The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak now more famous than his childhood idols is poised to become prime minister. There is something romantic about Narendra Modi eclipsing people like Guru Golwalkar, whose name he always prefaces in his writing with the letters Pa Pu (param pujya), and RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar. How many people today have heard of these two men, particularly the latter, or know anything about their work or, more dangerously, what they thought?
But most of us are aware of what Modi stands for: incorrupt and efficient government that will make India a great nation.
And Modi has done this eclipsing in the space of a few years. If you think of him as a national figure only since his nomination, then in a few months. So it is romantic, but it is true. The pracharak of Ahmedabad is already the most famous exponent of Hindutva in the nine decades of its existence. It would also be accurate to say that he represents a newer and more modern version of the doctrine than his heroes had thought up. Hindutva itself means something different today and will not continue in the form it did in the pre-Modi era.
Many of the RSS’ beliefs have fallen away in the time that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has existed. Particularly its ideas on the economy, which were muddled for decades under the influence of Deendayal Upadhyaya and Gandhian in trajectory. These have been sharpened and given new definition by Modi, through image or execution.
He owns the idea of managing the economy efficiently and honestly with a light touch from the state, something which the Congress has surrendered.
However, in two ways Modi retains the contours of the old Hindutva ideology. He has disdain for the realism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was aware of the weaknesses of India with respect to the world. Modi will replace it with an idealism in foreign policy that is likely to bring trouble.
There is one other thing that is unchanged from the old RSS heroes and the new one. The ancient and atavistic attitude towards “traitors” and “enemies” has remained. This is the core belief of the Marathi Brahmins who dominate the RSS, and it has formed in them over centuries. It is what their militarism, all the uniforms and drills, is aimed at inculcating in their following. It is also at the core of the man Modi is. They took him in his teens and forged him in the way their ideology demanded.
This is why the RSS cadre is over the moon at Modi’s success. Its ideology is coming to power in Delhi in a way it has not in the past, because Modi is much closer to the original positions of the Sangh. The two main leaders of the BJP before Modi both ran into trouble with the Sangh when they went soft on the fundamental principles. The former Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan overruled Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s namby-pamby attitude to the slaughter of “traitors” in Gujarat and stood behind Modi. Then the RSS all but withdrew its backing to the BJP after the heresy of L.K. Advani’s visit to Pakistan, where he spoke of Muhammad Ali Jinnah not as an enemy but as being secular.
This is not to say that the Sangh leadership has not had problems with Modi. It has two specific things that it has been upset with him internally for. The first is his elbowing out of a senior RSS man whom he saw as a competitor in Gujarat, Sanjay Joshi. Modi was quite ruthless in his treatment of Joshi, and we don’t have to revisit the sordid manner in which this was done. The RSS was grieved by this but unable to stop Modi, who even warned the then BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, against rehabilitating Joshi.
The second problem the RSS had, which Joshi had also voiced, was Modi’s accumulation of power in Gujarat. He was removing all the other leaders in the state from the party, like Keshubhai Patel and Kashiram Rana. And he was also not letting go of any of the major ministries, at one time personally holding the portfolios for finance, home, industries, ports, energy, mines and minerals and administration besides others. Modi said he needed to, because nobody else was good enough, and that he was delivering.
These were minor things, not rooted in differences of ideology. And the RSS could not push him beyond a point because Modi had become a national figure after the riots and the image he built because of this drew the admiration of the Sangh, particularly the workers.
These are the people today, pracharaks and karyakartas, putting shoulder to wheel for their own man. The victory of the BJP will come from their efforts.
A newspaper report last week referred to a participant at an RSS gathering who was moved to say that the Sangh should play Chanakya to Modi’s Chandragupta when he is crowned. This is presumptuous and assumes that Modi is open to being used in this fashion, given his history in Gujarat. But it shows how excited the RSS is about the election because it is certain that on issues of principle, he will not deviate as others did. Another report, in Business Standard, quoted an RSS source as saying “the Sangh had over the past few months updated its old list of supporters and visited or written to them or their children to support the cause” and that “many professionals with family ties to the RSS had quit their jobs or taken sabbaticals to help in election-related work in whatever way they could…”
By the time he was 24, Modi was made pracharak for Ahmedabad, a remarkable achievement. Pracharak means the spreader of the doctrine. In Modi the RSS has its man to plant its doctrine into the mainstream, even if many of us see him as a Manchurian candidate.
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns