Narendra Modi may become prime minister. Such a victory would be due to several factors, but for the purpose of this analysis, it will owe a lot to Modi’s personal charisma and the micro-level campaign and management done by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its network of affiliated organisations. How Modi deals with the RSS leadership, in terms of personal ties and meeting expectations of the cadre will be among the key challenges before him. It will be similar to the test he faced, but failed, after the first electoral sweep in Gujarat in 2002. The immediate years following that victory were marked by a fracture in the relationship between Modi and Sangh Parivar. Would history repeat itself or have both Modi and the RSS leadership become more appreciative towards aspirations and compulsions of the other? If the latter is the case, can one then expect fewer fireworks within the RSS fraternity?
Narendra Modi was the first Pracharak to hold a constitutional post when he became chief minister. In the late 1980s when he was deputed to the Bharatiya Janata Party, he was a middle-level functionary of the RSS. In October 2001, Modi had no claims of being a mass leader and owed his ascendance solely to the RSS leadership which endorsed his claim. Because he derived strength from the organisation, RSS leaders – especially those in Gujarat – expected Modi to involve them in the consultative process.
Since Modi had not risen to the position of the state chief of RSS before his deputation, in the hierarchy of the RSS, he was considered junior to state leaders. But he had a different view and felt that RSS, after deputing a functionary, should not expect him to work within regulations of the RSS but should be allowed to function under the framework of the affiliate. Modi felt that his boss, if any, was BJP president and / or the prime minister and other senior leaders in government.
If Modi becomes PM, will RSS expect him to consider Mohan Bhagwat as his boss? Will RSS give Modi little elbow room, want him to engage with them regularly to discuss policy matters and immediately begin implementing the RSS agenda? The answer will depend greatly on the number of seats Modi has in his kitty, but he begins from a point of advantage when compared to 2002 when his problems with RSS began. Unlike the previous RSS top brass, Bhagwat is his contemporary whose father was one of Modi’s mentors and the two spent significant time together as youth leaders.
Secondly, Modi’s popularity is much greater and this combined with pressure from the RSS cadre to force the leadership to give the nod for his anointment as prime ministerial candidate of BJP. Modi however, is also aware that had it not been for Nagpur’s endorsement, his dream would have remained a chimera. Perforce, both will have to begin on a note of accommodation but time will tell if Modi finds the elbow room restrictive or if the RSS leadership thinks Modi is too much his own man. In almost nine decades of its existence, RSS has never successfully dealt with a leader with a mass following. Will it succeed now ?
Compared to Vajpayee, the RSS agenda is more a part of Modi’s genealogy. His recent utterances on immigration from Bangladesh are a case in point. Modi, like RSS glosses over the point if deportation and controlling the influx is attainable but presents the issue as part of strategy to alter demographic profile. This position has gladdened the RSS probably more than any other utterance in the course of the campaign.
But this is where exasperation at likely failure of a future Modi regime has the potential of becoming a point of discord. There are many other issues on which the RSS would like Modi to act with alacrity but which may not be possible, even if he has substantial majority in Parliament. Fringe forces will also want their aspirations to be addressed. But, Modi the campaigner will have to be different from Modi the statesman. The bulk of RSS cadre remains oblivious of compulsions of governance and this has the potential for conflict. Moreover, not all of Modi’s supporters endorse the RSS world view and instead see him as a political and economic moderniser.
As his campaign peaks, Modi has become more strident. But in this strategy lurks the seed of possible discord over failure to meet expectations that may have to be toned down for reasons of political pragmatism.
The witer is Narendra Modi’s biographer.