Back to Basics

MODI4As elections approach, it is becoming clear that the RSS grip over the BJP is becoming stronger. The Sangh’s parent body will not just decide the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate but will also set the tone and agenda for the 2014 general elections.

Whether it is the VHP’s 84 Kosi Yatra in Ayodhya or the BJP’s U-turn on Asaram Bapu, the decisions have the RSS stamp all over it. Insiders say that the RSS has reached the conclusion that inflation and corruption, outstanding issues as they are, may not be enough to propel the party to power in 2014.

This thinking is based on some realism. In a recent ‘manthan’ or discussion, it was felt that if these two issues would have had public resonance and appeal, it would be the BJP and not Congress which would have triumphed in the Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand assemblies.

So the RSS thinking is thus: if corruption and inflation do not work, surely Hindutva will? This time-tested formula propelled them to power in the 1990s and there is no reason why it should not be tried again – after all, the `Hindutva and development’ slogan had well served saffron interests earlier. Narendra Modi is therefore being projected as the epitome of development while the VHP is around to give the saffron-Hindutva touch to the situation.

UMAIn theory, the RSS is the mother board of all Sangh affiliates, of which the BJP is its political wing. The Sangh, steeped in its values of cultural nationalism wants to install the BJP into power. During the NDA regime, the RSS’s grip on the party was beginning to loosen and a time came when both Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani even stopped paying lip service to their parent body. Philosophically, the two began to grow apart.

Instead, in the BJP those leaders began to grow in prominence who were opposed to the Sangh; things reached such a stage that conservative elements in the RSS began contemplating setting up a parallel political party to replace the BJP. This was the time when Mohan Bhagwat arrived on the scene as RSS chief and started to muscle his way back into the BJP, reinforcing traditional controls over the party.

After the 2004 election debacle, Bhagwat publicly attacked BJP’s second rung leaders for infighting and camps and asserted that no leader of the so-called D4 – the gang of four Advani acolytes, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Anant Kumar and Venkiah Naidu – would become BJP president. To prove his point, a little known outsider Nitin Gadkari was installed as BJP president. When Gadkari’s second term became an issue, he was replaced by Rajnath Singh, proving that the Sangh was determined not to let any of the D4 leaders become party president.

Says analyst Suvrokamal Dutta, “When Vajpayee and Advani were in power, the BJP had slipped out of Sangh’s grasp. When Bhagwat got Gadkari appointed, he was just trying to prove a point. With the appointment of Rajnath Singh, the RSS’s grip on the BJP is now complete. The main issues being raised by the BJP are inspired by the Sangh. The installation of Narendra Modi as the party’s poll campaign chief and the 84 Kosi Yatra are part of that design.’’

ASARAM(1)For the RSS, Modi is the only leader that can take ahead its agenda loudly, clearly and without pulling punches. It is equally aware that the saffron poster boy has many rivals to contend with inside his own party; it was most evident when Modi was anointed the poll campaign chief in Goa and Advani in protest put in his papers. But the Sangh did not relent, not even on the demand raised within the party that the elections be fought by a combined leadership and not any individual leader.

On September 7, all Sangh affiliates and prominent BJP leaders are meeting in Delhi to chalk out a future action programme and insiders say that Bhagwat is inclined to declare Modi as the BJP’s official candidate for elections 2014. His argument: given the political and economic scenario in the country, the polls can be held before schedule and then there would be no time left. By year end, five states are going to polls: Delhi, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Manipur.

Given the disappointments in various elections in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Himachal, the RSS is keen to revert back to its original Hindutva moorings, particularly in the Hindi belt of UP and Bihar, which will help in polarizing votes in its favour as it did in the 1990s. Keeping this in view, former home minister Amit Shah – also an accused in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case – has been made in charge of UP. The first thing that Shah did there was to rake up the Ram Mandir issue. That has now been followed by a not-too-successful 84 Kosi Yatra by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad

BHAGWAT(VHP), both events scripted by the RSS. insiders in the Sangh say that old VHP leaders like Ashok Singhal are now a spent force. To replace him, VHP leader Pravin Togadia – regarded a hawk even in the Sangh – is the new face of the saffron brotherhood. Along with him, Varun Gandhi and Uma Bharti are likely to be roped into significant positions as part of the VHP’s high voltage campaign. In the meanwhile, the RSS is also building broken bridges within the fraternity. Modi and Togadia who had earlier fallen out, have now been brought together by the RSS for the larger purpose. The Gujarat strongman, never on the best terms with Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari, has now began the process of patching up. Says a BJP leader: “It is RSS which is writing the script, the BJP is only acting it out.’’

The story is repeating itself in the Asaram Bapu case where the RSS realizing that it would become a handle in the Congress hands to beat the BJP, has taken its protective cover off the controversial god man. Hours after the Asaram story broke out, Uma Bharti had openly defended the controversial god man. That has now changed because the Sangh calculated political damage coming it way and dropped Asaram like a ton of bricks. There are some leaders in the BJP who are happy with Sangh’s intervention. They say it has managed to control years of infighting going on in the BJP.