Feb 23, 2024
Feb 23, 2024
The installation of the virtually unknown Nitin Gadkari as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has further eroded the tattered contention of the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that it does not interfere in the affairs of its political wing.
No one ever believed this assertion, but if it was still offered, the reason was, first, an attempt to sustain the RSS's original charter of staying away from the mud pit of politics and, secondly, to ensure - mainly by the BJP - that the few minorities who still voted for the party would not be scared away.
However, the falseness of the claim was exposed not only by Gadkari's elevation since he was known to be the RSS's nominee, but also by L.K. Advani's observation that there was now an agreement with the RSS that it would not micromanage the BJP's functioning. Clearly, if there hadn't been any micromanagement, then the agreement would not have been necessary.
In all probability, however, this is a lie on top of the other lie, for only the naive will believe that the RSS will henceforth concern itself solely with culture while its mole in the BJP will have a free hand. Such a possibility is all the more remote because the RSS is unlikely to forsake the only chance it has got after many years to run the BJP according to its wishes.
Till now, it had been unable to take the BJP along the path which it preferred because of the presence of the amiable Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose appeal extended beyond the saffron crowd thanks to his oratorical skills and good-natured personality. Advani, on the other hand, was a distant No. 2 who had no image to start with except that of a dour apparatchik till the rath yatra (or riot yatra) invested him with a hawkish reputation.
That was the period in the early 1990s when he was the RSS's favorite because of his fiery espousal of the Hindutva cause. The paterfamilias must have thought at the time that its cherished goal of Hindu rashtra (nation) was within reach because of the BJP's soaring parliamentary strength from two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 182 in 1998. But the moderate Vajpayee was the only obstacle.
The RSS might have bided its time if Vajpayee could at least ensure political success. But the defeats in two successive general elections convinced the head of the Sangh Parivar that it was now or never. It could no longer allow the BJP to go along a meandering course, equivocating about the Hindu agenda by putting the temple, uniform civil code for all communities and abolition of Article 370 of the constitution (that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir) on the back burner in order to keep the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) afloat.
The RSS must have also been disheartened by the conversion of the combative rath yatri into an unconvincing replica of Vajpayee with the mouthing of the moderate claim that Hindutva was "inclusive". While Vajpayee's ill health allowed him to make a dignified exit, Advani's robust constitution made him appear so indestructible that the RSS had to kick him upstairs to the newly-created post of chairman of the parliamentary party.
For the RSS, the ousting of Advani was the easy part, especially after the latter had shot himself in the foot with his praise of Jinnah in 2005. But how it will micromanage the transition to a more pliable BJP under Gadkari will unfold in the new chapter in Hindutva politics.
The RSS's first foray in this direction with the help of its earlier nominee, Rajnath Singh, was not a notable success. In fact, Singh was seen as a bumbling non-entity who was leading the party downhill with his evident inferiority complex making him engage in unseemly spats with Arun Jaitley and Vasundhara Raje, among others.
There is no certainty that Gadkari, too, will not suffer from a similar complex. Not a front-ranking leader even in his home state of Maharashtra compared to, say, the late Pramod Mahajan or even Gopinath Munde, the new BJP president is most likely to be a fish out of water in Delhi's overheated political atmosphere.
While he will constantly have to deflect the suspicion that he is being monitored by the RSS, the latter will keep a hawk's eye on him to see whether the cosmopolitanism of the national capital is not weakening his resolve to advance the saffron cause. The preoccupation of the RSS for its pet themes like the Ram temple, Ram sethu, uniform civil code and abolition of Article 370 makes it difficult to see how the inexperienced Gadkari will steer a middle course between the hardline and moderate agendas.
Although Gadkari fits into the 50-55 age group, which the RSS specified as suitable for the new office-bearers, he will not exactly be a youth icon, especially if the TV channels continue to show him in khaki shorts and white half-sleeve shirts, the traditional dress of the RSS shakhas, which are the Hindu version of the madrassas.
The BJP's new head honcho is unlikely to be of much help, therefore, if it wants to present itself as a modern party, which appeals to all sections of people, including the youth.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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