BACK in the '60s, Rajendra Singh aka Rajju Bhaiya, a professor of physics at Allahabad University would often turn up to lecture his students clad in RSS uniform— broad khaki knickers and white shirt—straight from the morning shakha. Not that anyone took much notice. The RSS was then on the fringe, too discredited and marginalised a force to be taken seriously. The country was still reeling from the shock of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination by a Hindu zealot.
Four decades down the line, on July 25, 1998, the same professor, this time as the chief of the RSS, stirred up a hornet's nest by meeting some of the top bureaucrats of UP in Lucknow and giving them sermons on 'nationalism and honesty'. The controversial meeting was organised by higher education minister Narendra Kumar Singh Gaur, a former RSS pracharak, and IAS officer Akhand Pratap Singh. And the presence of UP chief secretary Yogendra Narayan and director general of police K.L. Gupta among the 60-odd officers created ripples across the establishment. Ramsharan Das, UP state chief of Samajwadi Party demanded that action should be taken against the officers who took part in the meeting because they had flouted service rules. The Congress warned that such activities should be stopped immediately, or it would inspire other such outfits to also try to stamp their influence on the bureaucracy.
The exercise was seen as yet another Sangh parivar attempt to saffronise the bureaucracy. Already fragmented on caste and political lines, a section of the bureaucracy has challenged, albeit in a hush hush manner, the locus standi of Rajju Bhaiya to address them.
The fresh controversy is bad news for the RSS—it is caught up in the mire of factional fights within the UP state unit of the BJP. The fight between factions led by chief minister Kalyan Singh, state party president Rajnath Singh, and ministers Lalji Tandon and Kalraj Mishra is threatening to slip out of hand. All four leaders were summoned by the party high command to New Delhi on July 12. The seriousness of the situation was emphasised by the fact that even L.K. Advani's intervention failed to resolve the crisis. Finally Rajju Bhaiya had to play arbitrator.
In UP's political circles, Rajju Bhaiya is seen more as a Rajput than the sar sanghchalak. So when he told the bureaucrats "not to listen to unjustified orders of political masters", it was seen as a snub to Kalyan Singh, a backward. Kalyan explained his position to the RSS chief and complained that Rajnath Singh (a Rajput) and Kalraj Mishra (a Brahmin) were trying to topple him. He was in turn advised by the sar sanghchalak to take everyone along.
The RSS chief had gone to Lucknow to resolve the crisis within the party, but ended up creating another. As the controversy raged, the RSS as well as the Kalyan Singh government found it difficult to justify the exercise. Officially it was dubbed as a routine courtesy meeting between a professor and his old students, as almost all the offi-cers were Allahabad University alumni. Attempts are being made to justify the meeting by comparing it with the lectures organised for the IAS probationers during Indira Gandhi's time. "Nothing is wrong in Rajju Bhaiya meeting with old students of Allahabad University. Even Indira Gandhi used to organise lectures of sadhus from Bharat Sadhu Samaj for IAS probationers," says Devendra Swaroop, member of the RSS thinktank.
But the RSS is making the same mistake as Indira Gandhi did, say RSS watchers. Says D.R. Goyal, a fierce RSS critic: "She also tried to influence a section of the judiciary and bureaucracy, thereby turning the rest of the people hostile to her."
In the RSS scheme of things, a favourable bureaucracy plays a very important role. "It takes five to seven years to change the bureaucracy," Rajju Bhaiya told Outlook in Nagpur some months ago. The poor performance of the BJP governments in various states was because the bureaucracy was the same, he claimed. In the background of these utterances, Rajju Bhaiya's one-and-a-half-hour sermon to the UP officers assumes significance, evoking sharp reactions from the opposite lobby. A top bureaucrat belonging to the minority community was quoted in the newspapers as saying: "If the RSS chief can interact with the bureaucrats in the name of university alumni, then nobody can stop us from inviting Maulana Abdullah Bukhari and Suleman Sait in the name of Aligarh Muslim University alumni."
Clearly, the RSS did not anticipate such a sharp reaction. The organisation seems to have realised late in the day that it is no longer on the margins of society. And that its political wing, the BJP, is a ruling party—whatever they do is now bound to get the attention of the people and the media. Within months of the BJP's advent to power leaks have begun sprouting on all fronts—failure of the BJP on the Kashmir front, infighting within the party to count a few—and the RSS top brass is confused about where to place their fingers to plug the leak.
The RSS is not very happy with the performance of the BJP. And stories of infighting are a greater cause for concern. Before going to Lucknow, Rajju Bhaiya held a two-day meeting of BJP MPs in Delhi. He emphasised that the BJP MPs have to perform differently from the Congress MPs—not only in public life but in private life also. The RSS leader complained that BJP MPs have given up the ideals of swayamsevak: they don't get up in the morning, don't go for morning shakha, don't take care of their health and indulge in drink and other vices—all in the same race for money, power and position.
Unlike his predecessors, Rajju Bhaiya cannot afford to take on the role of a sage who is above day-to-day politics. The entire organisation is undergoing a subtle but cosmetic change as pressures of real-politik force the RSS to take up positions and give directions to its political wing. Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, founder of the RSS, was essentially a political person. But under him the RSS was more like a youth wing of the Hindu Mahasabha, a more established political expression of the rightwing Hindutva.
THE second sar sanghchalak, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, was unconcerned with politics. "He was a spiritual person", says Shiv Prasad, a senior RSS functionary and a long-term associate of Rajju Bhaiya. A peculiar dislike of politics in an average swayamsevak can be traced back to Golwalkar. Says D.R. Goyal: "Golwalkar fostered an abhorrence of political activity, almost a cynical attitude towards all those who were in public life". When Shyama Prasad Mukharjee of the Hindu Maha-sabha mooted the idea of turning the RSS into a Hindu political party, Golwalkar vehemently opposed it. "As long as Gol-walkar lived, he remained in the background making sure that no Jan Sangh president became so important as to overshadow the RSS chief," says Goyal.
However, Balasaheb Deoras—who had initially been sidelined by Dr Hedgewar in favour of the more junior Golwalkar—was more interested in politics. And Deoras' brother and second-in-command Bhau Rao Deoras was even more politically inclined. The present BJP leadership—Atal Behari Vajyapee, L.K. Advani or even the late Deen Dayal Upadhyay—was initiated into politics by Bhaurao Deoras. A year after the demise of Golwalkar in 1973, a massive mass movement was launched by Jai Prakash Nara-yan. Deoras decided to take part in it and one of the functionaries, Nanaji Deshmukh, was sent to assist JP.
Interestingly, till then the RSS never thought of the Jan Sangh as an alternative to the Congress. It thought that the Congress could be an ideal Hindu party. It was only in 1980, when the BJP came into existence, that the RSS seriously started thinking about shaping it into a formidable alternative to the Congress.
In that sense, for Rajju Bhayya and for the RSS, the advent to power was a dream come true within just 17 years. But in the changed situation, Rajju Bhaiya has totally different questions to answer. And this is reflected in his changed performance and style of functioning: he meets the press more often than his predecessors; he gives interviews to TV channels and takes direct interest in the affairs of the BJP. And, above all, politics is his forte.
Agrees Shiv Prasad, Rajju Bhaiya's aide for more than 10 years: "The Sangh has expanded, its ideology has a wide-ranging influence over the people. Naturally, its chief Rajju Bhaiya will have to take more interest in the affairs of the BJP because the BJP is just a means of bringing about the social change taken up by the RSS." But JNU professor Purushottam Aggarwal differs: "Rajju Bhaiya is the continuation of Hedgewar and Golwalkar. The only difference is that they did not have the opportunity to implement their agenda and since the BJP has come to power, Rajju Bhaiya is implementing that old Hindu agenda."
The RSS is now realising, though belatedly, that power, even if its not Absolute Power, has started showing its influence on the BJP. That would have been tolerable had the Vajpayee government delivered the goods. "The RSS is worried because whatever the BJP does will ultimately affect the image of the RSS", says Virendra Singh, a BJP MP from Mirzapur.
Moreover, the complete failure of the BJP government to tackle the Kashmir issue has put the RSS in a spot. The unabated massacres of Hindus in Doda are seen as the direct failure of Sangh Parivar's Sardar Patel—home minister L.K. Advani—the outspoken champion of the cause of Kashmiri Hindus. That's a lot of cause for worry for the professor from Allahabad University.