LAST WEEK’S press conference in Delhi addressed by the RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat is a classic case of bad timing that makes the best laid plans go awry. As an organisation, the RSS seldom opens its doors to a cast of nosey journalists. But more than six weeks ago, Bhagwat had scheduled a media interaction in Delhi. Two days before the event, TV channels began parking their OB vans outside the RSS office in Jhandewalan and started to beam “live and exclusive” visuals of the comings and the goings outside the Jhandewalan office.
The long awaited event came and went and it turned out to be something of an anti-climax. It’s not that Bhagwat disappointed; it’s just that the media was looking for one thing and Bhagwat wanted to talk about something else. Bhagwat wanted to share with the media his vision for the organisation. Newspapers and TV channels instead wanted to grill him about the crisis in the BJP and RSS chief would not be drawn into it except to express confidence that the party will tide over the crisis.
Bhagwat took charge on March 21 and waited more than five months to meet up with the media. There is a reason for the long delay. When he took over, the election process was about to begin and it was felt the time was inopportune. Anything he said that had even a dash of political colour would be construed as interference in the affairs of the BJP. The decision sat well with Bhagwat’s reputation as a non-interventionist who believed that the BJP must be left to its own devices.
The end of elections coincided with the RSS’s training camps which are held in May-June every year. The two events done with, in the first week of July, the RSS top brass consisting of himself, Bhaiyaji Joshi, Suresh Soni, Dattatray Hosebal and Madan Das Devi met and finalised a schedule of media interactions across the country for Bhagwat. At that time, Jaswant Singh’s eulogy to Jinnah was just beginning to roll off the printing press and Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha were still disciplined foot soldiers of the BJP and nobody could have imagined that the BJP was sitting on a volcano waiting to erupt.
The media which had descended in droves at Jhandewalan last Friday would not have been so disappointed had they, in the first place, known why they had been called. What Bhagwat wanted to tell them was not about the goings-on in the BJP but his vision for the RSS which is quite different from the image of lathiwielding rabble rousers so far associated with it. He wanted to tell them about an “inclusive Hindutva” that is quite different from what has hitherto been associated with the RSS; he wanted to define the RSS’s cultural role and its occasional forays into political territory that were meant to fulfill the organisation’s social responsibility.
His ultimate message was the change that he sought in keeping with the changing times to rescue Hindutva from the politics of hate. In his view, Hindutva did not exclude any citizen of this land and a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya would be a tribute to an icon not just from members of one community but all communities and castes and all those who believed in Bharatiya.
Having said that, I still hold the belief that this moderniser is not going to bury the RSS’ core issues. “ Hindutva is Bharatiya and Bharatiya is Humanity”, he said at the press conference. There is a message in this for those in the BJP who are on an overdrive to show that issues like the Ram Mandir are outdated. Bhagwat made it clear Ayodhya remains a core issue. Yet, he is far from rigid. In mid 2005 after Advani’s controversial statement on “ secular” Jinnah in Karachi, Bhagwat was among the first to tell the RSS top brass that the BJP veteran should be shown his place. But three years later, it was again Bhagwat who went to meet Advani and tell him that there was none more qualified or more widely acceptable to lead the BJP. Last Friday, he reserved the best for the end.
Virtually spiting the BJP’s flock of wannabe historians, he termed Jawaharlal Nehru an Indian icon who deserved the nation’s gratitude. Just goes to show that even walrus mustachioed fearsome looking men can be gentle reconcilers.