Iska kya karen (What shall we do about him)? This punchline of a popular advertisement best describes the mood in the RSS vis-a-vis Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The firebrand leader all but challenged the other BJP leaders to a leadership tussle at the partys recently concluded national council meeting,but the relationship between him and the parivar is far from cordial. He has positioned himself as a leader set for a larger role on the national stage.
There are many reasons why Modi,a mascot of all that is Hindutva-wadi,is not exactly a hero for the organisation that espouses the Hindu cause. First,the RSS believes that no individual is larger than the organisation. Modi,in his own way,challenged this diktat. On the other hand,the RSS has always failed to understand that a popular political force needs a face,unlike the parivar,which largely operates behind-the-scenes and prefers to be faceless.
In the RSSs Hindu scheme of things,the vyakti (individual) is less important than the samashti (society). This philosophy may work for it,but when it comes to politics manifestation,the individual gets a larger share of the limelight compared to his organisation. The system works if both sides respect each others domain. The classic example of this is former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Though he was more popular than the body he represented,he never challenged the parent body. At times political compulsions might have forced him to pay no heed to the parivar,but at no point did he think of antagonising it. For,he knew that although an individual may become more popular,he needs organisational strength to deliver the desired results. Unlike Modi,Vajpayee did not let political success and his larger-than-life image go to his head.
Modi at least in his initial days made this mistake. He disregarded the fact that irrespective of his popularity,he would need the support of an organisation,first to stay afloat and later to fight the circumstances. It was then that fissures began to develop with the RSS,and he believed that he had reached a stage where the organisation needed him more than he needed it. The realisation that this was far from true came with the never-ending court cases.
Then,he felt that the requisite support was missing. Modi developed suspicions that not everyone in the BJP and the RSS wanted him to succeed. Except for a small handful,he never got the feeling that the full weight of the organisation was with him in facing the challenge. Within the parivar,Modi began to play victim. This further isolated him from the RSS,which likes to tutor its swayamsevaks to take victory and defeat in the same stride. Just as the RSS failed to understand that Modi was no longer its lathi-wielding swayamsevak but a political figure to whom victory and defeat mattered,the BJP leadership,too,failed to bridge the gap.
Indeed,this gap widened,because by then the Vajpayee era had come to an end and the party was groping in the dark to find a new face. In the post-Vajpayee era,when L.K. Advanis chances of resurrection were ruled out,the BJP leadership comprised of leaders of the same stature. With no one having a clear edge,Modi tried to fill the slot. With back-to-back electoral victories in the state assembly elections,Modi felt he was a natural successor to Vajpayee. Having survived hostile NGOs and legal battles,and with a battery of big-ticket investments from industrialists,Modi thought he had outgrown other BJP leaders. Much to his dismay,the Sangh-controlled BJP leadership refused to buy his story and kept parroting the we-have-many-leaders line,comparing Modi to Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh. This further alienated Modi.
The RSS. on the other hand,viewed Modi as someone who could challenge its authority and was suspicious of his growing stature. The problem was compounded because the RSS also saw a generational change. Compared to past heads like Bhaurao Deoras,Rajendra Singh and K.S. Sudarshan,the incumbent RSS chief,Mohan Bhagwat,is relatively younger and represents the same generation as Modi. Modi and Bhagwat,in fact,share the same year of birth: 1950. So,clearly,the age advantage was lost.
Things began to change only after Modi recorded his third successive electoral victory in the Gujarat assembly elections. The first sign that he wanted to mend fences with the RSS came when Modi,after his victory,extended an olive branch to the parivar by personally writing to RSS bigwigs,seeking their blessings. This was the first time the Gujarat CM acknowledged perhaps not by choice the organisations role,and paid it due respect. After his resounding victory in Gujarat,the RSS also realised that it didnt have much choice. But since the parivar believes that the organisation is bigger than the individual,it wanted the individual,that is,Modi,to take the first step,which he did.
Since then,the RSS has reluctantly agreed to give Modi a larger role. Like all political manipulations,this one is also a marriage of convenience. The only difference is that this is within the parivar. Its longevity depends on how quickly Modi adapts to the Congress-like high command culture where lesser mortals outside the Family are forbidden from taking any credit,or on whether he can become another Vajpayee,who reached out to people over the organisations shoulders. Till such time,both sides will continue to face the question: Iska kya karen?
The writer is executive editor,Loksatta,firstname.lastname@example.org