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March 9, 2000
Bhagwat, Sudarshan in the running for RSS top post
Amberish K Diwanji in Nagpur
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is all set to see a change of guard.
At its Pratinidhi Sabha scheduled between March 10 and 12 at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Sarsanghchalak Rajendra Thakur, popularly known as Rajju Bhaiyya, and Sahkaryavah H V Seshadri are likely to step down.
While the media, in Nagpur and the rest of India, has gone into a frenzy over the past week on the likely change, the RSS has consistently played down speculations.
"Believe me," said a senior RSS functionary in Nagpur, "No such change will take place."
However, this morning a Nagpur-based newspaper quoted highly-placed RSS sources as saying that Rajju Bhaiyya and Seshadri will step down on grounds of ill-health.
Both Rajju Bhaiyya and Seshadri have been suffering from debilitating illnesses and the former had, on a number of occasions in the past, expressed his desire quit.
RSS watchers also confirmed that a change was imminent. Rajju Bhaiyya and Seshadri are likely to be replaced by K C Sudarshan and Mohan Bhagwat. While most expect Sudarshan to take over the reins from Thakur to become the sarsanghchalak, at least some RSS sources believe Bhagwat would land the top job.
"Bhagwat has age on his side. He in only in his sixties, while Sudarshan is in his seventies, only a few years younger to Rajju Bhaiyya and Seshadri. The idea is to let Bhagwat take over so that for the next decade or so there is no question of succession," these sources said.
The RSS leadership is one of India's most exclusive clubs. The top leader in this organisation is never elected but nominated by his predecessor. The first sarsanghchalak, Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, who founded RSS, nominated M S 'Guruji' Golwalkar to succeed him upon his death. Golwalkar in turn handed over the reins to Balasaheb Deoras.
It was Deoras who broke the tradition of succession only after the death of the incumbent sarsanghchalak by nominating Rajju Bhayya during his own lifetime.
Rajju Bhaiyya is now seeking to follow Deoras's precedent by nominating his successor in his lifetime.
However, RSS-watchers insist that despite his advanced years, Sudarshan is likely to succeed Rajju Bhaiyya. "The sarsanghchalak is the RSS's friend, philosopher and guide. He really is not involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation, which is the responsibility of sahkaryavahs," said a RSS functionary.
This functionary added that the seniormost sahkaryavah is the most important person in the organisation as he is the one who presides over meetings and handles media.
The tussle between Sudarshan and Bhagwat has a lot to do with their regional backgrounds. The first three RSS sarsanghchalaks were all Maharashtrian Brahmins, and the RSS watchers say that the large and extremely influential Maharashtrian lobby within the RSS is none-too-pleased at having lost its hold over the top job to Rajju Bhaiyya, who is a north Indian non-Brahmin.
It is this lobby that is now pushing to have Bhagwat, a fellow Maharashtrian, get the top job over Sudarshan, who is a Kannadiga.
However, the lobby supporting Sudarshan sees merit in having a South Indian at the helm. Not only would this give the RSS a pan-Indian flavour, it will also help the organisation in its push to capture the South.
One factor that goes decidedly against Sudarshan is his reputation as a tough talker. Sudarshan had in the recent past not minced words while criticising the RSS's political outfit -- the Bharatiya Janata Party -- which heads the ruling National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.
Sudarshan had also publicly criticised the BJP for backing the Insurance Bill.
In contrast, Bhagwat is a quiet person who prefers to influence rather than confront the BJP. This has made him popular with Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, himself a former RSS member.
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