Perhaps the greatest irony of Indian politics is the general feeling about accessibility of the Prime Minister’s job. The country is replete with politicians who are ready to take a shot at the nation’s top executive job. The feeling that there is a shortcut to the job is bolstered by the prevailing culture of politics for the past two decades.
The irony of ironies is that this feeling is quite palpable in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been facing successive marginalisation (in the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009). There are at least a dozen leaders within the Hindutva fold itching for the top job even at the risk of working at cross-purposes with one another. Intriguingly, the saffron family patriarch – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – is very much eager to play the mentor’s role to these aspirants whose vaulting ambitions have nothing to do with ground realities.
It is in this context that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment on Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi be analysed. Unlike a trained politician, Bhagwat is not given to mask his emotions and camouflage his expressions in idioms of ambiguities. Those who interacted with Bhagwat could testify that his dislike for Modi is not new. In fact, the RSS chief has been consistently averse to any strong political personality for obvious reasons. Such a personality would eventually undermine the Sangh’s importance.
For the past seven years, the RSS has lost no opportunity to impose its supremacy over the BJP and virtually micro-managed the party affairs. Time and again, Bhagwat has reinforced the impression that the BJP is on the path of course-correction by developing a collective leadership, a euphemism for supremacy of the RSS coterie. In fact, the RSS leadership regards the post-Deendayal Upadhyaya phase in the party’s history – its earlier avatar as Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) – as ideological aberration.
In seventies, Atal Bihari Vajpyee emerged as the only powerful leader in the BJS and refashioned the BJS’s strategy in response to social impulses. His call for “Gandhian socialism and inclusive politics” was certainly aimed at widening the horizon of a party which was caught in a narrow ideological prism. Despite opposition by the RSS pracharaks, Vajpayee carried the day when he decided to join Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement and merged his party’s identity with the Janata Party. Incidentally, Vajpayee got the unqualified support from the then RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras whose political thinking aligned with that of Vajpayee (who was supported by LK Advani).
Though a section of RSS leaders was quite uneasy with the equilibrium that prevailed between the RSS leadership and the BJP, the situation continued until KS Sudarshan took the charge of the RSS. The party was rendered vulnerable after its defeat in the 2004 general elections. Sudarshan asked Vajpayee, Advani and other old leaders to take a backseat and allow younger generation to come up. Advani had then shown a streak of overambition and usurped the posts of party chief and leader of Opposition for himself. With Vajpayee in background owing to his ill health, Advani’s undisputed position came under challenge from within the BJP – with active support of the RSS.
Advani’s 2005 Pakistan visit and his comments on Jinnah proved to be the rallying point for the RSS to challenge the party’s autonomy. Advani was virtually thrown out of the party’s presidentship and could never regain his stature even when he was projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009. Few would know that Bhagwat played the most crucial role in undermining the BJP’s political independence. He was effectively controlling the party affairs through his acolyte and BJP general secretary (organisation) Sanjay Joshi who later got embroiled in a sleaze CD controversy.
Though the RSS tried to micro-manage the BJP affairs by installing Rajnath Singh and later Nitin Gadkari as presidents, Modi’s fierce protection of his autonomy always stood out like sore thumb for Bhagwat and the coterie around him. Yet the RSS is always wary of taking on him because of his larger-than-life image among the Hindutva Parivar’s core constituency. Bhagwat is not a consummate politician who can drown such contradictions in a rhetorical flourish. But he is certainly not such a naïve as not to know the implication of his utterances. Obviously his slip of tongue betrayed the war within the saffron fold.