Second-guessing the RSS has become a favourite media preoccupation. Those who believed that Mohan Bhagwat was going to crack the whip and lay down the line in a press conference were quite clearly barking up the wrong tree. Right or wrong, the RSS works far more discreetly.
Yet, even I must confess to being very surprised when the RSS chief chose to persist with his press meet in Delhi. The programme had been made much earlier, as part of the media interaction scheme planned in some 20 places across India. It had nothing to do with the present internecine conflict in the BJP. At the same time, once the BJP imploded, there was a feeling that it would be prudent to quietly drop the Delhi programme. The RSS chief was advised that the Delhi media is a pack of wolves, that it would make it into a political grilling on the BJP and wait for the smallest indiscretion or loose formulation.
It is to the eternal credit of Mohan that he kept his cool, wasn't forced into a rash statement. Despite constant needling, he stuck to the script that it is up to the BJP to decide its own future. The RSS exists in a purely advisory capacity, and that too when asked.
Mohan Bhagwat gave the media no masala. But he won a lot of admirers for his ability to withstand such intensive grilling. He even managed to explain his version of Hindutva without being rubbished. Full marks to him.
Now to the essence of what he said this afternoon and what he told Times Now earlier.
- The RSS favours a generational shift in the leadership but it also favours a role for the elders.
- It shuns attempts to project the RSS as a faction in the BJP--as Arun Shourie rashly demanded. It wants to be seen to be scrupulously neutral.
- The principle of functional autonomy of parivar organisations was reiterated. This was as much to the outside world as to those in the Sangh who are bent on remote control of the BJP. Equally, it is a signal to politicians to stop second-guessing the RSS and acting in its name.
The relationship between the RSS and BJP is quite complex and dynamic. It is shaped by those who are at the helm in both places. Both Vajpayee and Advani used to be exasperated by K.S. Sudarshan's micro-management. Narendra Modi got involved in a full scale war with RSS pracharaks in Gujarat.
Today, there is considerable disquiet in the BJP over the intrusive style of the RSS functionary responsible for interacting with the BJP. It is suggested by many that the RSS has become a faction in the BJP. The competence of many pracharaks assigned by the RSS to the BJP have also been called into question. The outbreak of factional war is being attributed to the distortions in the BJP-RSS relationship.
Can Mohan Bhagwat redefine the relationship and put it on a mature plane? His utterances give considerable reason for optimism but even the RSS chief functions in a collegiate system. Will his functionaries keep a healthy distance from the BJP's day-to-day affairs?
It is going to be a challenging project to ensure functional autonomy. The spectacular turnout at this afternoon's press conference was a clear pointer that while the RSS is the core, it is the BJP where all the glamour resides.