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How the RSS will play the 2019 game

By Kingshuk Nag
November 01, 2018 08:45 IST
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'Modi campers are aware that the Sangh may keep a Nitin Gadkari under wraps.'
'He may be pulled out of the hat if push comes to shove and if the Modi-led BJP is unable to deliver a decisive victory.'
A revealing excerpt from Kingshuk Nag's new book, Mohan Bhagwat: Influencer-in-Chief.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat at a programme in Thane, October 26, 2018. Photograph: PTI Photo

IMAGE: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat at a programme in Thane, October 26, 2018. Photograph: PTI Photo

With the general election not too far off, the RSS is flexing its muscles.

That is not surprising considering the fact that with the general elections approaching, there is no certainty of the BJP returning to power.

This is especially because of the attempts being made by the Opposition parties to forge a common front to take the BJP head on in the 2019 elections. Various opinion polls also show that Modi's popularity is sliding.

"There is time," RSS seniors say when asked whether the BJP can win the next elections, but in private, worry lines appear on their foreheads when queried about this.

For the record, the RSS is not a political outfit. It is a sociocultural organisation. But in the last decade -- and more prominently since the BJP came to power in 2014 -- there is a discernible interest of the organisation in politics.

This is because the RSS's top brass realizes that only if the BJP wins the election can the agenda of the Sangh be furthered. This means that over the next few months, the RSS would want to have a greater say over policymaking and appointments and, of course, election strategies.


"It's like an examination where the student has to answer the question papers. The others can help and assist the student before the examination by advising him what to study and how to study. Similarly, Modi and his candidates have to contest the polls; we can only help in campaigning and in formulating strategies. We will work intensively for this like parents do for their children," an RSS insider told this author

The insider says that Modi and the BJP have to showcase everything that they say has been achieved by the government since 2014.

"The performance of the Modi government is fairly good although its popularity is now going downwards," admits the RSS insider.

He breezily suggests that the plummeting popularity is most visible in urban and metro cities and the Modi government maintains its good rating in small cities. "So all you people may be getting it wrong," he suggests.

Many think that the Modi government will raise the ante on Pakistan and there could be a conflict between the two countries -- however small it might be. However, an army general says that this is ruled out.

"Both are nuclear powers and thus none can take resort to warfare," he adds. However, the Modi government will not be averse to producing all records of strikes by Indian forces in Pakistan as is evident from publicity of a strike 20 months earlier by the government in June 2018.

Similarly, in the case of the Ayodhya dispute, the RSS would hope that the Supreme Court will give a judgement that will allow the process of beginning the construction of the Ram temple before the elections. One does not know whether this will happen.

The VHP is mounting counter pressure on the central government to legislate on the matter to acquire the disputed land and build a Ram mandir.

The VHP has said if the ruling alliance does not have the numbers, it should convene a joint session of the two Houses of Parliament and get such legislation cleared.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy is also arguing that the central government should take over the disputed land through an ordinance and hand over the land to agama experts and a representative Hindu body who can build the temple.

To ensure that the BJP wins the next polls, the RSS is also getting into the nuts and bolts of the 2019 elections. At a three-day conclave held in Suraj Kund in Faridabad in mid-June 2018, RSS leaders confabulated with organizational secretaries of BJP units to figure out the popularity of BJP MPs.

The organisational secretaries -- who are hardcore RSS members on deputation to the BJP -- were asked to prepare a report on the performance of the MPs and assess if they had a chance to win the next elections.

According to reports, caste and winning combinations in various states were also discussed. Seats will be given based on the findings of this report.

The RSS team was led by Sarkaryavah Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi and had other joint secretaries like Krishna Gopal and Manmohan Vaidya to assist him. BJP President Amit Anilchandra Shah had come along and so had Ram Lal, the organisational secretary for the central unit of the BJP.

The only omissions were RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi!

Cover of Mohan Bhagat, Influencer-In-Chief

UP was discussed threadbare at the meeting, which was attended by all the chiefs of the prants in the state. UP is of special interest to both the BJP and RSS. The victory in 2014 was largely because of the sweep of BJP of the state.

"This time this is being threatened by the proposed alliance between the two former chief ministers, the so-called bua-bhatija duo of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav. If the BJP sweeps UP it is through, but this time the 2014 results cannot be duplicated," says a senior RSS functionary.

Analysts say that the problem for the BJP is that south of the Vindhyas the party still does not have much traction. The party -- with RSS help -- will try to consolidate its position in Karnataka where the BJP came first in the recent assembly elections but could not form a government because of the lack of majority.

In the neighbouring states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has barely any presence. Additionally, in Andhra Pradesh, its long-time partner N Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party has broken the alliance.

Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana account for 70 Lok Sabha seats against 80 seats in UP.

The RSS may not be too comfortable with Modi's power politics and his none-too-discreet attempts to corner all the glory but for Nagpur he is still their best bet to keep the Hindu flag afloat.

Modi campers are, however, aware that the Sangh may keep a Nitin Gadkari under wraps. He may be pulled out of the hat if push comes to shove and if the Modi-led BJP is unable to deliver a decisive victory.

Excerpted from Mohan Bhagwat: Influencer-in-Chief by Kingshuk Nag with the kind permission of the publishers, Rupa Publications.

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