It may be too early to say this, but Narendra Modi deserves a reserved salute for taking what seems to us the first steps to show the RSS its rightful place through last week’s cabinet reshuffle. In not sacking ministers who had been targeted by individuals claiming to have the RSS’s consent, in not elevating bigots unabashedly using their positions to mouth the Sangh’s debilitating ideology, and in dumping ministers strutting around with its presumed backing, the prime minister has chosen to look at the non-state actors from Nagpur squarely in the eye. Who will blink first the next few months will tell, but a firm signal has been sent that while he may give a long rope to his ‘chaddi’ buddies because of past linkages, the ‘pracharak’ will not hesitate to pull out his pocket knife if it begins to affect the Pradhan Sevak’s artfully orchestrated script of “development, development, development”.
This is not to suggest that the RSS’s overweening influence over this government has ended or is about to. On the contrary, the imprint of the “cultural organisation” on its political protege has never been more clear, given its acknowledged role in installing him in office. But Modi’s moves amount to a small but significant attempt to restore the balance, to show who is boss—not quite the easiest thing to achieve, given how puffed up Hindutva hotheads have been since 2014. In that sense, Modi has been there, done that before. In Gujarat too, it was only after he ran out of use for various outfits of the Sangh parivar, chiefly the VHP, after the 2002 pogrom that he was able to cut loose and implement the “agenda” that propelled him to the PM’s chair. It is possibly this realisation—that the RSS is becoming an albatross around his neck—that is behind the course-correction in the cabinet. We could be spectacularly wrong in our surmise given that the Uttar Pradesh elections are ahead and communal polarisation looms, but for a brief moment Modi has shown us that there cannot be too much of a mismatch between hype and reality if he is to write himself into (objective) history books.