An organisation man

Published : Apr 25, 1998 00:00 IST

KUSHABHAU THAKRE is perhaps one of the most peripatetic leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its earlier avatar, the Jan Sangh. A close colleague from Madhya Pradesh estimates that the 75-year-old leader spends an average of 300 days a year on the move. He has travelled extensively across India, and has given particular attention to building up and expanding the party's support base in the northeastern region. And it is said of the newly-elected president of the BJP that he knows a great many party workers in Madhya Pradesh, his home State, by name.

Born on August 15, 1922, at Dhar in the then Madhya Bharat, Thakre was educated at Victoria College in Gwalior, where Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee too studied. As a young man he became a pracharak (preacher) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In 1942, he became a swayamsevak and was put in charge of RSS affairs in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. He was associated with founder-members of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh since 1951, and became the party's secretary (organisation) for the South. In 1956, when Madhya Pradesh State was formed, he became the Jan Sangh's secretary (organisation). Twelve years later he was made the all-India secretary of the Jan Sangh and oversaw party affairs in Orissa and Gujarat. In 1974, he became the party's all-India secretary (organisation).

When the Jan Sangh merged with the Janata Party in 1977, Thakre was appointed president of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Janata Party. He was jailed for 19 months during the Emergency. In 1979, he contested and won a byelection to the Lok Sabha from Khandwa, the only election he has contested.

In 1980, when the BJP was founded, Thakre was appointed its all-India secretary and was placed in charge of party affairs in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. In 1984 he was made national vice-president and in 1991 he became all-India general secretary and was put in charge of party affairs in Madhya Pradesh.

During that period, Thakre came to be identified closely with the party's "upper caste" faction led by Sunderlal Patwa. When faction feuds intensified, Thakre was replaced by Sunder Singh Bhandari. Thakre was again made vice-president and put in charge of party affairs in Uttar Pradesh. In 1993, he regained control of the Madhya Pradesh unit when he became general secretary (organisation), a post he held until he was elected party president.

Thakre was the unanimous choice not only of the BJP but of the entire Sangh Parivar. A Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader said that a controversy would have arisen had anyone else been elected. Thakre has many years of organisational experience and is believed to be capable of carrying party workers along, irrespective of their sectional loyalties.

At the BJP's national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar in December 1997, before the elections, leaders belonging to the faction led by Uma Bharati and Kailash Joshi resigned from the State executive in protest against its composition, which they said was weighted in favour of the Patwa-Thakre faction. There was consternation in the party, but in the elections in February, the BJP won 30 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the State, an increase of two seats over its tally in 1996. Thakre's stock in the party soared, as he was in charge of party affairs in the State.

A BACHELOR, Thakre is known to live a simple, almost spartan, life. According to his close aides, his wardrobe consists of all of two dhotis and two kurtas. Ever since he moved to the Central office, he has got by in the single-room living quarters provided for senior leaders at the party office in New Delhi. Last year, the Madhya Pradesh unit of the RSS presented him more than Rs.1 crore on his 75th birthday; he donated the entire amount for the establishment of schools for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the State. Soon after he was elected party president on April 14, he garlanded a portrait of Babasaheb Ambedkar, whose birth anniversary was being observed that day. The same day the BJP Government renamed the Ministry of Welfare as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Thakre is known to be accessible to party workers and the media. Party colleagues say that one of his greatest assets is his "common touch" - his close association with grassroots-level workers. They also admire his persuasive skills, particularly when they are employed in winning over dissenters with gentle persuasion.

Thakre told Frontline: "There is no need to use the stick to control indiscipline in the party. If there is dissent, there has to be some reason for it. It can be addressed in a positive sense. Indiscipline in the BJP is not unmanageable."

Thakre believes that there are no textbook solutions to political parties' problems. Today, since many senior BJP leaders are in government, there is a vacuum in the party; there are problems associated with it, he concedes. But he is confident of overcoming them with cooperation from all sections.

According to Thakre, media reports of the close relationship between the BJP and the other members of the Sangh Parivar are exaggerated. "There is no need for the other Sangh Parivar units to come to the BJP's help, and there is no need for the BJP to interfere in the functioning of the other units. The RSS and the BJP function independently," he said.

As a pracharak, what experiences does he bring to the BJP? Thakre said that the 'model' offered by the RSS for the BJP - based on simple living and a commitment to national interest - was sufficient. Asked if many BJP leaders were not moving away from the model, Thakre said that in this respect the BJP was much better than other parties. "BJP members are by and large guided by Sangh discipline," he said.

What is his message for newcomers into the party? Thakre said: "They need not be scared of the norms of discipline in the party. There is no military discipline here."

What drew him to the RSS? Thakre said that in his village in Madhya Pradesh, it was Sangh workers who were doing much public service - helping poor students or getting poor women married. He counts his mother, Shantabai Sundar Rao Thakre, and his guru, M.S. Golwalkar, as the people who have inspired him the most.

Asked how he proposed to tone up the party in the States where it fared badly in the recent elections, Thakre said that there was need for better coordination between the party and the Government at the Centre and in the States where the BJP was in power. The party, he said, should closely watch the Government's performance and ensure that it fulfils the people's aspirations.

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