In March 2015, ten months after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister, a serious attempt was made to make Dattatreya Hosabale, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary considered close to Modi, the executive head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The move failed apparently because of a last minute fightback by a section of the RSS, and the incumbent executive head (sarkaryavah) Suresh Rao Joshi, also known as Bhaiyyaji Joshi, got another three-year term.

Two-and-a-half years later, almost a month before a crucial RSS meet in October where its senior office bearers are expected to finalise top level changes in the organisation, attempts have been revived to ensure that Hosabale succeeds Joshi smoothly, and that the move is ratified in the Sangh’s Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha that will be held in Nagpur in March.

The crucial meet – the three-day long Kendriya Karyakari Mandal or central executive committee of the RSS – will start on October 13 in Bhopal.

Technically, the sarkaryavah or general secretary is number two in the RSS, which is headed by the sarsanghchalak (chief), a post presently held by Mohan Bhagawat. But since the RSS constitution refers to the RSS chief as “guide and philosopher”, it is the general secretary who, in his capacity as the executive head of the Sangh, controls the actual functioning of the organisation. Thus, apart from appointing central office bearers, he also presides over the formal meetings of the RSS. He is assisted by four sah sarkaryavahs or joint general secretaries.

Hosabale in the spotlight

Hosabale is presently one of the joint general secretaries of the RSS. A Kannadiga by origin, he has a postgraduate degree in English literature. Before becoming a pracharak, he was active in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the RSS, for several years. He also worked as the RSS’ organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad for almost two decades since the late 1980s.

In the RSS, Hosabale has quietly gained in strength during the last four years – around the same time that saw Modi’s graph rising in the BJP.

In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls held early this year, Hosabale, who shifted base from Patna to Lucknow in March 2016, played a key role in almost every aspect of election management. From identification of candidates to management of booths, and from ground-level surveys to preparation of strategies for the mobilisation of voters in the state, he was involved in it all.

Though some in the RSS argue that Joshi’s replacement by Hosabale will mark “a mere generational change”, others feel that it has to do greatly with the support Modi extends to Hosabale.

Bhaiyyaji Joshi, the present general secretary, appears to be on his way out because of failing health. He underwent knee replacement surgery recently and is finding it difficult to carry out his official responsibilities, which involve extensive touring within the country.

If elected, Hosabale will be the first general secretary to come from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and not directly from RSS shakhas, a fact that has triggered an intense debate within the organisation.

According to highly placed insiders, while Bhagwat, who enjoys a good rapport with Modi, is all for Hosabale becoming the next general secretary, Joshi has withheld his assent for the change so far.

According to an RSS pracharak considered close to Joshi, Hosabale’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad background is clearly coming in the way of his elevation to the top RSS post. “Perhaps this is the reason why Bhaiyyaji is uncomfortable with the whole idea of Dattatreya becoming the next sarkaryavah [general secretary],” he said.

RSS-BJP relationship

If it happens, Hosabale’s elevation may significantly alter the relationship between the RSS and the BJP. So far, the RSS has been controlling the BJP – as it controls its other affiliates – by laterally shifting a pracharak to hold the party’s key position of general secretary. This official, who is in charge of the BJP organisation, plays a pivotal role in getting the RSS’ view-point upheld in the party on almost every key issue.

Insiders feel that the replacement of Joshi, a man who has hardly ever shown any interest in the BJP’s activities, by an RSS leader considered close to Modi may allow the prime minister a greater say in the Sangh’s decision-making.

Though himself a pracharak, Modi’s relationship with the Sangh has witnessed many ups and downs since he became Gujarat chief minister over 15 years ago. After he became prime minister in 2014, the BJP has had to use the Sangh and its affiliates for electoral purposes as if they were the foot soldiers of the saffron political outfit.

Though the RSS has almost always obliged the BJP during elections, it has also taken steps from time to time to establish a stronger grip over the BJP and the Modi government at the Centre.

Sangh insiders expect a new phase in the RSS’ relationship with the BJP if Modi succeeds in getting Hosabale appointed to the key RSS position. This might go a long way in securing Modi complete control over the BJP’s parent organisation.