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 heath grounds after at an annual conclave of Sangh leaders at its national headquarters in Nagpur (HT was the first to report his likely takeover in the edition dated January 10).
Bhagwat’s rise implies that the RSS and its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (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 that the clout of Lal Krishna 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.
Both Advani and Bhagwat agree that the RSS and the BJP must change while keeping their core ideology intact.
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 L K 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 Sudanshu Mittal.
Bhagwat is the youngest to assume the post after Guruji Golwalkar who took over from RSS founder K B Hedgewar in 1940 and had crafted its ideology. Bhagwat had become general secretary in 2000 when Sudarshan, an electronics and telecommunication engineer, took over the mantle of Sarsanghchalak from Rajendra Singh, who had also stepped down for health reasons.
Unlike Sudershan who publicly suggested that Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani should retire after the 2004 elections, Bhagwat may put a stop to rifts in BJP, as is playing out now between party president Rajnath Singh and general secretary Arun Jaitley.
Bhagwat, who criticised extremism of all kinds after the arrests of alleged Hindu terrorists after the 2007 Malegaon blasts, told HT recently that he was firmly against right-wing groups like the Shri Rama Sene that raided a pub and hit women in Mangalore.
He would also want groups like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to act in tune with the BJP, as part of a overall Sangh credo — the nation first — by mobilising public opinion (like the Amarnath Shrine stir in August 2008) rather than random violence.