Ideally, the three-day-long Akhil Bhartiya Partinidhi Sabha (ABPS), the highest decision-making body of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) held over the weekend, in Nagpur should have galvanised the Sangh cadre and those of its affiliates. Instead, the meet, held once in three years, ended up leaving even senior Sangh leaders feeling exactly the opposite.
"Demoralised and confused," is how a senior pracharak described the popular sentiment in the cadre. Probed further, he told Outlook, "There was nothing there for us. For three days we thought the leadership would come up with newer ideas and directions. Especially now that we have a majority in the Lok Sabha. Yet more of the same was said and repeated." He added, "Neither is anyone in the government willing to listen to the RSS, look at the HRD ministry alone nor do we have nothing new to do."
Not just that. The Sangh sabha even dashed hopes of leadership change that the cadre had been building for some time now. Over the past few months, many in the Sangh had come to believe that the March meet would ensure an elevation for joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale to the general secretary level, infusing new energy into the cadre and the leadership. Given Hosabale's camaraderie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, going back to their Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) days, popular opinion held that the Sangh would have a greater say in government affairs and therefore more clout if Hosabale was promoted to be second-in-command in the RSS. In fact, sources confirm that preparations had even been made for Bhaiyyaji Joshi's future role, with informal communication sent to some RSS affiliated organisations to accommodate the current general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi in their offices April 1 onwards.
However, at the Pratinidhi sabha, 1,400 delegates of the Sangh re-elected Joshi to continue in his post. Sources confirm that while initially Sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat was open to the idea of Hosabale's elevation, Hosabale's proximity to known fixers in the BJP apparently went against him. A senior pracharak further confirmed, "We don't want to get into another Suresh Soni kind of situation where a Sangh official is too close to power brokers in the BJP. While it is true Hosabaleji's elevation would have given us more say in the government his sudden open exhibition of ambition did not go down too well with the Sangh leadership."
That said, insiders confirm that the lack of new initiative in the Sangh stems from a deeper crisis that the Sangh is facing. A senior pracharak from Nagpur told Outlook, "There is a serious lack of talent and competence in the RSS. We don't have capable enough people to fill posts and designations. Ask anyone if we even have a single capable person within the Sangh who we could be recommended for a job in the Niti Aayog?" He added, "One of the reasons why Bhaiyyaji was re-elected is because there is a lack of competent people even at the top level." Sources confirm that a certain lack of confidence in Krishna Gopal's political savviness is yet another reason to give Joshi a third term as general secretary. With Gopal failing to measure up to the Sangh's expectations as the RSS pointsman in the BJP, the job of dealing with the BJP essentially remains with Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, making it imperative for Joshi to carry on.
No wonder, the Sangh has offered little in terms of agenda for the next three years to its cadre. Calling it a result of "deep-set inertia within the Sangh" another pracharak, said, "look at our resolutions. What do we have? Yoga and matrabasha (mother tongue). Is that an agenda for the next three years?"
Clearly, the other agenda of expansion, regularly espoused by RSS seniors is not even being counted as work by those outside of the apex group and looking for action in a politically empowered era for the RSS. For most in the Sangh, the RSS-backed BJP government in the centre should have been an opportunity for the RSS to "consolidate power" through the various programmes that the Sangh has been waiting to implement. No wonder when Sangh seniors urge for "expansion of RSS" instead as the main focus of their plans for the next three years, the cadre stands disappointed.
Sources close to Nagpur said, "After the spectacular work the RSS cadre did at the ground level for the BJP in the 2014 elections, it should have been given support to strengthen itself. Expansion is what the BJP requires and is doing it through its membership drive. Where is the need for the RSS to look for expansion?"
There is a "sense of joblessness" in the RSS then, several pracharaks tell Outlook. Not because the RSS does not have a blue print for the future, but because it finds itself with its back to the wall with the compulsion of offering unequivocal support to the government. Reason why there has been a "strategic retreat" on the land acquisition bill, FDI and education and culture policies. A source confirmed, "as policy sangh will let organisations like the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh criticise the government but there will be no taking to the streets."
So as retail elements of the parivaar , carry forward the Sangh's policies and agenda, the Sangh in withdrawal mode, will do what it is best at, walk from door to door, seeking support and through that expansion, hopefully big enough, find a voice to be heard once again within its political outfit, the BJP.