Analysing the Modi-RSS dynamic

Both entities continue to share an uneasy relationship.

Power is an extremely effective glue to keep disjointed organisations together. The apparently dysfunctional individuals remain behind a façade of unity, like say, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on one side, and Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Sarsanghchalak, on the other.

Example: While Bhagwat said on Sunday (9 April) that he wanted a legislative ban on cow slaughter, he wanted the so-called and self appointed cow-slaughter ban vigilantes to show restraint. The PM naturally had to come out against the same people as the chief of the executive arm of the country.

But Modi never had an easy and cozy relationship with RSS. The relationship had deteriorated further after he was made the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The RSS sought to control him by instrumentalising the organising secretary of the state BJP through Sanjay Joshi whose career in the party ran parallel with Modi. Both men had giant sized egos. And both of them were highly ambitious. So conflict was inherent in the relationship.

Such was Modi's animus against Joshi that after a fall from grace and an expulsion from the party for six years, he was sought to be rehabilitated by Nitin Gadkari when he became the BJP president. Joshi was made a member of the party's national executive in 2011. Modi refused to attend a subsequent national executive. He also created such pressure on the party and its ideological parent, the RSS that Joshi had to be removed from the only office he held then.

That was not the only inflection point between the RSS and Modi. There have been various others. When Modi underwent the stigma of 2002, though RSS stood by him, on the face of then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, wanting him to be replaced and failing, he still had to confront the global opprobrium. The years between 2004 and '14 – ten in number – was a long time for a rightist party being guided by an obscurantist organisation – with an agenda of ascension to political power as its métier and an opportunity to change the shape of the country to an ideological nation-state. Modi became their chosen face in the general election in a rather thin field of people who had the requisite administrative capability to run institutions of State.

By himself, Modi also realised that except for his own state of Gujarat and a substantial number of Hindus, insecure enough in themselves to hold tight their religious identity, most of the country was of inclusive nature. They believed in assimilation and assimilating at a socio-cultural level. He himself had to soften his visage to be accepted by these people. After BJP won at the hustings, RSS did think whether they should sponsor Modi for Prime Ministership. But that was quickly shed as Modi was a favourite of the big bourgeoisie.

But the relationship between the two is still rocky. The recent supposed candidature of Mohan Bhagwat as president of the country was probably floated as a trial balloon to see whether it was acceptable to the RSS rank and file. If Bhagwat can be sent to the opulent Rashtrapati Bhavan – the Presidential palace on the head of the Raisina Hill – then the rather spartan quarters of the Keshav Kunj, the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan, central Delhi may seem less appealing.

On the other hand, Dattatreya Hosabale, the current sah-sarkaryawah (joint general secretary) of the RSS, appointed recently at Modi's behest is believed to be a potential successor of Bhagwat. If he were to take upon himself the mantle of Presidency and when Hosabale becomes his successor, Modi would expect to dominate the parent organisation. By 2019, when Modi's re-election becomes due, the RSS would become an ally closer than it ever was to the Prime Minister.

As usual there are upsides and downsides of each political move that is made by people to seek to direct a country of the population and spatial size of India that is Bharat. Even if Hosabale becomes an even nominal voice of the Modi regime in RSS, the wayward affiliates like VHP and Bajrang Dal would be restrained in their high pitched, quixotic Hindutva agenda.

The downside would be that a broken and diminished opposition would be able to gear itself since the internal restraints of Modi would be loosened. Considering the Prime Minister's belief of strong-man politics and a hard State, he needs some backstopping now and then. If the RSS becomes totally his horse to ride, while he might ride into sunshine, millions could see their lights dimmed.

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)
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