Indian politics seems to be crossing a difficult ghat with many steep slopes and curves. The pointer is that the Congress boss Rahul Gandhi is likely to receive a formal invitation from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat to attend the organisation’s gathering at Nagpur, soon. If the media gossip holds any truth, the RSS has decided to invite him when Bhagwat would deliver the key-note address. And if Rahul accepts the invite, it would be a major shock not only to the Congress or to all other political forces, but to the BJP also. Rahul has pulled no punches while attacking the RSS, the mother ship of the Sangh Parivar but has also repeatedly said that his Congress party and he hold no personal animosity against any one — to prove this, Gandhi dramatically hugged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament in July. The hug outwitted Modi, a known master of the photo-op. Now, Gandhi’s Love-Guru Avatar has been brilliantly challenged by the RSS which has indicated that it will invite him and other prominent opposition leaders to a talk by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Delhi later this month.
The future of Bharat
The lecture on “The Future of Bharat: an RSS perspective” will be delivered by Bhagwat in the stately Vigyan Bhavan in the heart of Lutyens Delhi. Bhagwat will interact with a “select audience comprising prominent citizens” says Arun Kumar, the national spokesperson of the RSS. So will Rahul go? And will he hug Bhagwat? No official response yet, but senior Congress leaders who are still reeling from their party veteran and former president Pranab Mukherjee’s visiting the RSS headquarters in Nagpur in July say Rahul must offer “regrets only” for the invite, when and if it appears.
When a few senior journalists tried to seek opinions of senior Congress leaders, only Kamal Nath, chief of the Madhya Pradesh Congress, was willing to go on record saying categorically that “Rahul Gandhi should not go. Hugging the PM in a spirit of saying that he has no personal anger is one thing, but why should we go and listen to the ideology of those we have always opposed?” Both the Congress and the BJP leaders appeared rather shell-shocked by the clever play of the RSS which dares Rahul to walk the talk right over to their event. The earlier invite and its acceptance by Mukherjee had hugely upset the Congress with his daughter, Sharmistha Mukherjee, being fielded to publicly oppose it. With the likely new offer to Rahul, though, even the BJP appears a little taken aback.
Senior RSS sources believe that the Sangh is using the Bhagwat lecture to send multiple messages, the most notable of which may be it wants to claim the centre-stage of ideology and shed its traditional reticence about clearly conveying the extent of its hold over the BJP’s politics and policies. A senior Sangh functionary opined that the non-RSS people term them as exclusivist. Well, now we are going at the highest level, from city to city, explaining our ideology. Bhagwat held a similar lecture in Mumbai recently. The RSS has had a personality evolution. We have changed our dress and said that those who accept India as their motherland are all our people. We are categorically against violence. People must be made aware of this which is why the outreach at the level of the RSS chief. This is the feeling of RSS activists at large.
The most significant message, however, is reportedly for the BJP. Earlier, Bhagwat had publicly contradicted BJP president Amit Shah by saying the Sangh does not endorse his war cry of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”. Coming as this does in election season, the BJP is not happy about the meet, greet and chat with the RSS. BJP leaders are hoping Rahul and other opposition leaders like the Left’s Sitaram Yechury refuse the invite. This will ensure that they can call out the hypocrisy of the Congress’s proclaimed “inclusive” politics. The BJP, in this reaction, is fretting like an only child faced with a rival, says an amused senior Sangh functionary. “The BJP wants to ensure that we keep providing the lubricant that ensures that they continue in power,” he says. Top functionaries of the Sangh say that it had always had warm relations with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and that the frost set in with Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul, who attacks them and conflates them with the BJP. This is not a contradiction of thoughts and convictions but realisation of realities.
Rahul, Bhagwat face-to-face
It may be recalled that at Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s funeral, Rahul Gandhi had come face-to-face with Bhagwat but no words or greetings were exchanged. Former PM Manmohan Singh, who was also present, interacted with the RSS leader. Senior Congress leaders believe that the RSS is ramping up its efforts to occupy the space ceded by the Congress in the ideological sphere while propelling itself into wider acceptability. Some RSS activists do feel that though they have been in government twice, but even while being in power, they do not control the real establishment of the Nehruvian consensus which still guides the country. The RSS top brass believes that the time has come to change that and make India in to our ideological image. There is also the theory, if not entirely believable, that the invitation to Rahul is intended to show Modi-Shah that the RSS remains in charge and that the pair, no matter how powerful, will have to contend with RSS out-of-the-box plays and run with them.
If the story of RSS plan to invite to its camp is true, now the ball is in Rahul’s court. It would have a long lasting effect on not only the Congress or the BJP path but on the entire Indian polity. If the RSS succeeds in hooking Rahul, next in the line would be leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury etc.
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).