Narendra Modi, Insubordinate

07 April 2014
Modi with senior BJP leaders Kanshi Ram Rana, Keshubhai Patel and Shankarsinh Vaghela (left to right) in 1994.

Modi quickly acquired greater responsibilities within the RSS in Gujarat, including arranging reservations on buses and trains for travelling Sangh leaders, as well as opening letters sent to Hedgewar Bhavan. At around the same time, Modi went to attend the one-month officer training camp at RSS national headquarters in Nagpur, which was a prerequisite for him to take up an official position in the Sangh.

“The level one training was a basic requirement to be taken seriously in the RSS, and Modi completed it when he was 22 or 23,” a senior pracharak told me. Modi was then appointed as the RSS pracharak in-charge for Gujarat of the Sangh’s student front, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a position he held through the Emergency. The Sangh pracharak in-charge of a frontal organisation like the ABVP is supposed to function like an underground guide—to be like a vein hidden under the skin, exercising authority away from the public eye—but Modi’s personal style, which chafed at such restrictions, was already making itself evident.

“Modi had firm opinions on even smaller things, and the senior leaders thought that he was attention-seeking,” a second senior RSS pracharak, who was a member of the Gujarat ABVP in the 1970s, told me. “The Sangh leaders did not like it.”

The pracharak related an incident that took place during the Emergency: “We in the ABVP were told to organise agitations against the government, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and one day we were holding a meeting at the Bhullabhai Char Rasta in Ahmedabad,” he said. “We were supposed to speak against the government, but in a sober tone, because that was the Sangh style, and also the police and the intelligence agencies were watching over us. But while the meeting was on, Narendrabhai passed by on a cycle. He was furious at the composed serenity in our protest. He jumped onto the stage, grabbed the mike and began giving a rabble-rousing speech, spitting abusive words, and not hiding his anger against the government.”

“The audience loved it. But that night, at Hedgewar Bhavan, the senior Sangh leaders scolded Modi for his detrimental and unwarranted act—for a nearly-underground Sangh pracharak to come out in the open. ‘Forget about speaking,’ they lectured him, ‘you shouldn’t have even gone there. Even if the meeting failed, it would be okay, but discipline and obedience to one’s role is superior to all.’”

Vinod K Jose is the Executive Editor of The Caravan.