A quiet power struggle is underway in the traditionally disciplined ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat decided to replace the RSS’ liaison to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Suresh Soni. But Soni, who is an RSS sah sarkaryavah, or joint general secretary, is unwilling to give way, after his name was invoked in an education scam in Madhya Pradesh. Soni wants to remain in public life – and a position of great power – while he fights the charges.

“At first, Suresh Soni had been persuaded to relinquish the responsibility and pursue a spiritual life,” said a senior RSS functionary to Scroll. “He was to make a formal announcement in this regard after the Narendra Modi government stabilised. But since his name figured in the teacher’s recruitment scam of Madhya Pradesh, he seems to have changed his mind.”

For the last decade Soni has been the RSS’ liaison with its political wing, looking after the day-to-day interactions with the BJP. This is a crucial RSS post, as the person carrying out this responsibility has a say in key BJP decisions. The advice of the liaison is considered the viewpoint of the RSS and is given due respect in the party.

Smear campaign

Supporters of Soni attribute his change of heart to what he sees as an attempt to tarnish his image and hasten his exit by a rival leader, by including his name in allegations of impropriety over the recruitment of teachers in Madhya Pradesh.

The issue assumed such significance that a number of top RSS leaders expressed their displeasure to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan about how Soni’s name had been leaked.

From the point of view of the RSS, which has long claimed to be “disciplined” and “united”, Bhagwat’s inability to change the organisation’s liaison man is a crisis of first order. Hardly ever there has been such discord among the top leaders of the RSS.

Threat to the throne

According to sources in the BJP and RSS, Soni is so well entrenched in the Sangh Parivar that quietly replacing him would only be possible if he himself wishes to relinquish the post. In the last ten years, his power has grown so much that his influence rivals that of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in the Sangh Parivar.

A couple of contenders for his position were already being openly discussed. Dattatreya Hosabale, a joint general secretary of the RSS considered close to Narendra Modi, had been quietly gaining in strength inside the organisation. In fact, Hosabale, a Kannadiga, even started to informally play the role of the go-between.

“But Hosabale was overtaken in the race by Krishna Gopal, also joint general secretary, who is from Uttar Pradesh and has a deep understanding of issues related to the electorally important northern and northeastern states,” said the RSS functionary. “At the moment Krishna Gopal is considered favourite for the slot.”

Soni’s continued interest in the post, however, has complicated the entire process of replacing him.