Intentional or just ill-timed? Jury is still out on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's quota remark that cost Modi Bihar polls

It has been four days since LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar issued a joint statement finding fault in the style of campaigning and functioning of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah but the BJP is still trying to find a coherent response. Another matter that is still being intensely debated within the party, albeit privately, is whether RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s controversial statement on reservation was a completely “innocent” one or it was a “guided missile” which was fired thrice.

One person, party MP Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav who publicly spoke out against Bhagwat, has since become silent. But his statement is reflective of the sentiment of a section within. A senior BJP leader told Firstpost that the RSS chief had certain reservations about Modi when he was about to be declared BJP’s prime ministerial candidate but then the groundswell for Modi from within and outside, as also Modi’s ability to reach and manage things was such that Bhagwat gave his nod. Then Modi’s delivery in parliamentary elections, winning 282 seats, changed the game.

 Intentional or just ill-timed? Jury is still out on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwats quota remark that cost Modi Bihar polls

Mohan Bhagwat. File photo: PTI

There is no doubt that the Modi-Shah duo’s equation with the RSS continues to be good. Yet it is an interesting coincidence that whenever Modi puts personal stake in an event or a situation, some innocent or unintended remark from the RSS chief nullifies his endeavor and takes the debate in an entirely new direction. Bihar election was high stake election and a victory for Modi had the potential to take personality-centric politics and mass following to a new level. A severe drubbing in Bihar has impacted his aura.

A case in point is this development of February 2015 when a raging debate on attack on Christian churches allegedly by Hindu organisations was at its peak. On PM Modi’s initiative, Indian agencies had scripted a major success story in securing release of two abducted Christian priests from captivity of Taliban in Helmond, Afghanistan. The two priests - Father Alexis Prem Kumar and Antony Samy - were safely brought to India and their families were specially flown in to New Delhi to receive them and take them home.

A delegation from Church and Father Alexis family members had earlier met Modi and NSA Ajit Doval seeking their personal intervention to secure the cleric’s freedom. Though it could have been purely incidental but the timing of their release was politically significant -- it came less than a week of Modi’s widely publicised address at a gathering of Christian clerics where he spoke at length on the need to protect values of inclusiveness and thereby trying to shed an image that his government was either beholden only to elements propagating hard line Hindutva or was favourably tilted towards it. He had taken a serious note of attack on a school run by Christian community and had even summoned Delhi Police Commissioner to give a clear directive. That was one of the rare occasions when the prime minister spoke directly to a police chief over an issue under investigation.

Just as the Modi government thought that the release of priests and the PM’s address at a clerics’ meet had brought conciliation with the Christian church and Hindu community, Mohan Bhagwat made a statement on Mother Teresa suggesting that prime motive behind her service to the destitute was converting them to Christianity: "It's good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa's work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity….In the name of service, religious conversions were made. This was followed by other organisations, too.”

Many RSS activists and sympathisers say the RSS chief as head of a cultural organisation does not take the timing, as politicians always do, into account. But then as ideological fountainhead of the party which rules India, timing of his statements, or plain coincidence of it with some larger event and narrative, have a bearing on overall political health of Modi and his government.

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Updated Date: Nov 14, 2015 16:54:02 IST