An editor friend in a conversation several months ago insisted that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) would crumble under Narendra Modi’s pressure. He was a one-man show, she argued. And this victory in the Lok Sabha elections was Modi’s victory, and he wouldn’t let it be snatched from him. “The RSS won’t be Modi’s 10 Janpath,” she argued.
Earlier this week, as I sat before the television set to watch Modi’s swearing in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, I was convinced more than ever that this was the victory of the RSS, which had left no stone unturned in ensuring Modi’s astounding victory. The presence of Sadhvi Rithambara and Indresh Kumar in the first row allotted for dignitaries spoke volumes.
Indresh Kumar, a senior RSS member, was named in the Samjhauta blasts case as one of the accused and conspirators. The blasts were earlier blamed on Muslim groups. Sadvi Rithambara, one must remember, was indicted for her role in the Ayodhya movement and the ensuing riots for her provocative speeches, instigating the crowd to demolish the Babri Masjid that saw nationwide polarisation between Hindus and Muslims. Ironically the man who led the movement, LK Advani, who was seated in the same row next to outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seemed a dull shadow of himself, of no consequence to the new government.
Advani’s moment of decline began with his Pakistan visit where he praised Jinnah and was forced to step down as BJP president at the diktat of the RSS in December 2005. It was Advani’s attempt to reposition himself and shed the hardline tag attached to him, and re-mould himself as a more moderate, acceptable leader that had him praise Jinnah calling him “one of the very few who create history”.
Read more: Is it redemption that you seek, Advaniji?
No other moment so fittingly reminded one of the RSS quotient than Advani watching his one-time protégé Narendra Modi being sworn in in the presence of Nawaz Sharif and other heads of government of SAARC countries. Was Modi attempting to free himself from the clutches of the Sangh Parivar and remodel himself as the new moderate face of development? Did the invitation to Pakistan and his sharing of emotional anecdotes on social media with his Pakistani counterpart mean the jingoistic rhetoric on biryani had to be buried? Advani would know the answer no better than any journalist, but since he is not writing a blog post on this, it is time for us to recap the path the RSS charted for Modi’s victory and see it in the light of the present day as Modi assumes the task of heading the new government.
Read more: Perspective from Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif's visit to India for Narendra Modi's swearing in is welcome, but is still just a step
In 2010, when the Anna Hazare-led India against Corruption movement made its foray onto the national stage, members of the core team, as it came to be revealed later, had clandestine meetings with senior RSS leaders. With names like Subramaniam Swamy, Kiran Bedi, Govindacharya, Baba Ramdev, and Ram Jethmalani aligning themselves to the movement, which held its first massive protest at Parliament Street, it became clear, the movement had covert support from the Sangh Parivaar. In fact, in a report I filed in 2011, a senior RSS leader had confessed that most of the cadres in the movement were part of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and various branch-outs of the Sangh.
Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief and the second rung leaders of the organisation were miffed that the BJP had not been able to rake the corruption and black money issue. It was no coincidence that Advani began his anti corruption yatra across the country the same time, to give that one lost shot to power, but by then the damage had been done.
The RSS, with its known aversion of the patriarch, had decided that the movement would culminate into a handing over of the reins to one of its most loyal cadres. It is at this point that cracks in the group emerged with Kiran Bedi and Subramaniam Swamy later endorsing Narendra Modi and showing solidarity with the BJP.
Kejriwal moved on and formed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and won Delhi with a mandate against corruption, but the RSS had a larger aim, to capture power at the centre; the mood of the nation was in the favour of Modi led BJP and Anna Hazare ended up looking like a caricature of himself.
The next task was to get its cadres galvanised across the state, and its think-tanks across the country activated to help seize the momentum. Amongst others, those who were handed key roles were – the India Policy foundation with Professor Rakesh Sinha, a Sangh ideologue and a regular face on news channels, the Bhartiya Vichaar Kendram in Kerala, and the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabhodini in Mumbai. The RMP in Mumbai had been used extensively by the late BJP leader Pramod mahajan for poll strategy and reforms in line with the RSS core ideas of nationhood – of Akhand Bharat .
Another unofficial think tank with friends in the IB, RAW and Friends of the BJP overseas was set up in Delhi which sought the opinion of officers like AK Doval, now set to be the national security advisor in the Modi dispensation. Doval enjoys patronage by the RSS for having set up deshbhakt counterparts to Dawood Ibrahim in the form of the Chhota Rajan gang, whose proximity with Doval has been an open secret.
The India Policy foundation was at the forefront of devising strategy for Modi, including liaising with senior BJP leaders, galvanising RSS cadres and distributing literature. On its board are senior RSS leaders like Suresh Soni, Bajrang Lal Gupta, Manmohan Vaidya and Dattatreya Hosbole, who played a critical role in strengthening Modi’s candidature for the post of the PM before the Goa conclave. Another name that was being considered was that of Nitin Gadkari, who it was later suggested would be the Sangh’s go to man in the party and assume a crucial position once the government was formed.
About 20,000 RSS cadres, a conservative estimate if one were to go by the presence on ground, were dispatched across booths, mostly in North and East India. Lists were made of constituencies with Hindu majority populations and in those pockets which had a history of Hindu-Muslim sensitivity. Young RSS swayamsevaks were dispatched in villages on a tour of 60-90 days each to gauge the mood and give reports to senior RSS leaders, who would then pass them on to senior BJP leaders.
RSS leader Indresh, who has worked extensively in the Kashmir region and amongst the minority community, mostly amongst the fringe and disgruntled elements from the community was asked to tap the ground feeling. Indresh spent a great deal of time working in Rajasthan amongst Rajput Muslims, also referred to as the Meo Muslims, accounting for about 5 lakh of the total population. Raking up old cases of caste conflict and rioting, it is believed this particular community voted for the BJP in Rajasthan.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and other forces of the Sangh parivaar were asked to be united for a common cause. At a meeting of state level cadres, at which senior VHP leaders were also present, a Sarsanghchalak said, “This is the time for us to unite, this is the time to come to power. Leave your differences aside, it’s now or never.”
It was a high stake battle which the Sangh parivaar along with able funding with the corporate lobby was being fought in 2014. It was not surprising then that along with talks of corruption and development by Modi, statements by Giriraj Kishore and Pravin Togadia aimed at targeting the minorities and provoking religious sentiments were made. The forensics on role played by right wing elements is already out in the public domain. To sum up, it was a battle fought for the BJP by the parivaar, and the crown presented to the man who it believed will carry its legacy ahead with unflinching loyalty.
So when apologists for Modi and the BJP talk of the RSS not being the 10 Janpath of the new government, they are either ill informed or forced to thwart the arguments on the Sangh project
It came as no surprise then that on the day of Modi’s swearing in, everything organised by the BJP had the mark of the RSS. Of the 23 cabinet ministers who were sworn in, a staggering 17 have their roots in the RSS and its affiliate organisations. The second in command to Modi in the Cabinet, Rajnath Singh, who will handle the significant Home department, is the Sangh’s consensus guy in the party. It was Rajnath who helped seal Modi’s candidature, and with great manoeuvring punctured the rebellion led by Advani.
On the day of the exit polls and later, after getting a strong mandate, Rajnath held closed door meetings with top Sangh leaders. Each and every cabinet level leader who has been sworn in was approved by the RSS top brass, including a reminder to Modi that the core issues of Hindutva, for which the cadres worked, would have to be brought to effect.
“Article 370 and Ram Mandir cannot be forgotten, else we won’t be forgiven.” Many speculated that the statement made by Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the PMO, spoke about revocation of Article 370 in over enthusiasm. But these sceptics should remember that no statement given by any officer in this government will be out of line with the blueprint. The attack by senior RSS leaders on Omar Abdullah over his criticism of the statement proved that nothing he spoke of was his personal sentiment.
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Newly appointed minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla would not agree more. The new government was formed within the same week as the acquittal of the five alleged accused in the Akshardham case after having spent 11 years in jail. But Ms Heptulla toed the RSS line of Muslims in the country not being given special status. “Muslims are not a minority but Parsis are,” she commented while taking over charge of her ministry. But this by no means came as a shock to those familiar with the RSS blueprint given to the Modi dispensation.
Senior columnist Ashok Malik could not have expressed this better when he wrote in a column last week, “Narendra Modi approaches Muslims from a position of relative strength. He has won a national election and attained a parliamentary majority without their votes.”
Fringe voices within the Sangh parivaar, including Askok Singhal of the VHP, have decided to convey his message to the PM in public – Ram Mandir should be made a priority. Indresh Kumar, who made attempts to be one of the co-hosts at the swearing in ceremony, stated that he looked forward to being cleared of all charges just like Sadhvi Pragya, and Modi, the Prithviraj Chauhan of Hindus, had to act.
Both Pragya and Indresh Kumar have reasons to be optimistic. In a shocking move, the Gujarat state government has reinstated three top Gujarat and Rajasthan officers accused of murder and conspiracy by the CBI in the last two weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just begun reading the rule book of the RSS for the new government -he has five years of rule ahead of him.
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All views expressed are writer's own