A change of guard in the RSS is in the offing. Owing to his poor health, RSS chief Professor Rajendra Singh alias Rajju Bhaiya wants to call it a day and hand over charge to K.S. Sudershan, joint general secretary of the RSS.
Accompanied by Sudershan, the RSS chief recently met prime minister Vajpayee informally and expressed his desire to relinquish the post. He is believed to have told Vajpayee of his wish to hand over the responsibility of sarsanghchalak to Sudershan. A formal announcement, however, is yet to be made and insiders say it might take a long while.
By convention, the RSS chief nominates his successor and puts the name of the man of his choice in a sealed envelope. M.S. Golwalkar, the second RSS chief, had appointed Balasaheb Deoras as sarsanghchalak just before his death in 1973. But Deoras broke convention and appointed Rajju Bhaiya as his successor during his own lifetime. Rajju Bhaiya formally took over in March 1994. If he relinquishes service, he will be the shortest serving RSS chief.
With an ageing top leadership, the RSS is left with not much choice. While H.V. Sheshadri, sarkaryawah (general secretary) of the RSS, is senior to Sudershan, his health is in poor shape—he suffers from acute back pain. Consequently Sheshadri has turned down the offer of the post. Being one of the senior leaders, Dattopant Thengdi, the founder of the BMS, could have been the only contender for the post. But he has apparently chosen a different path for himself. "Dattopantji is above all these things," say his admirers.
The second-rung leadership in the RSS—joint general secretary Madan Das and Suresh Rao Ketkar—is considered to be liberal and pro-Dalit/Backward. Pressures of realpolitik, especially since the late '80s, have forced the RSS to put forward a pro-Dalit face. Putting up gates named after B.R. Ambedkar in the conventions of the RSS has become a normal practice.
Sudhershan, a mechanical engineer from Karnataka, is perceived to be more "politically oriented" than most of his colleagues. In the RSS, he is responsible for interacting with political parties (read the BJP) and the media. Unlike the traditionally media-shy RSS leadership, Sudershan is considered more outspoken, straightforward—to the extent of causing embarrassment to the organisation at times—and open to ideas. His statement that "being a political party, the BJP cannot speak the language we (the RSS) speak", discomfited the RSS. The unusually high-profile leader made headlines when he went to the PM's house to scuttle Jaswant Singh's appointment as finance minister. Sudershan is also a member of the steering committee of the SJM which launched a scathing attack on the Vajpayee government for its "anti-swadeshi" economic policies.
The change comes at a time when the RSS' role in shaping government policies is becoming increasingly important. And when it comes to exert pressure on the government to take a particular decision, Sudershan is always present.