Modi, Yogi under RSS microscope

RSS top brass unhappy with Modi, Yogi handling of second wave

Print edition : June 18, 2021

People throng an office to collect death certificates of relatives amid a rising number of fatalities in the second wave, in Kanpur on May 20. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, during the inauguration of the construction of the Agra Metro via video conferencing, on December 7, 2020. Photo: PTI

Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Uday Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank. Photo: Paul Noronha

Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, delivering a ‘Positivity Unlimited’ lecture on May 15. Photo: Youtube Screengrab

Rattled by the recent losses in elections to three State Assemblies and Uttar Pradesh’s local bodies, the RSS top brass takes stock of the situation to stem the groundswell of resentment against Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath among the Sangh Parivar’s rank and file.

On May 23, a high-power meeting of top leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was held in New Delhi. It was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, J.P. Nadda, the BJP president, Sunil Bansal, the party’s organisation secretary for Uttar Pradesh, and Dattatreya Hosabale, the RSS general secretary.

In keeping with the usual practice of the Sangh Parivar after such high-profile closed-door meetings of the top leadership, calculated leaks about the goings-on at the conclave appeared in the media, including some mainstream outlets.

Uttar Pradesh in focus

The central theme of meeting, as per these media narratives, was how to set right the BJP’s functioning in Uttar Pradesh, especially the missteps of the Yogi Adityanath-led government. Neither Yogi Adityanath nor Swatantra Dev Singh, the president of the BJP’s U.P. unit, was invited to the meeting. Citing this fact, media and social media analysts, said that since the meeting’s thrust was on evolving ways and means to undo the damage suffered by the Uttar Pradesh government owing to a negative public perception, the top leaders did not want to be sidetracked by any justification that the Chief Minister or the State unit president might come up with for their failures.

Indeed, the Adityanath government’s woeful handling of the COVID second wave across the State, including places such as Varanasi, Prime Minister Modi’s constituency, was a major point of debate at the conclave.

Prior to the meeting, several senior RSS and BJP members, including Union and State Ministers, members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly, had complained about the State government’s performance. Santosh Gangwar, Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment and Bareilly MP, had written letters to the Chief Minister pointing out the failure of the administration to arrange beds, oxygen supply and ambulances in his constituency, while Brajesh Pathak, State Law Minister, had complained that the Chief Medical Officer in Lucknow did not respond to his telephone calls, people were not getting beds in hospitals and ambulances took 6-7 hours to reach the needy.

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Many MPs and MLAs from all over the State had, at various points in time, trenchantly criticised the State’s medical system. They included Kaushal Kishore, the Mohanlalganj MP, Harish Dwivedi, the Basti MP, Satyadev Pachauri, the Kanpur MP, Rajendra Agrawal, the Meerut MP, and Dinanath Bhaskar, the Aurai MLA.

While these Uttar Pradesh-centric factors were highlighted repeatedly after the May 23 meeting, many senior activists of the RSS and the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) across Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar told Frontline that other political and administrative concerns came up at the meeting.

Modi under RSS microscope

These senior activists asserted that the conclave also discussed the Union government’s blunders, especially those of the Prime Minister’s political and administrative apparatus.

A senior RSS activist based in Lucknow said: “Indications are that there will be some concrete changes in the Yogi Adityanath governance machinery, which could divest the Chief Minister of the sweeping powers he has had so far. The thrust would be on enhancing administration and effectiveness. But, along with the Yogi Adityanath’s track record, Modi’s track record is also under close scrutiny by the RSS top brass. There are several indicators of this.”

These senior Sangh Parivar activists told Frontline in the same vein that this larger concern about the direction and priorities of both the Uttar Pradesh and the Union governments had come up rather suddenly after the striking reverses suffered in the Uttar Pradesh panchayat elections, primarily at the hands of the principal opposition Samajwadi Party (S.P.).

A senior VHP activist based in Ranchi said: “RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwatji’s initiation of the ‘Positivity Unlimited’ series of lectures immediately after these election reverses and his own speech in the series [delivered online on May 15] are clear pointers to this concern. Indeed, the series of lectures was in itself a damage control exercise and an effort to prop up the dwindling image of the Modi raj. As was evident, the primary factor under consideration in these lectures was not the image of the Yogi Adityanath government but that of the Modi government.”

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The senior RSS activist in Lucknow further said that Mohan Bhagwat had gone to the extent of exhorting people to call out the “shasan aur prashasan ki gaflat” (oversight and indifference of the government and administration). In his view, this was the first instance of open criticism of the government by the RSS during the seven-year Modi regime.

The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS), the RSS’ highest decision-making body, had showered praise on Modi’s leadership in a unanimous resolution passed in the third week of March 2021. According to the activists who spoke to Frontline, major Sangh Parivar outfits felt that the fulsome praise by the ABPS was premature and unwarranted.

The resolution had specifically praised Modi’s leadership in combating COVID and had pointedly referred to schemes such as Vande Bharat Mission, the Vaccine Maitri campaign, Shramik special trains and the COVID vaccination drive.

The VHP leader in Ranchi said: “The colossal failure to control the second wave and its consequences clearly showed that much more had to be done and that many of the Union government’s schemes were not properly implemented. This understanding is, evidently, a key factor behind the May 23 meet.”

Resentment among rank and file

These senior activists also said that the resentment at the grass-roots level—amid swayamsevaks and activists of associated outfits—regarding governance, was not confined to Uttar Pradesh.

A leader said: “Hundreds of Sangh Parivar activists across several States, especially in North India, have been periodically sending reports full of disappointment and disapproval on the functioning of different governments, including the Union government. Almost all these reports had warned of growing inability to face the public and the possibility of political and electoral reverses. These pointers from the ground are getting proved repeatedly, as seen in the Assembly elections in West Bengal and the panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh.”

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The Lucknow-based RSS leader stated that Mohan Bhagawat’s “shasan aur prashasan ki gaflat” comment was also an indicator of the effect that the cumulative pressure from the grassroots was having on those at the Sangh Parivar’s ideological and organisational helm.

This pressure from the grassroots was apparently supplemented by the feedback on economic issues provided to the RSS’ top brass from different quarters, including corporate bigwigs. It is well known that the RSS top brass periodically engages with economic affairs experts and corporate leaders, eliciting their views on governance.

Corporate world’s concerns

Azim Premji, chairman of the IT major Wipro, was invited to speak at the ‘Positivity Unlimited’ lecture series by an RSS associate organisation that conducted the programme. Mincing no words, Premji said that the “core of the idea of good science is the willingness to accept and confront the truth” and that “science and truth are the foundations on which we can tackle this crisis”.

Uday Kotak, the managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, is reportedly another corporate leader who has the Sangh Parivar leadership’s ears.

Speaking to mediapersons on May 27, Uday Kotak said that the need of the hour was cash infusion by the government into the hands of the poorest people in India to the tune of 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Many Sangh Parivar insiders believe that such views from corporate bigwigs have enhanced the assimilation of grass-roots opinions by the top leaders of the RSS.

On his part, Mohan Bhagwat is known for listening to and even heeding the opinion of the rank and file. A classic instance was in mid-2013, during the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, when he took note of the groundswell of support for Modi among the rank and file of Sangh Parivar outfits and picked the then Gujarat Chief Minister as the Prime Ministerial candidate over other apparent choices such as Lal Krishna Advani.

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The senior RSS leader from Lucknow said, “The current expressions of resentment against the Modi regime may not be on the same scale, but it is evident that the opinion of the rank-and-file is taken into account here too.”

With the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election hardly nine months away, the RSS top brass is expected to keep its ears close to the ground and take concrete actions to set things right.

As emphasised by the senior RSS activists, these election-oriented interventions could be more broad-based and not just confined to Uttar Pradesh.