K.S. Sudershan has been treading a minefield of controversies ever since he took over as RSS sarsanghchalak last March. Starting with his suggestion to Indianise Islam and Christianity to the "bomb theory" on the Babri Masjid demolition, almost all his statements evoked varied reactions ranging from anger to sniggers. His latest salvo against the prime minister's men—Brajesh Mishra, N.K. Singh and foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya—was seen as a direct attack on Atal Behari Vajpayee. Already knee-deep in the Tehelka crisis, the pmo's public denial forced Sudershan to retract his charge about the "extra-constitutional authority" in the prime minister's house. His retraction was preceded by an all-out criticism from within the rank and file—probably the first time in the history of RSS that the sarsanghchalak came under criticism from his own swayamsevaks.
Even though resentment exists in the RSS about Vajpayee's style of functioning, it was felt that criticising the government at an hour of crisis would mean helping the Congress and the communists. However, Sudershan sticks to his stand that "more competent" people should be inducted in the pmo. The RSS sarsanghchalak spoke to Rajesh Joshi. Excerpts:
Do you have some people in mind to replace those manning the pmo?
We don't have any names. It is for the government to find out. What I mean to say is that ultimately, there are many things that a single man cannot handle. A single man is handling two important things: the foreign affairs as well as the national security, each of them requires 16 to 18 hours of monitoring. So one man can't handle them. Brajesh Mishra is adept at handling foreign affairs because he's been in the field for very long. Now, he has been given an additional charge. Will he be able to handle it? It's the PM's prerogative to choose his own team. But if two important matters are handled by a single man, will he be able to do justice to both? Therefore, some more competent persons should be inducted into the pmo.
A parallel is being drawn between Sanjay Gandhi and Ranjan Bhattacharya...
I don't want to compare at all. I do not know much about what Ranjan Bhattacharya is doing. So whether he is an extra-constitutional authority or not, I don't know. How can I compare him with Sanjay Gandhi?
Isn't the Tehelka exposé a commentary on the dwindling moral authority of the RSS over the BJP and the PM?
The image of the RSS can't be sullied by such political storms. Though it did engulf one of our swayamsevaks, we're satisfied that he's resigned, is ready for a judicial probe and wants to clear his name. That's what we want. As far as moral authority is concerned, it does not mean that we can dictate to any of our sister organisations.
There is a perception that the RSS justifies or tends to play down all wrongdoings of the government. Why should you play the apologist's role for them?
There is no question of being apologists or playing down the wrongdoings (of the government). We take an overall view of the national situation. As the story is slowly unfolding, there appears to be a well-considered conspiracy to destabilise the present government.
Are you saying the media is just a puppet?
I am not saying that. The controversy is being probed by the government. At the present juncture, to destabilise the government without an alternative in sight will be disastrous as the country is facing so many problems.The whole economy will crash. There may be many defects in the government; they can be pointed out. And the government itself has come forward to have a thorough discussion in Parliament and a judicial probe. But instead of using this opportunity, the Opposition has taken to street politics. That is not proper at this juncture.
Have you ever thought of distancing the RSS from the BJP, given that it's under a cloud?
As far as the RSS constitution is concerned, we have given freedom to our swayamsevaks to join any political party provided it does not believe in violence and does not have any extra-territorial loyalty. But as things stand today, other political parties are not accepting our swayamsevaks unless they severe their links with the RSS, which our swayamsevaks are not (ready) to do. Therefore, while earlier it was the Jana Sangh, now it is the BJP that's left for swayamsevaks who want to opt for a political career. That's why you find many of our swayamsevaks in the BJP today. But the BJP does not consist only of swayamsevaks, it's a mass-based organisation.
But when they earn a bad name, it naturally affects the RSS because they are trained in the RSS...
That's all right. If an RSS swayamsevak does something like that, then of course we are responsible. We're not responsible for others who may be coming from different sections of society.
Do you think it's prudent for you to support the nda?
We have been supporting all the governments, the only thing is that all of them looked at us with suspicion. This government does not look at us with suspicion.
The RSS first slammed the government on Tehelka, but now you are supporting them. Why this change?
(Laughs) There is no subtle change. When some pointed question was asked about Sanjay Gandhi and (Ranjan) Bhattacharya, I only made a general statement, and as far as the resignation of the government is concerned, it should not resign. So, if it is misreported and we correct it, you say we've changed our stand. That is wrong.
Don't you think that after all these incidents the authority of the sarsanghchalak has come down considerably? Even within the RSS?
I can't say about the media, but I can tell you that we had our national meet here and we did not discuss the subject at all. There were no questions raised on the issue.
Were you criticised within the RSS?
Not at all. As we have so much of faith amongst ourselves, they believe that whatever is being done is in the right perspective and in the national interest. The swayamsevaks were a bit sorry that one of our swayamsevaks was engulfed (in the controversy). We know the limitations of the present coalition government. We believe that taking 25 partners together is a difficult job, what with each of them trying to pull it in its own direction. And Atal Behari Vajpayee has been able to pull it together for three years. It goes to his credit. But in such a situation, we cannot expect much from the government.
But the controversy was created when the pmo issued a statement criticising your stand.
That's all right. What happened was that Doordarshan presented my statement in such a manner.....while I had made a general statement that there should be no extra-constitutional authority.
And you still stick to that?
Yes. Every decision should be taken by the cabinet. That's what I said. The question itself mentioned Ranjan Bhattacharya's name, somebody twisted it and said that the RSS doesn't approve of it...
But if Ranjan Bhattacharya does something objectionable, don't you have the moral right....
That's all right, but I don't know what he is doing there. I only said that he's the adopted son-in-law of the present PM. I don't have any direct (introduction) with him. I can go and meet A.B. Vajpayee when it is required. He's kind enough to give an audience and we discuss if it's needed. In the initial stages, I sometimes saw him (Ranjan) at meals, that's all. Otherwise, I've no interaction with him.
Don't you think that you'll now lose direct access to the PM's house?
No never. Because Atal Behari Vajpayee and we have been together for many years. He doesn't have any wrong opinion about the RSS. So many people come to the prime minister, feed him with so many different sorts of news and opinions. But ultimately, the prime minister is intelligent enough to know what is right and what is wrong. He can never say that the RSS is wrong.
But sometimes you slam the government and at other times you seem to support it. Why this flip-flop?
Aisa hai, koi policies is prakar ki hongi na! (See, there must be some policies that warrant it). If we say this particular policy is not good, that's because we consider everything from the angle of our national interest. Then we write about it, speak about it and pass resolutions. Why do you take it as our criticism of the government? The government has a different perception and I have a different one. For example, the government extended the ceasefire in Kashmir for three months. We have a different perception, based on our feedback from the ground. Maybe the government is right because they have to take into account several things including the international situation. So, at times it may appear that there is a difference between the government and our thinking. Arre, ghar ke andar bhi kisi baat par do logon ke beech matbhed hota hai ki nahin?(Don't two people in a family differ on some questions?)
The full text of the interview appears as a web story dated 2 April 2001.
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