For three days a rare political spectacle unfolded in the Capital. Top BJP leaders, battling one another after being stung by one of their worst poll debacles, queued up to meet one man who seemed to hold answers to all their ills.
Notwithstanding his denial that he had nothing to offer as solution, they were still looking up to the man who was younger than them and lacked political experience.
A veterinarian by training, Mohan Bhagwat, 59, did not offer any better homilies than that they stop fighting, put their heads together to get out of the morass and find their own solution — to issue of leadership.
Elementary, isn’t it? Any organisation, let alone a 30-year-old BJP, should be quite familiar with such ground rules for trouble-free functioning.
Yet, Bhagwat, as the Sarsanghachalak of the 84-year-old patriarchal body called the RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh could very well be the envy of any top BJP leader.
Why does this man wield such clout? What can he do for the warring BJP leaders? The answer, BJP and RSS leaders, say lies in the authority he commands as one who is above the petty rat race that symbolises the BJP today.
He is remarkably flexible. But he is zero-tolerant when it comes to corruption or indiscipline. He reduces the mumbo-jumbo of the old RSS credo of “uniting the Hindu identity” into just meaning “Indian identity” so that no other religious communities feel left out.
Also, Bhagwat was the first RSS leader to denounce acts of violence in the name of Hindutva after the police probe into the Malegaon blasts for which some Hindu extremists were blamed.
Today, 81-year-old LK Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate until three months ago, does not command this kind of authority. For that matter, no BJP leader does. Incidentally, Advani trained under his father, Madhukar Rao Bhagwat.
In the midst of his confabulations with the BJP and the Sangh on fixing the party, it was Bhagwat’s televised message of hope (“the BJP will rise from ashes”) last Friday that mattered the most for thousands of cadres across the country.
Both RSS and BJP leaders say the answer to his importance lies in his personality and manner of functioning. Many think they are modelled on the lines of the third RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, who ran the Sangh from 1974 till 1994, and died two years later.
“For all its disclaimers, the BJP as a body cannot do without the RSS but at the same time yearns for flexibility to function as a political party. Bhagwat, like the late Deoras, grants that flexibility with the only condition that you can’t trash the ideology, at least publicly,” said a senior BJP leader.
Deoras, under whose reign the influence of the RSS grew in politics, worked a system where the BJP and the Sangh complemented one another but “never stepped on each other’s toes.”
Bhagwat, who insists on a complete generational change in the BJP, became the sixth chief of the RSS only in March this year — symbolising the change in the body that once fashioned itself on military lines for the cause of the Hindus – in the years that ran up to Partition.
Bhagwat wants every BJP leader who makes it to the top to satisfy the RSS’s demand that he be different in thought and conduct for “better and cleaner” politics and not just the run-of-the-mill sort.
Prior to Bhagwat, the RSS was headed by KS Sudarshan, 78, who was unable to battle the tussle between his sense of idealism and others led by Bhagwat who wanted change with flexibility.