NAGPUR, Maharashtra—On Thursday morning, as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat delivers his annual Vijayadashami speech in Nagpur, political observers will be keenly listening for any mention of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government or Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At the Reshimbagh ground in front of the RSS’s Smriti Mandir in Nagpur, Bhagwat will deliver the ultra-right outfit’s message to its office bearers, volunteers and the members of its sister organisations in the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
This year’s Vijayadashami address, the last before next year’s general election, may provide some crucial pointers about the Sangh Parivar’s poll agenda, despite the organisation’s claims that it never “indulges or interferes” in politics.
“Overall, the RSS’s position on all social-political and contemporary issues is reflected in this speech. The message is for the volunteers as well as the society. The RSS speaks through the mouth of the Sarsanghchalak on this day,” an RSS officer bearer from Nagpur told INB India on condition of anonymity.
The RSS chief never speaks with the elections in mind, claimed this person.
“The RSS’s aim is too large, so elections are never the primary agenda for the RSS,” he said.
Another RSS member from Nagpur also said that Bhagwat would not directly mention the upcoming elections.
“The stress will be on samata (equality) swatantrata (independence) and bandhuta (fraternity) but samata will be replaced with samrasata (equitability). Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi will be the chief guest of (Thursday’s) function and the RSS chief will stress on how the RSS is also involved in society building like Satyarthi. The message of a ‘broad-minded RSS’, given in the RSS’s three-day long conclave in Delhi, will be taken forward. Bhagwat will take the same line but the speech will be ambiguous. He will try to portray the RSS as an all-inclusive organization. The attempt will be to give a sense that it can provide a leadership acceptable to all sections of the society including the Muslims,” he said.
In September, the RSS held a first-of-its-kind public outreach event in New Delhi, where Bhagwat delivered three lectures, ostensibly to clear up misunderstandings about the organisation. Bhagwat was at pains to point out then that the RSS did not influence government policy in any way.
In 2013, the RSS under Bhagwat had taken an unusually open political line. All RSS members were asked to consolidate behind the BJP before the 2014 elections.
In the past five years, Bhagwat has openly praised the Narendra Modi government and sometimes asked people to give it some time to bring more changes.
However, within the RSS, a large group remains apprehensive of the PM’s dominating personality and has grown hostile to him, a reason why Bhaiyyaji Joshi was elected as the RSS general secretary for a fourth consecutive term, instead of Dattatreya Hosabale, seen as Modi’s closest ally in the RSS.
A senior RSS functionary had told this reporter in 2014 that it took the RSS two full years to reach a consensus on Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
Followers of PM Modi’s bête noire Sanjay Joshi and RSS ideologue MG Vaidya continue to hold strong positions within the organization.
Vaidya had openly accused Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, of conspiring against then BJP president Nitin Gadkari when the latter was facing corruption charges.
Vaidya’s son Manmohan Vaidya is now the joint deputy general secretary of the RSS.
SN Vinod, a senior journalist from Nagpur, thinks the RSS has been taking an all-inclusive line because it does not want the Modi-Amit Shah duo to come back to power again.
“The RSS and Bhagwat know that Modi, if elected PM again with a comfortable majority, will try to bulldoze the RSS. He will make sure that his man becomes the RSS chief. But the RSS has shown, from time to time, what it could do when it does not agree with its own political wing. The massive defeat of the BJP in Delhi and Bihar elections, despite an extensive campaign by the PM and Shah, showed how the RSS asserts itself. They want the BJP now but not the Modi-Shah duo anymore. They would be happy to see a BJP-led coalition government after the next election because that would mean someone other than Modi will be the PM,” he said.
Vinod added that Bhagwat and the RSS are trying to get rid of the “communal” label now. One reason for this, he said, is the fear of a possible repeat of 2004, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance defeated the National Democratic Alliance to come to power, two years after the communal riots in Gujarat.
“But they are more scared of Modi becoming the PM again. Because Modi’s next target will be the RSS. Also, Rahul Gandhi has grown in stature despite a vilification campaign against him and he is continuously targeting the RSS. Bhagwat is the first RSS chief to denounce Hedgewar’s (KB Hedgewar, the first RSS chief) and Golwalkar’s (MS Golwalkar, the second RSS chief) ideas from a public platform. It shows the RSS desperately wants an image makeover,” Vinod said.
RSS has been betraying some unease over Congress president Gandhi’s growing acceptability.
Earlier this year, it invited senior Congress leader and former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee for a programme in Nagpur. RSS sources had told INB India in September that Bhagwat’s unprecedented three-day event was in response to efforts by parties including the Congress to paint it as divisive and dangerous. Bhagwat and Manmohan Vaidya have repeatedly issued statements over the past six months that the Sangh does not entertain the idea of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, a slogan given by BJP president Amit Shah.
In an article published in various newspapers on Wednesday, Manmohan Vaidya again stressed on Bhagwat’s inclusivity line and claimed that open discussion on a spectrum of ideas is an intrinsic part of the RSS.
“Vested interests have been portraying the Sangh as a closed organization because it suits their agenda…Welcoming new ideas is the norm in the Sangh…Open outreach is the mainstay of the work RSS office bearers do…,” Vaidya wrote in The Indian Express.
Bhagwat’s speech on Thursday could send a message to the Sangh Parivar on what the RSS thinks of the Modi government.