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Bhagwat is new RSS chief

india Updated: Mar 22, 2009 01:57 IST

A veterinary doctor who favours inter-faith dialogue, opposes extreme groups like the Shri Rama Sene and extremism, including by Hindus, took over on Saturday as the sixth chief of the 68-year-old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the apex body of India's right-wing Hindu organisations.

Mohan Bhagwat (58) replaced K.S. Sudarshan (78) who bowed out on health grounds after an annual conclave of Sangh leaders at its national headquarters in Nagpur (HT was the first to report Bhagwat’s likely takeover in the edition dated January 10).

Bhagwat’s rise implies that the RSS and its political arm, the BJP are in for a major overhaul. They may see greater emphasis on ideology, character and discipline, an end to factionalism and zero-tolerance for corruption and controversies.

Bhagwat’s taking over could also mean the clout of L.K. Advani (81) in the Sangh Parivar could improve, with his baiters forced to take a back seat. Advani had trained in the RSS under the late Madhukar Rao Bhagwat, father of the new chief.

If the BJP is voted to power, Bhagwat would expect the BJP not to compromise on core issues like probity in public life, revival of agrarian economy, national security and infiltration from Bangladesh. If the BJP fails, he is expected to force a complete party revamp.

Credited with being the mastermind for Advani’s rehabilitation as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate after Advani’s praise of Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah (it caused his exit as party chief in 2005), Bhagwat will not encourage controversial appointments like those of Delhi businessman Sudhanshu Mittal.

Bhagwat is the youngest to assume the post after Guruji Golwalkar, who took over from RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar in 1940.

Bhagwat, who criticised extremism of all kinds after the arrests of alleged Hindu terrorists after the 2007 Malegaon blasts, told Hindustan Times recently that he was firmly against right-wing groups like the Shri Rama Sene that raided a pub and hit women in Mangalore in January 2009.

He would also want groups like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to act in tune with the BJP, as part of an overall Sangh credo — the nation first — by mobilising public opinion (like the Amarnath Shrine stir in August 2008) rather than random violence.

By choosing Suresh Joshi as RSS general secretary instead of Suresh Soni who was involved in BJP affairs, Bhagwat signaled unity at the Sangh’s top as a precursor to the unity in BJP and other affiliates.

Sudarshan did not explain his health issues. “ My memory sometimes fails me,” he said.

“I am not able to travel as much as required. Under the circumstances, I think it would be best for me to step down and nominate a younger and fitter person.”