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A Thread That Holds

Why the RSS’s Maharashtrian Brahmin club will stand by Gadkari

A Thread That Holds
Fotocorp (From Outlook 26 November 2012)
A Thread That Holds

L’affaire Gadkari

How the BJP chief got caught in the crosshairs

  • October 17: Ram Jethmalani writes to Nitin Gadkari; wants Narendra Modi to be BJP’s PM candidate; says Mohan Bhagwat agrees with him
  • October 21: Modi flies to Nagpur during Gujarat poll campaign, meets Bhagwat with RSS general secretary Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi and Suresh Soni
  • November 4: At national executive in Chennai, RSS backs Gadkari as TV media coverage of his business wheeling-dealing reaches a crescendo
  • November 5: Jethmalani’s son, Mahesh, resigns from BJP national executive, says it would be  wrong to serve with Gadkari at the helm
  • November 7: BJP backs Gadkari after RSS ideologue S. Gurumurthy gives ‘clean chit’ to Gadkari’s business dealings
  • November 11: On his Marathi blog, RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya joins the dots, says Narendra Modi may be behind campaign against Gadkari
  • November 13: Gurumurthy clarifies on his ‘clean chit’ to Gadkari, deletes tweets after TV “misinterprets” them, and writes to Gadkari


BJP president Nitin Gadkari, it is said, has a “twice-born” link over the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Since the party’s inception in 1980, he’s the first president of the rss’s political wing who’s also a Maharashtrian Brahmin. The portly, embattled politician and Purti Group boss from Nagpur is, both literally and metaphorically, “family” for the whole-timers at the Sangh headquarters. Same caste, clan, community, city, ideology. Which is why the RSS top leadership is defending their boy every step of the way, even taking on powerful leaders in the BJP in the process. As a BJP insider quips, “The local boy from Nagpur has kept up a regular supply of kachoris and mithais to the bachelor old-timers in the Sangh. Gadkari is like a son to some of them.”

The RSS, founded by K.B. Hedgewar on Vijayadashami day in 1925, predates the BJP by some 55 years. The Sangh expanded and grew in organisational depth under the leadership of M.S. Golwalkar (1940-’73). Both Hedgewar and Golwalkar were Maharashtrian Brahmins. In the RSS, the sarsanghchalak is all supreme, often holding office for decades. Of the seven sarsanghchalaks so far, six have come from Brahmin families, and five of them have been Maharashtrian Brahmins. Outside the formal structure of the RSS stands Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, never part of the organisation but who played a most significant part in shaping the Hindu right ideology. Predictably, he too was a Maharashtrian Brahmin.

The current sarsanghchalak, Mohan Rao Bhagwat, took over in 2009 after two consecutive chiefs who were not Maharashtrian Brahmins (Rajendra Singh, a Thakur from Uttar Pradesh, held the reins from 1993-2000—right after the leadership of Balasaheb Deoras who led the Sangh for 20 years and promoted social engineering for political growth—and K.S. Sudarshan (2000-09), a Kannadiga Brahmin who many say has been the most lightweight of the Sangh chiefs). In Bhagwat’s ascendancy, the Maharashtrian Brahmin has returned to the top of the parivar’s pyramid. Naturally, members of the organisation deny this: RSS akhil Bharatiya sah-sampark pramukh Arun Kumar explains it away, saying “the RSS was founded in Maharashtra. Work started there, especially from Nagpur. People from the state went to work in other states. So naturally our first generation faces were dominated by those from the state. Some of them might be from the Brahmin community but it was never in our mind to give prominence to a particular caste. We still choose our leaders on the basis of their work and performance.”

Hedgewar, Golwalkar (centre) in 1939

Be that as it may, the fact is that the Maharashtrian Brahmin reigns supreme in the backwaters of the Sangh. And the tale of this community in the parivar has interesting subplots. The No. 2 in the Sangh today is Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji’ Joshi, again a Maharashtrian Brahmin as is Sanjay Joshi, the former BJP organisation secretary who was trapped in a sex scandal in 2005 (and who president Gadkari tried to rehabilitate in the party). So is M.G. Vaidya, former RSS spokesperson and ideologue.

Consider the caste dynamic in the recent past and it certainly shows that it impacts inter-personal relations today. In May this year, an attempt was made to rehabilitate Sanjay Joshi. But Gujarat CM Narendra Modi put his foot down, not even attending the Mumbai national executive of the BJP till Joshi had left the venue. As a BJP leader says, “These are things we don’t talk about publicly but Modi has consistently put the Brahmins in their place.” To add insult to injury is the fact that Modi is an OBC, belonging to the Ghanchi community in Gujarat which would be equivalent to the Telis of north India. In other words, Sanjay Joshi, Bhagwat, Gadkari, all twice-borns from Maharashtra, have had to succumb to the will of an OBC!

So it’s no surprise that the Brahmins are seeing a grand design against them. Perhaps why M.G. Vaidya, unable to keep his suspicions to himself, went public with his charge. He wrote in a blog last week that he detected the hand of Modi behind the charges against Gadkari being played out. Sources say Modi was furious and called up the entire BJP top leadership to instruct them to show absolutely no ambiguity in distancing the party from the statement. It is said that himself being a product of the RSS, Modi knows how the Brahmin network operates, is impatient with them and sees them as a hindrance in his path.

Incidentally, there is an old history to these inner parivar caste tensions. In the ’90s, as part of its social engineering experiment, the BJP made real efforts to promote two OBC leaders, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati. Both emerged as strong OBC advocates of the Ram mandir movement that was a counter to the emergence of the lower castes post-Mandal. Both, however, fell out with the top leadership and at various times even accused the BJP of being managed by upper castes. Uma attacked Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Atal Behari Vajpayee (all Brahmins) and later even L.K. Advani. Kalyan had an public falling out with Vajpayee, openly calling him a symbol of Brahminical domination. Ironically, it was said in those days that Vajpayee endured even while taking on the Sangh because he was the “superior Brahmin”, master of the art of ambiguity. Similarly, it was also said that Advani could not become PM “because he was a Sindhi and not a Brahmin like Vajpayee”.

Add to the tale of Brahmins and Maharashtrian Brahmins the subplots orchestrated by the Tamil Brahmins. K. Govindacharya was once the architect of the BJP’s social engineering project, but then fell out with Vajpayee and landed out of politics. S. Gurumurthy, the chartered accountant (in whose house in Chennai Govindacharya lived), has been the brain behind so many political manoeuvres. He is currently assisting the men from Maharashtra in giving a clean chit to Gadkari. But they may all find that the power hierarchy has temporarily shifted, that a Gujju OBC is stealing their thunder. But they must keep their faith, manoeuvre and pull strings to still be in charge of the affairs of their universe.

By Saba Naqvi with Panini Anand

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