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Elevated Angles

A Modi growth bug infects the saffron air. Even the RSS isn’t immune.

Elevated Angles
Illustration by Sorit
Elevated Angles

Confabulations within the extended RSS parivar after the Goa session show up three distinct trends. The centre of gravity has clearly shifted from the Delhi ‘sultanate’ to Nagpur and Gandhinagar. The Delhi-based leaders had it so good for so long. Now they suddenly feel powerless. In the new power equation, Prithviraj Road is no more the preferred destination. Instead, leaders look pleadingly to Gandhinagar for directions. Those like Amit Shah are much sought after for policy clues and perks. Second, the RSS has begun micromanagement in full public view. This despite the rise of Narendra Modi as the party’s superboss and prime ministerial candidate. The RSS has in the past ousted even BJP presidents and foisted preferred candida­tes. But what’s happening now is rather unu­sual. After Goa, Mohan Bhagwat has been personally meeting faction leaders and dominant individuals to sort out problems and negotiate terms. He asks Modi to understand the sensibilities of senior leaders and accommodate them with respect. He’s met L.K. Advani and Modi at least thrice. Murli Manohar Joshi has had a long talk with him. And so has Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and a host of others. 

It’s unusual also for sarsanghchalaks to intervene in wrangles among provincial leaders. This has happened in Bihar where Bhagwat summoned the BJP reb­els and asked state boss Sushil Modi to sort out their problems. Those who have interacted with Bhagwat and his aides carried the impression that he is blunt on two points—there should be collective leadership at every level and the RSS won’t tolerate the rise of another superhero like Vajpayee and Advani. If true, this means big brother will hereafter keep a tight leash on leaders, including Modi.

To bolster the point, sources say Rajnath Singh was simply bluffing when he claimed that “I appointed Modi as campaign chief and later to the subcommittees.” In fact, the RSS had cut-and-pasted many names and sought commitments from top men.  Modi wanted his technical team to draw up and execute the election campaign directly under him. Nagpur vetoed this outright but left scope for incorporating inputs from technocrats if the subcommittees so desire. 

The manifesto committee was another problem. True, Murli Manohar Joshi had not overtly worked against Modi’s elevation as campaign chief. Yet Modi has brought a different set of nominees, mainly outside experts, to man the manifesto panel. This is because Joshi’s choice is going to be an irritant to Modi’s corporate friends. Joshi’s swadeshi orientation and dislike for the unbridled activities of MNCs and domestic corporates is well-known. 

Two decades back, when the RSS/BJP had registered sharp differences over Rao’s economic reforms package, Joshi had produced the party’s ‘Gandhinagar economic policy document’.  This was preceded by the Sariska chintan manthan of RSS/BJP stalwarts. The document had put stringent conditions for FDI saying we need microchips, not potato chips. The documents had disappointed even the then ‘Bombay group’ of industrialists. Of course, once in power, the BJP rejected all this. The BJP itself is caught in a serious policy paralysis following the decline of the Delhi sultanate. For long, the saffron party has been taking a strident posture on the UPA’s policies. It had opposed almost every government move and frequently blocked Parliament. The long list of pending reform-related bills is a testimony to this. But suddenly, things have changed. In the past six weeks after Goa, party spokespersons have betrayed the prevailing confusion on almost every new government initiative. 

The BJP’s parliamentary board met two days after the government announcement on raising of FDI cap in several sectors. Yet the board left the party strategy on FDI to be decided on the eve of the next session of Parliament. Faced with indecision, spokespersons often indulge in meaningless prevarication. Like Ravi Shankar Prasad saying there is no difference between “76 per cent and 100 per cent” on the telecom cap. There’s also been a deafening silence on doubling of the gas price. The BJP almost avoided comments on the judicial verdict on including political parties in RTI. The original line on the land acquisition bill has been to oppose it. Modi’s arrival has raised new dou­bts due to his track record as a ruthless acquisitions man. 

There is also vague talk about bilateral deals between the two main political parties on the insurance and pension bills, another Modi effect. The Modi line of argum­ent, sources say, is that the BJP needn’t worry too much about growth-orien­ted issues like FDI and concessions to domestic corporates. These are not the common man’s concern. Ins­tead, the party should target the government on price rise, fall of the rupee, corruption, terrorism and governance deficit. However, the BJP’s problem is it will have to take a clear position on such issues during the monsoon session beginning August 5.

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