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The family is changing too

Will the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) impose ‘President’s rule’ on the BJP and take full control if it loses the Lok Sabha elections? Shekhar Iyer examines.

india Updated: Jun 06, 2009 23:20 IST
Shekhar Iyer

Will the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) impose ‘President’s rule’ on the BJP and take full control if it loses the Lok Sabha elections? Isn’t the Sangh itching for this, as the Vajpayee-Advani era draws to a close, and that may afford the RSS a greater say in the affairs of the parliamentary face of the parivaar?

I posed these questions to Mohan Bhagwat, the 59-year-old head of the Sangh Parivar, five months ago during a chance encounter. He was then No 2 in the RSS. He eventually replaced the 78-year-old K.S. Sudarshan as No. 1 in a smooth generational transfer of power three months ago.

I had not intended the question as a joke, but his answer was prompt, “Why should we? That’s not our core business.”

Even as many in the BJP look up to the RSS in this hour of existential crisis following the poll debacle for solutions, Bhagwat may let the party be — and decide its future.

Whether it is the question of the next BJP president or projecting the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 polls, Bhagwat would like the BJP to evolve names — in consultation with the RSS, and not by any diktat from the Sangh.

“We won’t interfere unless they (the BJP) totally give up and come to us, seeking our help. We are not in politics. We have our views on how politics must serve the nation. It’s up to them,” Bhagwat had told me then.

Bhagwat was the first RSS chief to openly come out against all forms of religious extremism, including by Hindus. In fact, his perception of the Malegaon blasts changed after he was briefed about the police investigations.

As the debate rages within the party on moving away from aggressive Hindutva to a modern, forward looking policy for the BJP’s renewal, Bhagwat may be the last person to put spokes. He has already favoured a review of the role of RSS leaders deputed to the BJP.

Differing with his seniors and peers, Bhagwat would like the BJP to do what its leaders think is best — without infighting and without jettisoning the ideals of a party that was created to be different from the Congress, according to RSS insiders say.

Bhagwat’s worry is the RSS itself — and not the BJP. He wishes to effect a complete revamp. Aides say he would be happy if the BJP can do likewise and do away with the undesirables.

With dwindling shakhas (get-togethers where its cadres meet) and the GenNext least attracted to its programmes, Bhagwat has a big task on his hand — to revive the RSS all over the country.

Not all old RSS hands agree with Bhagwat’s line that the BJP must decide for itself. One-time Sangh ideologue M G Vaidya (84) wrote in Marathi daily Tarun Bharat against LK Advani for “not enthusing Hindus” and that the BJP must reflect Hindu nationalism or be prepared to meet its end.

Bhagwat’s view, says a close aide, will prevail and “that is that the BJP must be free to adapt to the course it thinks best to become an attractive proposition to voters. If it means becoming more youthful, more modern in outlook to serve different constituencies, Bhagwat will have no problem”.

In January, when he met key BJP leaders in a five-hour huddle at Advani’s residence, his message was, “Be good boys and remember your role in politics.”

That message still remains.