With New Nadda Team, Is The BJP Looking to Make Itself More Independent of The RSS?

File photo of BJP chief JP Nadda with PM Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

File photo of BJP chief JP Nadda with PM Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

After the exits of Ram Madhav and other high-profile genereal secretaries, BL Santhosh is now the lone RSS presence in the command centre of the BJP.


Bhavdeep Kang

The presence of the RSS in the topmost echelons of the BJP has lightened considerably with the exit of high-profile general secretaries Ram Madhav and B Muralidhar Rao. The party has traditionally drawn talented office-bearers from the RSS, ever since Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Nanaji Deshmukh were seconded to the Jan Sangh in the 1950s.

Ram Madhav arguably had a very successful innings as general secretary and this has led to intense speculation that he might be accommodated in the council of ministers. The same applies to Rao and the other two general secretaries who have been dropped -Anil Jain and Saroj Pandey. But there is no hint of new assignments as yet.

BL Santhosh is now the lone RSS presence in the command centre of the party, that is, among the general secretaries. As organising secretary, he is in any case deputed by the sangh.

In the past, RSS pracharaks in the BJP have enjoyed considerable renown. Those like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi went on to stellar political careers, while others like KN Govindacharya and Sanjay Joshi departed in a blaze of controversy.

What makes RSS pracharaks, or former pracharaks, so valuable to the party? And why do they eventually either move up or move out?

The first question is easily answered. They are disciplined, intelligent, ideologically committed, accustomed to hard work and ceaseless travel and capable of out-of-the-box thinking. The second is a little harder to assess.

The very factors that render them necessary to the party also make them potential mavericks. They tend to be independent thinkers, outspoken (a sin that cost Govindacharya his career) and performance-driven, which brings them into the limelight and makes them the target of internal rivalries.

Vajpayee was famously outspoken and very much his own man. As prime minister, he went head-to-head with the RSS and its frontal organizations on several occasions. He would either get his way, or hit the highway.

Modi was himself quite an individualist; when offered the deputy chief ministership of Gujarat in 2001, he is said to have refused on the grounds that he would either take full responsibility for the state, or not at all. The BJP leadership backed down and he became CM. The rest is history.

Ram Madhav will be missed by the BJP, for two reasons. First, his ability to discharge tough assignments is undeniable. He was asked to script the BJP's ascent in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East, both of which he accomplished with aplomb.

Second, he enjoys a vast network in the global diplomatic community. For the first time, the RSS established a bridgehead to the world, thanks to two decades of ceaseless effort. As a result of that endeavour, the RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat addressed global media representatives and interacted with a number of ambassadors.

Various reasons have been touted for his exit, one being that his constant engagement with the media discomfits BJP president JP Nadda and violates the RSS principle of avoiding 'prasidhi' (fame) - although to be fair, he was originally brought to Delhi by the sangh precisely to interact with the national media.

Madhav also runs the India Foundation, an independent think-tank run which has hosted a number of high-profile events, thereby sparking internal rivalries.

Ostensibly, four of the eight BJP general secretaries were axed to make way for wider regional and caste representation. New appointee Tarun Chugh represents Punjab, Dilip Saikia the north-east, D Purandeswari and C T Ravi the south, while D K Gautam, a prominent dalit face, has been shifted from vice-president to general secretary.

Kailash Vijayvarghia, Bhupendra Yadav and Arun Singh, the three general secretaries who enjoy the confidence of Home minister and former BJP president Amit Shah, have all been retained. Three of the new incumbents are hardcore BJP, while Purandeswari was inducted in 2014.

This brings us to the question of whether the BJP is actively seeking to make itself more independent of the RSS, or whether that is an inevitable consequence of the changing character of the party. If key ministries can be handled by non-sangh ministers, the party can't be far behind.

With the expansion of the BJP, it is reasonable to expect that those recruited from outside the traditional sangh parivar edifice, such as Mukul Roy, will be given positions of responsibility and the consequent ideological dilution may make the party less inclined to look to the RSS.

However, the BJP can avoid the mediocrity trap in which most parties currently find themselves by leveraging the RSS' talent pool – after all, it has thrown up two prime ministers.

The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.

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