Leaders representing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’s) approximately 60,000 shakhas (branches) across the country, will meet at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur over the weekend to elect a new Sarkaryawah or general secretary.
The election of the Sarkaryawah is important because in the day-to-day running of the RSS, its supreme leader, the Sarsanghchalak, has only an advisory role, and the general secretary is essentially the chief executive of what is the world’s largest non-government organisation.
What is the process by which the Sarkaryawah is chosen?
The Pratinidhi Sabha
The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS), which is meeting in Nagpur from March 9 through 11, is the highest decision-making body of the RSS. The ABPS meets for three days in the second or third week of March every year, usually concluding its meeting on the second or third Sunday of the month.
The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha has around 1,300 members. The bulk of these delegates are Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhis (all-India representatives) of active swayamsevaks. Around 50 active swayamsevaks are represented by one Prantiya Pratinidhi (state representative); each all-India representative represents 20 state representatives.
Apart from the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhis, the ABPS has delegates nominated by front organisations of the Sangh, the largest of which is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has around 40 delegates, the most among the front organisations. All former Prant Pracharaks (state leaders) of the RSS are invited to the ABPS. The BJP is normally represented at the meeting by its national president and general secretary (Organisation).
According to the annual report presented by Sarkaryawah Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi at last year’s ABPS meeting in Coimbatore, the RSS’s work has now reached 59,136 places in India, where it is holding either a daily shakha, or a weekly milan, or a sangh mandli.
The Nagpur ABPS
While the annual meetings of the ABPS are held in cities across the country; every fourth meeting of the ABPS must necessarily be held in Nagpur, the headquarters and birthplace of the Sangh. It is at the meetings in Nagpur that the Sarkaryawah is elected. According to the constitution of the RSS (which was drafted during the 19 months between February 1948 and September 1949 when the Sangh was banned following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi), the Sarkaryawah is elected for a three-year term.
After being elected by the ABPS, every new Sarkaryawah forms his team of office-bearers. Current Sarkaryawah Joshi completes his third three-year term in office this year. The normal practice is for the new Sarkaryawah to be chosen from among the three Sah-Sarkaryawahs who are deputies to the general secretary. Bhaiyyaji Joshi’s Sah-Sarkaryawahs are Suresh Soni, Dr Krishna Gopal and Dattatreya Hosabale.
Soni, who is from Madhya Pradesh, was on leave last year due to bad health, but has now recovered. He looks after RSS organisations involved in education. Krishna Gopal, from Uttar Pradesh, is in charge of the BJP, and is closely involved in the day-to-day coordination with the party. Hosabale, from Karnataka, is relatively young, and earlier worked in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing.
However, those who understand the Sangh say it is also possible that someone else altogether may be chosen. In theory, it is possible for Joshi to get another term; however, given that he is already 70 and has been Sarkaryawah thrice already, this seems unlikely.
There is no election for the post of Sarsanghchalak. The chief of the RSS appoints his successor, who holds the position for life.
The executive head of the RSS has full control over the organisation’s every activity. This weekend’s meeting is extra important because of the remarkable growth and spread of the BJP, which now rules 22 states either on its own or as part of an alliance, apart from being in power at the Centre. Close coordination between the party and its ideological parent is crucial, given that Lok Sabha elections are due next year. While the RSS insists that it is not a political organisation, the fact is that swayamsevaks play a very important role in the BJP’s election campaigns. The RSS also seeks to play big brother to the BJP, with pracharaks attempting to influence policies and appointments made by BJP governments at the Centre and the states. A heavyweight Sarkaryawah at this stage is essential for the RSS to maintain the line between its cadres and the politics of the BJP.
It is usually on the second day of the three-day ABPS meeting (which will be on March 10 this year) in Nagpur, that the incumbent Sarkaryawah informs delegates about the work done during his tenure, and announces that since his term has ended, a new Sarkaryawah must be elected. An election officer is then appointed from among the senior functionaries. The election officer explains the election process, after which a senior functionary proposes a name for the new Sarkaryawah. This name is generally accepted, and the Sarkaryawah is declared elected unopposed. The formal process of the election notwithstanding, the decision on the new Sarkaryawah is taken by consensus among the top leaders of the RSS. After he is elected, the new Sarkaryawah announces his team.
The present system of holding the Sarkaryawah election was adopted in the early fifties. Three Sarsanghchalaks, Balasaheb Deoras, Prof Rajendra Singh alias Rajju Bhaiya, and the current chief, Mohan Bhagwat, served multiple terms as Sarkaryawah (Deoras, 1965-73; Rajju Bhaiya, 1978-87; Bhagwat, 2000-09). Between Rajju Bhaiya and Bhagwat, H V Sheshadri was Sarkaryawah from 1987 to 2000, the longest tenure on the post.
Deoras became Sarkaryawah after Madhavrao Mule passed away in office. Rajju Bhaiya quit in 1987 due to ill-health, and became Sah-sarkaryawah under Sheshadri.
Elections were not held during the Emergency (1975-77), and in 1993 when the RSS was banned after the demolition of Babri Masjid.