There is growing disquiet in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh about Narendra Modi’s attempt to change dynamics in his favour.
The RSS, as the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, exerts considerable influence over Modi’s government. Indeed, Modi and many of his ministers worked for the RSS for years before being moved to the BJP. Besides, in the BJP, as in other RSS affiliates, the post of general secretary in charge of organisation is held by a full-time RSS leader through whom the parent body oversees the affiliate’s functioning. The post is currently held by Ram Lal.
To curtail the RSS’ influence over his party and government, or, at the least, make it work to his advantage, the prime minister has apparently been working to make Dattatreya Hosabale, considered to be a “Modi loyalist”, the new sarkaryavah of the RSS.
In the RSS’ hierarchy, the sarkaryavah, or general secretary, is the deputy to its chief, the sarsanghchalak. But since the sarsanghchalak is supposed to serve as the “guide and philosopher” of the Sangh Parivar – as the RSS and its affiliates are collectively known – the sarkaryavah functions as the executive head. He is a powerful figure, appointing central office-bearers, leading the Kendriya Karyakari Mandal, the executive committee, and presiding over the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the meeting of the RSS’ highest decision-making body.
The incumbent sarkaryavah is Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi and he is assisted by four sah sarkaryavahs, or joint general secretaries – Suresh Soni, Krishna Gopal, V Bhagaiah and Dattatreya Hosabale.
Joshi’s three-year term – his third – ends in March, and the pro-Modi camp in the RSS is confident of putting Hosabale into the seat, after a failed attempt three years ago. In March 2015, less than a year after Modi took over as prime minister, his supporters tried to make Hosabale the sarkaryavah. But a section of the RSS, apprehensive of Modi getting a major say in the decision-making of the Sangh if Hosabale became the executive head, opposed the move, and Joshi got another term.
Since then, however, Hosabale has come to be regarded as the unanimous choice for sarkaryavah. Hosabale has quietly gained wide influence in the Sangh Parivar over the past five years, his rise almost mirroring Modi’s in the BJP and in no small part a consequence of it. But it seems old worries about his proximity to Modi might again derail Hosabale’s elevation, which was expected to take place at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur in mid-March.
Indeed, the unease about Modi influencing the selection of the RSS’ new executive head and what it might portend for the Hindutva parent body’s oversight of the BJP runs so deep that one sah sarkaryavah felt compelled to voice it at a meeting of the top brass early this month.
The matter, though, could not be discussed in detail, a senior functionary who attended the closed-door meeting on the eve of the RSS conclave in Ujjain on January 3 claimed, because it was not on the agenda. “Bhaiyyaji Joshi immediately changed the topic and no further discussion took place,” he said. Besides Joshi and his four deputies – Hosabale, Soni, Gopal and Bhagaiah – the meeting was attended by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Such voices seem to have grown confident in the wake of the BJP’s less than impressive showing in the Gujarat election in December. The Sangh’s message to BJP chief Amit Shah, congratulating the party on its victory, expressed anguish about the erosion in its support base. Pointedly, the December 19 message described the election success as “alpvyap vijay”, or marginal victory.
More ominously for the Modi-Hosabale camp, the attempt in the last week of December to remove the prime minister’s bête noire Praveen Togadia as working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a major affiliate of the Sangh Parivar, came a cropper. The attempted coup, which has gone largely unreported by the media, is said to have had Modi’s blessing.
Catching on to the plan of his detractors, Togadia pressed for a secret ballot to elect the next working president at a meeting of the Parishad’s board of trustees in Bhubaneswar. A secret ballot would have favoured Togadia given that he remains popular with the cadre. In the end, it was Joshi who intervened to prevent an election, letting Togadia continue.