In the midst of speculations over the reasons behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reshuffle and expansion of the cabinet, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seems to be silently bringing in one of its most crafty political forces, Suresh Soni, back in the game.
Soni, known as the 'terminator' within the BJP circles for the ruthless efficacy with which he cut BJP patriarch LK Advani to size, is likely to be assigned the new role of liaising with the BJP – a job so far handled by the soft-spoken but politically naïve Krishna Gopal, a Brahmin from UP.
Soni’s return indeed signals a major shift in the RSS’ future equation with the BJP for many reasons. For instance, Soni came into the spotlight soon after the Goa national executive meet where Modi was declared as the head of the campaign committee, position numero uno within the BJP, much against the wishes of Advani.
Though Advani did not attend the meeting in the belief that his absence would eclipse the decision making process, Soni put his foot down.
This enraged Advani so much that he resigned from all posts – retaining just the primary membership of the party – right after the executive meet. In a series of behind-the-scene manoeuvres, the BJP veteran was persuaded to fall in line on the assurance that Soni would be removed from the position of coordinator – between the RSS and the BJP. Advani, however, was left sulking in the cold, while Modi was ultimately declared as the prime ministerial candidate.
After the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Soni went on leave, on grounds of ill-health, for a year and was replaced by Krishna Gopal. Insiders within the BJP maintain that Krishna Gopal could not prove to be a match for Soni, whose profound understanding of the caste dynamics within the Hindi heartland and the BJP was unparalleled.
Though Soni evokes a sense of strong hostility within the Sangh Parivar, his skill of navigating through the complex maze of the RSS-BJP dynamic is outstanding.
On the other hand, Krishna Gopal emerged as a naïve politician who occasionally threw his weight around in certain appointments of vice-chancellors of central universities. Similarly in Uttar Pradesh, he was found to be grossly wanting in understanding the caste dynamics – where the BJP has high stakes ahead of the crucial 2017 Assembly polls. Soni, who belongs to Madhya Pradesh, is believed to be quite deft in understanding and handling this complex scenario.
There is little doubt that the return of Soni as the sah-sarkaryawah (joint-general secretary) in the RSS would have a serious impact on the realignment of the BJP’s organisational structure with the RSS’s line of thinking.
Within the RSS, Soni, though controversial, is regarded as politically astute enough to understand the imperative of the realpolitik. His presence is expected to ensure a perfect political alignment within the RSS and the BJP, in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
As of now, the BJP has been trying to rope in various caste groups and local influential leaders within its fold for accretion of its support base. The desertion of leaders from the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party’s fold falls into place in the larger scheme of things for the BJP to aggregate support from different social groups.
In pursuit of power, the BJP is hardly hesitant to seek support of those having criminal antecedents. For instance, the party has been indiscriminately bringing into its fold those having influence in terms of money and muscle.
Within the tradition thinking of the RSS, this kind of politics is unacceptable. With the return of Suresh Soni, however, the BJP is unlikely to encounter any friction within the traditionalists of the Parivar, and would be free to pursue pragmatic politics, as per requirement.