local body election in Gujarat. Keshubhai Patel was held responsible for the loss and Narendra Modi was ushered in as the CM of Gujarat.”
Hindutva groups like RSS and VHP were confident that Modi’s ascension as chief minister would boost the propagation of their ideology. However, Modi dismantled not only the Sangh, but also its affiliates in the state. A swayamsevak associated with VHP for a long time, who is also a member of Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party, says, “Any social organisation is established only when people believe that the organisation can get things done. Whenever we organised a protest, the police lathi-charged us in the name of law and order and the Modi government took no action. Even when we had genuine complaints, government officials refused to listen to us. Soon people started realising that the VHP had no authority and they turned away from us. Today, the VHP, the RSS and their affiliates are in a pitiable condition in Gujarat.”
Political observers believe that after taking charge as chief minister, Modi realised that an image makeover was indispensable to further his political ambitions at the Centre. He tried to show that his idea of progress was inclusive and not directed at any particular group. He called himself a ‘Hindu nationalist’, but tried to garner the support of Muslims as well. Under Modi’s leadership, a large number of temples were razed and the police beat up VHP activists. When VHP activists vandalised an art gallery exhibiting MF Hussain’s paintings, the police lathicharged them and even lodged complaints against them. A VHP activist commented, “In Gujarat, when we protested against Hussain for painting blasphemous images of Hindu gods and goddesses, we were beaten up. But when there were protests in Delhi, the police neither beat up the demonstrators nor arrested them, despite the fact that there is a Congress government both at the Centre and in Delhi. In Gujarat, we might have our government and our leader might call himself the greatest advocate of Hindutva, yet we have to face police action.” Consequently, many outfits of the Sangh Parivar – especially in Gujarat – have often held demonstrations against Modi.
Ashok Singhal may today be a staunch supporter of Modi, but in 2008 he was angry with him when temples were being razed in Gujarat. The rift between Togadia and Modi is out in the open – Togadia even criticised him on several occasions. A Sangh activist says, “People have realised that Modi’s posturing as a supporter of Hindu rights is nothing but humbuggery. He demolished far more temples than the governments before him did. Under his rule, cow slaughter increased manifold. He handed over vast areas of grazing land to industrialists. Now he is trying to lure Muslims. To garner the support of Muslims, he has been lax in the implementation of the law against cow slaughter. The Modi government allows beef trade because of which cow theft has increased in Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat.”
Laljibhai Patel, an RSS pracharak in Gujarat, adds, “Narendra Modi put an end to our leadership in all areas using money and lobbying. He tried to destroy the Sangh parivar by neglecting its principles. He has bitten the very hand that fed him.”
If Modi had been neglecting and overriding the Sangh parivar’s ideology all along prior to his ‘toilets before temples’ remark, why did the RSS vouch for him as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate? And will the Sangh accept Modi as the future PM?
A Sangh activist and senior BJP leader elaborates, “In the last elections, the BJP won only 116 seats, which was less than what it won in 2004. Nothing much has changed in the party since 2009. The party has not done anything concrete to increase its seats in the next elections. Although the BJP can gain from the mistakes of the central government, the party’s top leaders are not sure if this would help it win enough seats to form a government. The Sangh Parivar feels that the BJP needs to rely on the reputation of Narendra Modi to secure victory. While Rahul Gandhi may be a weak candidate, the BJP could not risk going to polls without declaring a prime ministerial candidate. Modi was the strongest contender in the party because he has constantly proved himself in electoral politics.”
When asked if Modi’s leadership would help the BJP win the Lok Sabha elections, he says, “BJP spokespersons make such claims only in public statements. If you talk to them off the record, even they will admit that it is impossible for the BJP to form a government on its own or with the support of its current allies.”
Political watchers say that the election results of 2014 will give rise to a conflict within the BJP. A BJP office-holder says, “If the BJP succeeds in securing 160-170 seats, the next step would be to form the government, for which it will need new allies. Attempts will also be made to win back the parties who have left the NDA. In such a situation, Modi cannot be the prime minister; an alternative will be sought. Active members of the Sangh understand the role Modi will play in the political situation arising out of a possible win in 2014. It is, therefore, planning out a strategy accordingly.”
Another Sangh member says, “There is an atmosphere in favour of Modi both within the Sangh and outside. There are different views on how this happened. Some claim that the Modi wave across the country pressurised the Sangh to agree for Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. The Sangh is well aware that he will not promote its ideology, but since there was pressure from all sides, how could the Sangh oppose?” When asked if there was a clash between the Sangh’s ideology and Modi’s politics, he says, “The Sangh does not believe in individual politics. It can never promote individual agendas. It’s true that during Modi’s rule in Gujarat, the Sangh’s ties with its allies got severed and our swadeshi movement also suffered a setback. But Sangh leaders are aware of it and will keep it in mind while taking decisions in the future.”
The brewing discontent within the Sangh Parivar shows that the group does not unanimously agree on the choice of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. However, to ensure that the BJP forms a government at the Centre, supporting Modi is not a choice, but a necessity. In fact, the Sangh would rather stop Modi from becoming the Prime Minister instead of elevating him. It is only because the Sangh believes that he can mobilise votes for the party that it supports him. Within the Sangh, only Suresh Soni is categorical in his support of Modi. At the Goa Conclave, Soni put pressure on Rajnath Singh and other senior party leaders to declare Modi as their electoral campaign committee’s president, despite senior leader Lal Krishna Advani’s boycott and the JD (U) calling off its long-standing ties with the BJP. Currently Suresh Soni is the Sangh’s liaison person for the BJP. But he might not last long in the post if the Sangh adheres to its plan of withdrawing its support to Modi. He might soon be replaced by Bhaiyyaji Joshi, who is neither a supporter of Modi, nor his opponent, although he believes that Modi can help the BJP win seats. Dattatreya Hosabale, National Joint General Secretary, RSS, is also a supporter of Modi.
Mohan Bhagwat is one of the leaders who never favoured Modi. He was chiefly responsible for the delay in declaring Modi’s selection. If the BJP wins 160-170 seats in the 2014 elections, Bhagwat would probably be the first to demand that Modi be replaced by someone else. Manmohan Vaidya and Madhubhai Kulkarni are vociferous opponents of Modi. Both of them have been Sangh pracharaks at different times in Gujarat. They know what happened to the Sangh Parivar during Modi’s rule. They are also aware of how Modi treats anybody posing a threat to his agenda. Both of them were removed from the state after Modi complained to senior Sangh officials that they were creating problems for his government.
Political experts are convinced that the Sangh would never want Modi to achieve a position where it is possible for him to repeat his Gujarat model at the national level. The Sangh has not forgotten how Atal Bihari Vajpayee disregarded the RSS and ignored its basic principles. While the RSS was running a swadeshi campaign, Vajpayee promoted foreign capital. Advani apologised for the Babri Masjid demolition and the RSS could do nothing.
Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta points out an interesting fact. “On his visit to Jinnah’s tomb, Advani called him a secular figure. He also shifted his stance on the Babri Masjid demolition. Yet the Sangh did not oppose his candidature for the post of PM then. It means the Sangh is not cut off from the political situation in the country. They were aware that Advani would not be able to form the government. Based on their political understanding, I firmly believe that Sangh knows that Modi will also not be able to form the government. That’s why they have not opposed Modi’s candidature.”
The RSS hopes that once the party wins, it can do away with Modi, paving the way for other possibilities. But what is the Sangh’s alternative to Modi? A senior leader of RSS and BJP says, “The RSS wants a government at the Centre. The party has been out of power for the past 10 years. If a government is formed, its workers will regain confidence. The first preference of the Sangh would be Rajnath Singh because he facilitates the Sangh’s work and promotes its ideology. It would not mind Advani either. The Sangh needs resources to run its organisations. When Vajpayee became the PM, although he neglected the Sangh’s ideology while running the government, he empowered the Sangh and its affiliates. Many groups were allotted land in Delhi. If Advani becomes the PM, the Sangh will focus on consolidating its position.”
There is speculation that the Sangh Parivar might want Nitin Gadkari or Shivraj Singh Chauhan as Prime Minister. Gadkari was a junior leader when he was given the party’s command. He has served at this position for three years now. As for Chauhan, there is hardly any senior BJP leader apart from Modi who opposes him.
What would Modi do in case a government is eventually formed at the Centre, but under the leadership of someone else? A politician who has worked alongside Modi in the BJP says, “As far as I know Modi, if the BJP’s win is restricted to 160-170 seats, he will not want BJP to form a government. But he won’t return to Gujarat either. He will try to become an opposition leader in the Lok Sabha. This would send across a message that he has not accepted defeat. He will constantly keep lashing out at the government in the parliament in an attempt to gear up for the next polls.”
(Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman)