Bhagwat Eclipsed

In Modi's shadow, the Sangh leader is no longer supreme

ADNAN ABIDI / REUTERS Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Right) and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (Left) attend the cremation of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Delhi on 17 August 2018.
31 October, 2022

IN THE MONTHS leading up to the 2014 general election, Ram Madhav, the national spokesperson of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, sought an appointment with the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Shourie. Madhav had an intriguing request. He wanted Shourie to intervene with the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, on behalf of Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS sarsanghchalak—supreme leader.

Bhagwat is the sixth sarsanghchalak of the RSS, a Hindu-nationalist organisation that emerged from within Nagpur’s Brahmin community, in 1925. Its network of affiliated outfits—known collectively as the Sangh Parivar—has penetrated almost every aspect of Indian society. As the head of the Hindutva family, the RSS provides ideological fuel for its roughly three dozen affiliate groups, which include the ruling party, one of the largest trade unions in the country, a student union active across various universities and a conglomeration of Hindu sadhus and monastic establishments. The sarsanghchalak reigns over this large amorphous system as its ultimate guide.

“You please talk to Narendrabhai about Mohanji,” Shourie recalled Madhav saying. There would have been good reason for Madhav to presume a closeness between Shourie and Modi. The two had met several times in 2013. On 18 October that year, Modi had released a book by Shourie. Because of all this, Shourie imagined, the word might have got around that he knew Modi well.

“I asked Ram Madhav what happened,” Shourie told me. Bhagwat had taken offense to Modi’s language and rude attitude, Madhav explained. “Modiji was asked to meet Mohanji at Nagpur and discuss with him how the RSS could contribute to his election campaign,” Shourie said. “But Modiji said that he won’t go to Nagpur and that [Bhagwat] should come to Ahmedabad for the meeting instead. Mohanji changed all his tour plans and reached Ahmedabad to meet him.”