On Tuesday night last week, about 200 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers attacked the BJP office in Indore. They came out in strength to “teach the errant BJP a lesson”. The party’s three-storey office was ransacked and its functionaries ran for cover. No complaint was registered with the police despite the BJP being the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh for nine years. No state government or party functionary made any substantive comments on the issue.
But the RSS chose to gloat over its small grievance and let the world know who the real master was. After the incident, a local RSS leader made a profound declaration. “If a child starts eating mud, what will the parent do? She will not watch quietly, she will slap the child. And that is what the RSS has done.” It turned out that the ‘parent’ was angry with the ‘child’ over the transfer of an Additional SP-rank police officer, credited with acting against a criminal.
The incident highlights the pedestal on which the RSS places itself vis-à-vis its own political outfit, the BJP. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, is therefore, right to a great extent when he was quoted by The Indian Express the other day that “the RSS is not the HR manager of the BJP”. But he is also wrong in the sense that the RSS does, in fact, function as the BJP's HR manager through an institutionalised mechanism.
The HR functions in the BJP is taken care of by the General Secretary (organisation), who, as per the party constitution, has to be an RSS Pracharak loaned to the party by the RSS and nominated directly by the Sangh chief. Shri Ramlal is currently holding that position and is assisted by V Satish and Saudan Singh to take care of this function. All state party units have similar setups.
Bhagwat’s assertion came at an "Idea Exchange" programme organised by Marathi daily Loksatta. He was asked about the RSS sorting out the dispute between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Sanjay Joshi. “They (BJP) should manage their own affairs. They are an independent organisation. We are connected in our thinking. Modi and Joshi are both long-time swayamsevaks. People have spoken to them and issues have been resolved,” he is reported to have said there.
In his current position as Sarsanghchalak, Bhagwat is head honcho of the Sangh Parivar. The BJP for him is one of the many constituents that flow from a Nagpur-based ideological fountainhead. However, the BJP is not just a front organisation of the RSS. As the main opposition party, it is a potential alternate pole in national politics and currently rules nine states and a vast mass of people who vote for it don’t subscribe to the RSS’s ideological position on various matters.
In industry terms, the RSS Sarsanghchalak can be called a promoter - and sometimes as sole proprietor - of the gigantic Sangh Parivar. As sole promoter he appoints CEOs and the Board of Directors. They have to keep him and other RSS functionaries in good humor for sustained longevity in office. It is known to the world that when the NDA first came to power in 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted to appoint Jaswant Singh as Finance Minister. But the RSS opposed his name and finally even someone with Vajpayee's stature had to bow to the wishes of the RSS.
It’s an open secret that the current BJP President, Nitin Gadkari, at one point almost an unknown entity in national politics, was Mohan Bhagwat’s personal choice to be head of the party. That Gadkari, since then, has made his presence felt is a different story. The RSS also decided that Gadkari will have a second term in office - something which the BJP's party constitution did not provide for but this was amended and will get its final seal of approval in the upcoming National Council meeting on 26-29 September in Faridabad. Three months ago the party adopted a resolution at its National Executive meeting in Mumbai.
There is much private talk in the BJP on Bhagwat’s HR manager comment. A party MP said: “The RSS top leadership, including Bhagwat, find it demeaning but the fact remains that the only time the RSS enters in public discussion is when they talk or do something about the BJP.”
The Indore incident is a grim reminder to other BJP leaders that if Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s effigy can be burnt even though he is on top of the list of RSS faithful, and if protests can be organised against state President Prabhat Jha, who has been an RSS nominee to that powerful post, then the others elsewhere should better mind their attitude. In the current organisational set-up, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is the only one to whom the RSS looks at in awe and with a certain degree of concern.
The developing unease in the relationship was best described by the man who has seen it all since the beginning - LK Advani, in his presidential speech at the Chennai National Executive meeting in November 2005.
He said, “From time to time, depending on the issue at hand, the BJP leadership has no hesitation in consulting RSS functionaries. After such consultations, the party takes its own independent decision. Some of these decisions may differ - and have indeed differed from the stated position of the RSS and certain constituents of the Sangh Parivar. But lately an impression has gained ground that no political or organisational decision can be taken without the consent of RSS functionaries. This perception, behold, will do no good either to the party or to the RSS. The RSS too must be concerned that such a perception will dwarf its greater mission of man-making and nation-building. Both the RSS and the BJP must consciously assert to dispel this impression."
"We feel that RSS should continue to play its role to strengthen the ethical, moral and idealistic moorings of the workers as well functionaries of the BJP, as in the past, and this is in the larger interest of the nation.
"The BJP greatly appreciates the continuing interactions we have been having with the RSS and with other organisations in the Sangh Parivar. Their views provide valuable inputs for our decision-making process but the BJP as a political party is accountable to the people, its performance has been periodically put to test in elections. So in a democratic multi-party polity, an ideologically-driven party like the BJP has to function in a manner that enables it to keep its basic ideological stances intact and, at the same time, expand itself to reach the large section of people outside the layers of all ideology. It is in protecting ideological moorings of the BJP and in articulating it in an idiom and language that the people understand that great care is needed.”
It was here that he announced his decision to step down as party president in the wake of the controversy generated by his visit to Pakistan earlier that year. In his speech he said: “I have decided that after the Mumbai session I shall demit office and the party stewardship should be taken by some other colleague.” Advani had to resign under RSS pressure for the “sin” Sangh thought that he committed during his Pakistan visit by visiting the Jinnah mausoleum and writing in the visitors' book. The speech is now part of history and is contained in appendix VI in his book, `My country My Life’.
The RSS is the fortune-maker, and not just the HR manager, of the BJP as Bhagwat says.