In July 2000, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), a branch of the Sangh Parivar, gave a call for a “second freedom struggle” and exhorted people to join it to fight against the “growing foreign influence on the Indian economy and those encouraging it”.
The call was made against the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. Vajpayee has been a proud swayamsevak (volunteer) of theRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an affiliate of the extended Sangh Parivar.
It was, therefore, a fight between two burgeoning members of the same family. But to the surprise of many, the then family patriarch, RSS chief K S Sudarshan, did very little to settle the dispute.
In the backdrop of uneasiness, Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, became the general secretary, de facto number two in the organisation the very same year. The next nine years allowed him to closely observe the intricacies between the two organisations and read the fine script of Indian polity.
Bhagwat was elevated to RSS chief in 2009 but failed to save the L K Advani-led BJP from an awful defeat in general elections that took place two months later. He realised to achieve the RSS’s ultimate goal of a Hindu nation, it was imperative to ensure better coordination among the sparring members of the family, and seize political power through the BJP.
Bhagwat’s ingenious ways are yielding results, for both the RSS and its political arm, the BJP. If theexit poll results turn out to be true and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance wins a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha, the RSS is likely to have its first “truly favourable” government at the Centre on Friday.
The active support to BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi‘s election campaign has already helped the RSS increase its membership. It now boasts of 40,000 shakhas (branches) across the country, and has a presence among social groups that were out of bounds thus far.
This increased compatibility of the RSS and the BJP could partially be attributed to the personal equation between Bhagwat and Modi. One senior BJP leader, earlier with the RSS, says: “Bhagwat and Modi are contemporaries, so it is easy for them to understand each other than working with a person who is over 80 years (indirectly referring to party patriarch Advani).”
The functionary adds Modi and Bhagwat share a very “cordial” relation and have many things in common. Both made their foray into the RSS around the same time in the early 1970s. They saw their fortunes rise dramatically in their respective areas of operation in the late 1990s and early years of this century.
Bhagwat, a veterinary doctor by training, quit his
to join the RSS in 1975 at the age of 25. He served as Pracharak in Akola and Nagpur, and was made in-charge of the Sangh activities in Bihar in the 1980s.
He was elevated to the role of Pracharak Pramukh in 1999 and general secretary the following year. At the age of 59, he became Sarsanghchalak, one of the youngest to assume that role, in an organisation that puts a huge premium on seniority.
Leaders of the Sangh Parivar say one of his first tasks was to ensure a generational shift in its associate organisations that included the BJP. Barely a couple of months after Bhagwat took charge of the RSS in March 2009, the BJP suffered electoral reverses in the Lok Sabha elections.
He is reported to have then suggested the BJP go for young leaders so the party was ready for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The RSS is reported to have ensured Modi was made the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate well ahead of elections. And, as the elections drew closer, Bhagwat’s instruction to all the members of the extended Sangh Parivar was to work for formation of a government “that is against the politics of appeasement, crushes terrorism, stops illegal infiltration from Bangladesh and protects cows and the holy Ganga,” says a leader with an affiliate organisation.
Some of these themes made their way to campaign speeches of some BJP leaders also. As a result, RSS volunteers were involved in, among other things, door-to-door campaigning, as well as booth management.
Additionally, nearly 15,000 sadhus (seers) and sants (priests) associated with RSS affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad mobilised support for “Abki baar, Modi sarkar”, the BJP’s most talked-about campaign theme.
No wonder, following the conclusion of a long and hard campaign, Modi and senior BJP leaders headed straight for the RSS headquarters in Delhi to meet Bhagwat and other top Sangh functionaries.
Bhagwat has also fine-tuned the RSS’ economic vision. The earlier approach of blind opposition to foreign investment has been jettisoned. The emphasis now is on having a regime that does not compromise on “economic sovereignty of the country”.
“Foreign direct investment is welcome as long as it leads to job creation. It is also welcome in areas of big infrastructure and heavy industries,” says RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav. What it essentially means is that a possible BJP government at the Centre might have less of opposition from RSS affiliates on economic policies.
Another notable feature of the RSS under Mohan Bhagwat, according to Ram Madhav, is “greater openness and visible adoption of new ideas and technology”.
To enhance its membership base, the Sangh has been organising activities for professionals, especially information technology professionals, and university students. “Professionals and students lead an active life, primarily preoccupied with career development. Therefore, to suit their timings, the RSS has designed activities that allow them to be engaged with the ideology and working of the RSS while pursuing their vocation,” says Seshadri Chari, former editor of Organiser and national convener of the BJP’s foreign policy cell.
Sangh leaders who have interacted with Bhagwat describe him as “soft-spoken, accessible and democratic, who believes in getting feedback from swayamsevaks”.
“Apart from great leadership qualities that the Sarsanghchalak possesses, what separates him from others is his ability to effectively communicate even complex ideas in a language everyone understands,” says VHP spokesperson Prakash Sharma.