Archive for June 2014

Has the jholawallah, the social activist whose hallmark often was a beard — or a handloom sari — and a bag, faded out? Sonia Sarkar and Moumita Chaudhurilooked for him and her here and there — and found it tough to catch a glimpse of that once iconic individual

  • PIC: Rashbehari Das


Giridhar Poddar has seen it all. The waiter at the Indian Coffee House in Calcutta remembers the time when an adda meant a revolution. Men and women would gather around their cups of tea — mostly black, with a squeeze of lime — and change the world. “They do have addas now, but they are just pure addas — only conversation,” he says.

A large whiteboard at the reception underlines all that Poddar misses. The board — titled Voice of Kolkata — is almost blank, but for a reference to an exhibition in the city and a few lines scribbled by an obscure poet. “People no longer raise a storm in their teacups. Nobody has the time anymore,” manager Jahid Hussain points out.

There was a time when a place like a coffee house was the watering hole for radicals, liberals, activists and armchair revolutionists. But the jholawallah is hard to find these days. The term, used generically and somewhat derogatorily for the activist in the Eighties, referred to a class that was easily identifiable — the men wore scraggly beards and khadi kurtas; the women had unkempt hair and wore cotton saris. And they all carried jholas — cloth bags that somehow symbolised their missions.

But the times have changed. A new National Democratic Alliance government has been installed at the Centre which has little in common with the activists. The old United Progressive Alliance government — which had given a platform to a wide spectrum of activists in its National Advisory Council (NAC) — has been deposed. And the NAC has downed its shutters.

The arc lights are on the activist as well. A report by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has listed non-government organisations (NGOs) and social activists associated with various peoples’ movements as those stalling developmental work in the country.

“This is not a conducive environment for social activists to function,” says Anil Chaudhary, a peace and NGO activist associated with the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), a platform for some 700 movements and NGOs.

Many believe that the jholawallah — already marginalised by a host of global and domestic developments — is on his way out.

But who is the jholawallah in the first place? Academics agree that the term refers to a large section of Left liberals who are usually not part of a political party. You see them at rallies, at seminars and conferences, at world fora and in villages. Their causes differ — and some jump from cause to cause. But the issues are varied — from protecting villagers against big dams and spreading literacy to people’s right to information and against nuclear projects.

“Of course, the word jholawallah is now obsolete. Nowadays hardly anybody walks around with a beard and a jhola,” says theatre personality Bibhas Chakraborty. “But generally, jholawallahs are educated and erudite people giving unsolicited advice.”

Most agree that the presence of jholawallahs is felt most during times of crisis. The end of the Naxalite movement in Calcutta, the growth of the JP movement and the start of the Emergency were some such flashpoints. Small groups formed over the years, taking up issues such as the rights of women and of tribals and Dalits, and for the environment. In recent times, the activists have been rallying together under an anti-nuclear banner. Not surprisingly, many of the groups mentioned in the IB report are against nuclear energy.

“If communities feel threatened, they will give birth to activists who will give voice to their concerns,” reasons former NAC member and Right to Information activist Aruna Roy. “As a society we need to listen to those voices.”

But the movements have also lost steam over the years, and jholawallahs their place in the sun. Observers say that a host of developments across the world has together pushed the activist to the margins. The Vietnam War gave birth to a whole new generation of Left-winged activists. But subsequent events such as the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the firing on students in Tiananmen Square in China — shrunk the radical’s world.

“The role of an activist is a very difficult one in a globalised, liberalised economy and in the age of sponsorships,” says Mohammed Selim, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of Parliament. “But though they may be invisible at the moment, they have not been vanquished.”

Calcutta, of course, has seen the rise of a “civil society” movement — the participation of artistes, academics and others in rallies that started with the firing at Nandigarm and more or less ended with the fall of the Left Front government in 2011. “But it is true that jholawallahs are a rare sight these days,” agrees actor Badshah Moitra. “They are not as ubiquitous as they were 15 years ago in coffee houses and tea stalls.”

Indeed, you can hardly see the jholawallah in many parts of the country today. Take Bangalore’s Koshy’s, where, the locals joke, many court cases were argued and newspaper articles written over steaming coffee and chilled beer. Started during the days of the Raj and located just off M.G. Road, Koshy’s for decades served the city’s intelligentsia.

“While some people discussed glasnost and perestroika on one table, you’d find another table occupied by a writer penning a novel,” a spokesman for the restaurant says. “But the city’s young don’t hang around at Koshy’s as much as they did a decade ago,” he says.

In fact, that, many hold, is the crux of the problem — the fact that the young are not as enamoured of the jhola as their parents were. The trendy Caf� Coffee Day (CCD), Barista and Starbucks outlets are where the young would rather be. If there is one Koshy’s in Bangalore, CCD has 250 outlets. When Tata Starbucks opened its outlet in Bangalore last year, youngsters waited for an hour to get a table.

“The youth of today believes more in aspirational politics than confrontation,” points out Anirban Ganguly, director of the BJP-affiliated think tank Shyama Prasad Mookherjee Research Foundation in Delhi. “They believe in a different lexicon.”

But some believe the young do have a role to play in movements. “Our work will not be stalled. We are committed to the cause,” says Medha Patkar, whose anti-big dam movement attracted the young in large numbers. “All pro-people agencies, from civil rights activists to journalists to the judiciary, should come forth to fight against the government. The challenge is to stay together,” adds Teesta Setalvad, who runs the NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace.

Some argue that the jholawallah is not extinct but has taken on different forms. The BJP, for instance, has its share of supporters who may carry laptop backpacks instead of jholas, but have a mission as well. “Modi would not have become Prime Minister without the support of an army of Right-wing activists in the corporate sector, the media, the economics profession, the Hindutva movement and the public at large,” social activist Jean Dr�ze, a former NAC member, stresses.

Political and social observers also point out that the platform for the jholawallah has changed. Anil Chaudhary recalls that there was a time when demonstrators gathered at Delhi’s Boat Club — or India Gate — for all kinds of protests. The protestors have now been shoved to a corner near Jantar Mantar, so as not to obstruct traffic.

But many contend today’s platform for protest is neither Calcutta’s Maidan nor Jantar Mantar. It’s the Internet.

“Now dissent has become digital. Protests have taken a cyber form,” points out sociologist G.K. Karanth.

Indeed, many small movements have spread their message through and congregated on the Internet — from stone-throwing schoolboys in Kashmir to the thousands that came together to protest against the gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi in 2012. Many of the gay parades across India have been put into motion on the Internet. The Pink Chaddi campaign — against conservatives who frowned at women going to pubs — found supporters on social networking sites. In other parts of the world, too, urban movements — such as the Occupy Wall Street Movement — have been garnering support, thanks to the Internet.

There are movements on the ground, too, but, as Karanth points out, they have to be sufficiently large or grand to attract people. Anna Hazare, for instance, brought the jholawallahs and the Prada-wallahs together. But the latter outnumber the former.

So is the score, for the present, Jholas 0 and Pradas 1? The supporters of the jhola are livid. “I have strong reservations about the very word jholawallah and such labelling of people. They have contributed to our society and stood by the interests of the poor and faced stiff opposition and even physical resistance from governments in their crusades,” says theatre director and actor Kaushik Sen, who was part of the “Paribartan” wave in favour of Mamata Banerjee three years ago. “But that has not eroded their resolve and grit.”

As for the detractors, they are busy coining jhola jokes. So what is the jholawallah song? I’m a jholi good fellow.

Severe six

Aruna Roy

Heads the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and led the Right to Information movement

Medha Patkar

Founder member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan

Jean Drèze

Works on hunger, famine, child health and education. He drafted the first version of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme of the UPA government

Vandana Shiva

Environmental activist. Founded Navadanya, a national green movement on organic farming and fair trade

Teesta Setalvad

Secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace which fights against communalism

Arundhati Roy

Essay writer and human rights activist. A member of the anti-globalisation movement


Tete a TeteTete a Tete

Yogendra Yadav is gearing up for the Haryana Assembly elections. As he criss-crosses the state, the AAP leader tells Sonia Sarkar that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral campaign was brilliant and that he wants to learn from it

Some say the bubble’s burst, but Yogendra Yadav will have none of that. He has hit the road and is travelling across Haryana to talk to workers of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged with a bang last year and now appears to have dwindled into a whimper. Yadav, the soft-spoken face of the party, is gearing up for the polls in Haryana, slated to be held later this year.

Clearly, AAP — Arvind Kejriwal’s political alternative — is putting its house in order. “We have to focus on our sangathan (organisation), sampark (connect with people) and sambad (communication) before the Assembly elections,” Yadav says, talking about the party’s new programme, Mission Vistaar. “We are discussing the lessons that we have learnt from the Lok Sabha elections.”

AAP’s rise and fall took place almost at the same velocity. It rose to its peak by winning 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi elections in 2013, and almost turned to dust a few months later, winning only four of the 400 seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections held this summer.

Among those who lost — a grand list that also includes party leader Arvind Kejriwal — was Yadav, whose 80,000 votes from Gurgaon put him in the fourth place.

“In the course of campaign, I knew I was No. 3. I didn’t know I would come down to No. 4. That was a disappointment,” he says.

Yadav, occasionally wearing the party’s trademark boat-shaped cap and otherwise fiddling with it, is on his way from Panipat to Ambala, where he has a meeting with party leaders. Our conversation continues as he stops at a roadside dhaba for a cup of tea, which he has with the paranthas and aloo sabzi that his sister has packed for him.

He plans to travel to all 21 districts of Haryana to understand how to make a fresh start before the state polls. “We are trying to reach the last person in every district,” he says.

The Lok Sabha poll results came as a shock to AAP leaders, who had thought they’d perform a lot better than they did. Party chief Kejriwal, in fact, had claimed that it would win 100 seats. “That was his political judgement. Before the Delhi elections, he’d said we’d get 47 seats, but we got 28,” Yadav says.

“Getting 100 seats or so was an unrealistic hope. I have a technical background. I didn’t say a word on the number of seats because I knew we were going for a single digit win,” the psephologist adds.

But he also believes that if the euphoria that was created after the Delhi victory had continued till the end of the general elections, the party could have ended up with 100 seats. “Dilli chunaao ke baad hamari aadat kharab ho gayi thi (we got spoiled after the Delhi elections). That time, our feet were not on the ground. That sort of quick success brings you to power sooner than you deserve. But the people punished us for quitting Delhi,” he admits, referring to AAP’s decision to exit power after ruling for 49 days. The excuse was the failure to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill — an anti-graft platform that the AAP rode to power on.

The buzz in political circles is that it was Yadav who advised Kejriwal to step down.

“I shared the view that if we could not pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi we had no moral right to remain in the government. But I wanted this decision to be taken in consultation with the people, which did not happen,” Yadav rues.

The differences of opinion within the AAP are out in the open. People have been walking out of the party ever since the poll debacle. Yadav, too, resigned from the political affairs committee last month. In a letter to his colleagues, he referred to the lack of organisational building, absence of mechanism for consulting volunteers and policy deficit as among the many drawbacks in the party.

“This is not the first time that I have raised these questions. This time the public got to know about my concerns because the letter was leaked. Though it is a cause of embarrassment that it is out in the public, I am not ashamed of what I said,” adds Yadav, whose resignation was not accepted by Kejriwal.

In his letter, he said Kejriwal behaved like a party “supremo” and not a leader. It’s not a subject that he wants to elaborate on, but says, “I write more carefully than I speak, so I would rather that my written words be trusted.”

But Kejriwal, he adds, has an “extraordinary ability” to pick a single relevant fact from a heap of irrelevancies. “He has a superhuman capacity to remain focused. He has the gift of bringing people together.”

Yadav and Kejriwal have known each other from the time Kerjiwal ran a non- government organisation called Parivartan to press for the implementation of the Right to Information Act. Yadav had held public hearings on the then newly-appointed Central Information Commission on behalf of Parivartan.

But it was Anna Hazare’s drive against corruption in 2011 that brought the two together, though Yadav had his doubts about the movement.

“I thought it was a very positive movement but didn’t like it the way they were carrying it forward. I told Kejriwal that if he wanted to do satyagraha, he had to read Gandhi. I thought he would never get back to me because not many people like criticism. But he did, and asked me to be a part of the movement. And I joined them.”

Yadav — with his well-modulated voice and felicity with words — was soon one of the leaders of the party that was formed in late 2012. It helped that he spoke both Hindi and English fluently. “I learnt my Hindi from textbooks and Doordarshan. So my Hindi does not bear any regional influences,” says Yadav, dressed in a blue cotton kurta with white pyjamas.

Originally from Saharanwas, near Rewari in Haryana, Yadav, now 50, grew up in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar, where his father was a lecturer in economics.

Yadav says that his father was seven when he saw his own father, a hostel warden in a Haryana school, being killed in a communal riot in Hissar in 1936. “The rioters wanted the Muslim children in the hostel,” he says. “My grandfather told the rioters he would rather have his head chopped. So they chopped off his head. My father saw it all happening,” Yadav narrates.

It was this incident — and the Hindu-Muslim killings during Partition — that made his secular father name him Salim. AAP workers brought the name up during Yadav’s electoral campaign in Haryana, leading to a barrage of scornful tweets and comments on social media sites, describing it as a gimmick aimed at the Muslim vote.

But though the name is used by some friends and family, most people know him as Yogendra. Yadav explains that he asked his parents to change his name because his Muslim name led to taunts in school when he was a small boy. “So I was rechristened Yogendra,” he says.

Unfortunately, he adds, the communal divide that his father witnessed as a child continues to haunt India. “The new generation of India wants to move forward. They don’t want to be in the shadow of 1984 or 2002 but politics will not allow them to do so. It wants to drag them back,” he says.

His own political leanings were given shape when he was studying in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University by socialist leader Kishan Patnaik, who headed a political body called Samata Sangathan.

“My initiation into public life, in fact my understanding of politics, dates back to that period. But party politics of the visible kind is a new thing in my life,” he says.

Yadav, who taught politics at Punjab University for eight years, joined the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Studies in 1993. Under the United Progressive Alliance government, he was a member of the National Advisory Council, from which he resigned, and the University Grants Commission, from which he was removed last year.

A political observer for many years and an able number cruncher, the Phanishwar Nath Renu fan now finds himself knee-deep in politics, leaving him with little time for reading or writing (“that’s a deep regret”), or for his family — wife Madhulika Banerjee, who teaches political science in Delhi University, daughter Sufi, 15, and son, Sahej, 10.

“The first thing I do every morning is check the newspapers to see if there is a stupid story about AAP,” he says.

He also wants to learn some lessons from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral triumph. “It was a brilliant campaign executed to near perfection. If you get two seats in Parliament, you should not lose hope, you should continue to work,” he says, referring to the BJP’s 1984 electoral defeat which left it with just two members of Parliament. “One needs to be consistent for a long time to be able to achieve anything,” he says.

Yadav is doing that, as AAP gets ready to rewrite its own story.


● June 2014: A 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and murdered in Badhauna village in Uttar Pradesh.

● May 2014: Two teenage Dalit girls were allegedly gang raped by men and then hanged from a tree in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district.

● January 2014: A 13-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly molested by a 55-year-old Gujjar in Dumada village of Ajmer. When a police complaint was filed, the family of the teenager was forced to flee the village under constant pressure from Gujjars.

These are just some of the instances which show that atrocities against Dalit women are on the rise. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, there were 1,346 cases of rape of Dalit women in 2009; the number rose to 1,557 in 2011 and 1,576 in 2012.

“Members of dominant castes are known to use sexual violence against Dalit women as a political tool for punishment, humiliation and assertion of power,” says Divya Iyer, senior researcher, social rights watch group, Amnesty International India.

But it is not just sexual assault. There are cases of other forms of torture of Dalits too. For example, in May this year, over 50 Dalits in Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu complained that they were harassed by the police over their participation in an annual festival of a church in Periyavarseeli village. Similarly, in September last year, a Dalit government employee in Ahmedabad committed suicide in his office toilet after he was allegedly humiliated by his senior and harassed by his colleagues for many months.

A look at some figures tells the story. There were 32,712 registered cases of atrocities against Dalits in 2010 which rose to 33,719 in 2011 according to the NCRB. It is estimated that a crime is committed against a Dalit person every 18 minutes. Dalit Media Watch, a group that reports on crimes against India’s lowest caste, has reported that two Dalits are assaulted, murdered and have their homes torched every hour.

Though the rights of Dalits are protected under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, experts point out that there are too many drawbacks in the law to make it into a forceful deterrent to those who victimise them.

They say that victims confront hurdles at every stage of the legal process — from the registration of a case to its investigation to filing a chargesheet and right up to the trial.

“Certain forms of atrocities, though well-documented, are not covered by the act. Plus, there are procedural hurdles such as non-registration of cases. There are delays in trial and the conviction rate is low too. There are also delays in providing relief and rehabilitation to victims,” says Mehul Dabhi of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, a forum committed to the elimination of discrimination based on caste.

Experts also say that the implementation of the law has always been a problem. “Under the act, special courts are supposed to tackle Dalit cases. But this is not happening as these courts take up other cases too,” says Rahul Singh, a Delhi-based Dalit rights lawyer.

The law also stipulates that the investigation of a case be done by a police officer not below the rank of deputy superintendent of police. However, this too is rarely followed. “Often, the accused go scot free because no investigation was done by an officer of this rank. Mostly, investigations are carried out by lower rank officers, which are not accepted by the court,” Singh adds.

Taking note of these flaws, several amendments to the law have been proposed by Dalit rights groups. An ordinance was also brought into effect by the previous UPA government in March this year to amend the law.

The ordinance has added a list of new offences to the act, including such atrocities as the tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of Dalits and Adivasis; garlanding with chappals; denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights; forcing them to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or to dig graves; imposing social or economic boycott; preventing Dalit and Adivasi candidates filing nomination to contest elections; hurting the modesty of Dalit or Adivasi woman by removing her garments, and forcing a Dalit to leave his or her house or village.

“At present, only those offences listed in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that attract punishment of 10 years or more and are committed on Dalits or Adivasis are accepted as offences falling under the Atrocities Act. A number of commonly committed offences (hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping, etc.) are excluded from the law. Therefore, a schedule of a list of IPC offences has been provided in the amended act,” Dabhi states.

The ordinance also specifies that the special courts established exclusively for the trial of Dalit cases should have the power to directly take cognizance of offences under this act and the trial shall, as far as possible, be completed within a period of two months from the date of filing of the chargesheet.

There is also an addition of a chapter on the “Rights of Victims and Witnesses”. Though the law does recognise a few rights, “many other essential rights have been included so as to ensure that the state makes arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents and witnesses against any kind of intimidation, coercion or inducement or violence or threats of violence,” Singh says.

But Dalit rights activists such as Chaman Lal feel that the law should also include a proper sensitisation programme. “There should be a sensitisation programme on Dalit rights at schools which could be carried out in tandem with the ministry of human resources development. It is important to change the mindset,” says Lal, professor, Centre for Comparative Literature, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda.

For the moment, Dalits are looking to the implementation of the ordinance, which has been tabled in the current session of Parliament. If passed, the Dalits would have a reason to rejoice.

The Telegraph, June 11, 2014 



Caste Away

Will the RSS continue to lead the BJP? Or will Prime Minister Narendra Modi keep it at bay? Sonia Sarkar seeks some answers.


A portrait of M.S. Golwalkar is displayed prominently in the exhibition hall of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters in Nagpur. Made of threads, it has a three-dimensional effect — the RSS strongman’s image can be seen from either side. The portrait is not signed — and visitors usually ask for the name of the artist.

“But that’s how the RSS works,” says Nagpur pracharak Ram Narayan. “RSS pracharaks don’t take credit for their work because they do it for the organisation.”


Indeed, for long years, the RSS, the parental body of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has — silently, like the artist behind the Golwalkar portrait — led the path that it expects BJP leaders to follow.But Narendra Damodardas Modi is a whole new ball game.

In RSS quarters, Modi’s smooth rise to power — he led the BJP to an unprecedented win in the 2014 elections — is discussed in whispers. And the question being asked is: will the RSS continue to lead the BJP?

“The RSS doesn’t believe in personality cults, but Modi does. He has forgotten all that he learnt during his Sangh days about taking people on board,” a senior leader at the RSS headquarters grumbles.

In fact, the RSS has always been aware that Modi works like a law unto himself. A political observer recalls the time when Golwalkar was the RSS chief and Modi, then a young pracharak, decided to keep a beard like the RSS boss. The Sangh disapproved of this, holding that only Golwalkar could do so. But Modi went right ahead — paying no attention to the RSS strictures.


Right now, however, all seems well on the RSS-Modi front. Modi met RSS leaders in Delhi soon after his victory. He acknowledged the effort of RSS workers during the election campaign in his maiden speech in the central hall of Parliament. He announced a year-long celebration to mark the centenary of RSS leader Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. Top RSS leaders were present when Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister.


But RSS insiders say that despite the bonhomie, tensions remain. Some in the RSS are worried that Modi is not going to allow the Sangh to have a major say in governance. “It’s not that Modi is anti-RSS,” a senior BJP member explains. “But he doesn’t want to be dictated to.”


The RSS has been known to dictate. In the last BJP-led central government, the Sangh’s imprint was clear, especially in the human resource development (HRD) ministry. But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could also keep the RSS at arm’s length.

The RSS, for instance, did not want Brajesh Mishra, whose father was a Congress leader, as the national security adviser. It didn’t succeed — instead K.S. Sudarshan, the then sarsanghachalak, was asked to stay away from Delhi. A more pragmatic Madan Das Devi functioned as the go-between.


Will Modi succeed in keeping a gap between the RSS and the BJP? “He will give the impression that he has been consulting the RSS. But these will only be for public consumption. He’ll do what thinks he is right,” a senior RSS leader in Nagpur says.


Modi, as a former Sangh pracharak, knows how the system works. He joined the RSS as a balswayamsevak, a junior cadet, at the age of eight and became a full-time pracharak in 1970. The RSS assigned Modi to the BJP in 1985. Three years later, he was elected organising secretary of the BJP’s Gujarat unit, marking his formal entry into mainstream politics.


Modi quickly went up the rungs. As national secretary, he was credited with the BJP’s victory in Gujarat in 1998. Soon he had replaced chief minister Keshubhai Patel in the state.


But differences with the RSS sharpened when Modi became the chief minister. For instance, he gave little space to the RSS’s frontal organisations. Vidyabharati, an RSS education outfit which opposed Modi’s policy of introducing English at the primary school level, was not granted government land. Workers of other groups — the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal — were arrested when they took to the streets. A housing scheme started by VHP leader Pravin Togadia’s brother, Dineshbhai, was stalled. RSS supporters also say that Modi did not allow anybody to campaign in the local corporation, taluka and panchayat elections. Modi’s “no repeat” (of elected politicians) helped him weed out all RSS supporters from local self-government all over Gujarat. Modi allegedly cut the RSS to size and divided it.

RSS’ frontal organisation Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) was forced to vacate its state-level office in Gandhinagar. Under Modi’s leadership, a large number of temples were razed and the police beat up VHP activists in Gujarat. VHP activists were lathicharged and even complaints were lodged against them when they vandalised an art gallery exhibiting MF Hussain’s paintings.


Also, the co-ordination committee between the RSS members and ministers that was created during Keshubhai Patel’s chief ministership, Modi disbanded it when he came to power. Patel helped in the appointment of scores of RSS supporters in boards and corporations of the government and RSS-backed organisations and unions were fully involved in government. Patel also nominated Bajrang Dal presidents as home guard commanders. Under Modi’s rule, RSS alleges that cow slaughter increased manifold. He handed over vast areas of grazing land to industrialists.

RSS leaders such as Manmohan Vaidya and Madhubhai Kulkarni were shunted out of Gujarat. Modi stopped talking to  Vaidya. He was sent off to Chennai and replaced by Praveenbhai Otia, who proved more trouble-free. At mega events of the government, he barely invited Vaidya and other RSS leaders.


But, Gujarat watchers point out, Modi also had a channel open for “friendly” talks with RSS leaders Suresh Joshi, Ram Madhav and Suresh Soni. Despite the ups and downs, the RSS knew that Modi was the best choice for the BJP for the general elections. The tipping point was in May 2012 at the Mumbai national executive. Modi refused to attend the meet in the presence of his old bete noire Sanjay Joshi — whom Gadkari had put in charge of UP for the 2012 elections. The Modi-Joshi rivalry went back to the days when both played for control of the BJP turf in Gujarat. Joshi triumphed once — Modi was sent packing to Delhi till he returned to Gandhinagar as chief minister in 2001. Not surprisingly, Modi waited for his chance to strike. And he did so before the Mumbai meet. The RSS, which regarded Joshi as its own, asked him to leave — and it was then that Modi showed up. Since then Joshi has been kept out of the BJP.


In September 2012, three months before the Gujarat polls, Modi was summoned to the RSS headquarters by RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat and told to go ahead and give his best to the Gujarat polls. He was also assured that he would lead the 2014 elections. The RSS leaders knew that Modi had the unstinted support of its cadres.

“The top leadership couldn’t have said no to Modi’s candidature for the prime ministership because the cadre would have revolted,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, the author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times.


Once it was decided that Modi was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the RSS workers came on to the field to help in the campaign. “All Sangh parivar frontal organisations worked for him. Now it’s payback time for Modi — or that’s what the RSS wants,” Mukhopadhyay believes. “But will the RSS be able to control this tiger?”


The RSS’s policy of swadeshi will be its leitmotif — but may face opposition from the new government. The RSS doesn’t want foreign investment in retail, which the BJP government may want to open its doors to (though in a recent interview Ram Madhav stressed that the RSS was not an “economic fundamentalist”). The RSS may want the BJP to go slow on labour reform. And its frontal groups may want movement on the Ram Mandir front.

“Modi says the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya will not solve all our problems because he prefers to fill empty stomachs first. Hindutva was not an issue in this elections but the aspiration of 125 crore people was. For the RSS, Ram Mandir continues to be an issue,” says RSS man Virag Pachpore.


When it comes to HRD, the RSS hopes to bring in change. “We want the government to revise the school curriculum. We want specific chapters on Hindu rulers such as Maharana Pratap and Shivaji,” Nagpur-based Ramesh Shiledar, an old RSS hand, stresses.

In Delhi, RSS men are more circumspect. “If Modi has to deliver, he has to stick to the BJP manifesto,” says Prafulla Ketkar, editor of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser. “As Prime Minister, Modi will abide by the Constitution of India; he will not be guided by the RSS,” adds R. Balachandran, national convener of the BJP intellectual cell.


Some, however, believe that the RSS is not going to give up what was once a superior position without a fight. Earlier this week, there were reports that home minister Rajnath Singh had had a talk with RSS chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat over the fate of Article 370 which gives special status to Kashmir. But on Twitter, RSS spokesperson Madhav denied the meeting focused on this issue.


“We will never interfere in the functioning of the government. But we will articulate our views,” he says.


The RSS, political observers hold, is in a catch-22 situation. “It feels emotionally thrilled that someone who is its own is the Prime Minister. But it also knows that Modi will not allow the RSS to call the shots,” a BJP leader says.

It’s not hard to detect bitterness among some senior leaders in the RSS headquarters. “What does RSS lose even if Modi has dumped it? It doesn’t have any expectation either. We are better off without the BJP and Modi,” Nagpur-based RSS ideologue R.H. Tupkary stresses. “It takes more than 25 years to cultivate leadership in the BJP and only the RSS can make leaders,” he adds.

Meanwhile, a new set of leaders is being groomed at the annual training centre in Nagpur’s Hedgewar Smarak Smruti. Some 700 men in khaki shorts are learning how to wield lathis and batons. This is going to be followed by a discussion on a Hindu nation and the qualities of a swayamsevak. Clearly, for the RSS, the work carries on. —



( A shorter version of the story has been published in The Telegraph, June 1,2014: