Once upon a time in Gujarat, two ‘Bhais’ fought a bitter turf war of supremacy. For a long time, one of them seemed to have the upper hand when he managed to get Narendra ‘Bhai’ Modi exiled banished from Gujarat and sent to Chandigarh.
Few years later, Narendra ‘Bhai’ had his comeuppance when his rival Sanjay ‘Bhai’ Joshi was expelled from the BJP when a CD showing the latter in a ‘compromising’ position mysteriously surfaced just before an important meeting of the party. The CD was found to be doctored; Joshi was rehabilitated.
But he was thrown out again in 2012, allegedly under pressure from Modi.
With this backdrop, let us come to the real story and the symbolism of Joshi.
On Friday (2 January, 2015) thousands of RSS karyakartas gathered on the outskirts of Ahmedabad for an ongoing three-day chintan shivir to discuss the fate of the rashtra, Hinduism, economy and cow.
Amidst the crowd– comprising mainly graying-old men in khaki shorts strapped tightly around their bulging bellies with brown leather belts–was Joshi, making a ghar wapsi after several years in exile.
Prima-facie, Joshi is just one of the nearly 25,000 invitees, including Modi, to the conclave. But his rehabilitation could be a metaphor for the relation between RSS and Modi, and the current backdrop of the uneasy convergence of Hindutva, conversion, development and BJP raj.
The timing of the conclave and its motive is important. It is being held after a gap of 15 years. Obviously, the Sangh feels its moment has come. So, Mohan Bhagwat & Co feel obliged to call an AGM of its stake holders and discuss how best to use the favourable political environment in India.
Also, the conclave helps the Sangh build some more pressure on the government. When thousands of karyakartas agree on an agenda, it will give Mohan Bhagwat & Co the moral and democratic right to take it to the Modi government as the voice of grass root workers.
The Sangh’s agenda is uncomplicated: it wants India to mean Hindustan.
A few days before the Modi government was sworn in, French political scientist Christoph Jafferlot had been remarkably prescient when he said the RSS wants “a fusion between the Hindu culture and the public culture of India.”
This, he said, means that Muslims and Christians can remain Muslims and Christians in the private sphere, in the mosque and the church, but in the public sphere they have to show allegiance to Hindu symbols. “It also means no quota for Muslim and Christian dalits, the rewriting of history of India, new anti-conversion laws and the promotion of Hindu cults – including new Sampradayas and festivals.”
The problem with the RSS is that its wishlist is not the same as that of the majority of the people who voted for the Modi sarkar. In fact, many Indians are concerned that the Hindutva agenda of the RSS is distracting Modi from implementing the promises he made during the campaign.
But the RSS can’t wait. So, Modi has the choice of either accepting that Bhagwat is his de-facto Boss and he will carry out his orders, or he can prove that he is the voter’s pradhan sevak and will fulfil his dreams.
This is where his bête noire, the other Bhai comes into the picture.
As chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had the RSS and all its affiliates on a leash. He managed to hound VHP leaders like Pravin Togadia out of the state; marginalize Parivar affiliates like the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and exile most of the RSS strongmen, including Joshi.
But the Sangh may not be willing to let the cult of an individual destroy it again. From the Gujarat experience, it would have learnt that the Parivar can’t afford to become irrelevant by letting one man dictate the agenda.
So, in Gujarat, Modi was the boss and the Sangh leaders were being banished from the state. Now, like Joshi, they are coming back home. And Modi is actually rewarding some of the pracharaks by helping them become chief ministers, like ML Khattar in Haryana.
Guess, who is the boss now?
There seems to be an ingenious compromise at work. Modi will keep the development fire burning. And the Sangh will keep stoking the Hindutva agenda. Unlike Gujarat where he preferred one over the other after the Gujarat riots, Modi will try to keep both the Sangh and the voter happy.
In the interview mentioned above, Jafferlot had predicted, economy is Modi’s Plan A and Hindutva, if it fails. But the RSS and Modi seem to have worked out a formula for rolling out both the plans simultaneously. The two will coexist.
Joshi, once again, is the moral of the story. In Ahmedabad, he has been invited to share his ideas with Modi.
Modi, Joshi Sangh-Sangh, a symbolic confluence of the learnings from Gujarat and the merits of politics of mutual benefit.