There is much talk of a new India in the making under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If so, what is the spirit of new India? It can be summed up as the idea that a large section of Indian society, enthused and encouraged by the larger common goal of national good, is coming together.
This large mass of awakened Indians is led by a group of dedicated leaders from various walks of life — politicians, civil servants, scientists, economists, media persons, business magnates, managers, bankers, educationists, and so on. All of whom have, to a large extent, committed themselves to the bigger cause of national regeneration with little regard to their own personal profit, power, or pelf.
For such a new India to come into being, the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) can neither be denied nor downplayed. From its very inception in 1925, under the stewardship of its founder and first sarsanghchalak, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the Sangh has worked tirelessly to make India a strong, prosperous and progressive nation. The past ninety-six years of the Sangh’s commitment to national regeneration is evidenced in the fact that there is no part of Indian society today that is not influenced by the ideology or praxis of the RSS.
It is in this light that the election of Dattatreya Hosabale as the new sarkaryavah (General Secretary) of the RSS on 20th March 2021 assumes great significance. In the imagining and realisation of a new India, Hosabale, popularly known as Dattaji, will have a key role to play.
RSS’ inner democracy
Let us first of all note that it was an election. The Sangh’s supervisory and executive body, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS), concluded its meeting in Bengaluru on Saturday with Hosabale’s election. Next only to the sarsanghachalak or head, the General Secretary, the second most important person in the Sangh hierarchy, is elected for a term of three years.
While it is true that the sarsanghachalak nominates its successor, all other important positions in the organisation are filled after a lengthy process of consultation, culminating in an election. This needs to be underscored especially for those who know little about the RSS, but allege that it has no inner democracy. Though it is not a political party, but a cadre and membership organisation, the Sangh is certainly not run as a dictatorship.
Even in the case of Dattaji, his name had come up several times in the past for this position. In fact it was widely believed that in the last referendum, he might have been elected. However, Bhaiyyaji Joshi continued to hold the post of sarkaryavah for 12 years. Given the depth and length of the review process that kept Dattaji’s candidature waiting in the wings for such a long time, it is clear that the highest level of decision making in the Sangh proceeds slowly but steadily through rungs and layers of discussion, deliberation, and feedback — not by handed down diktats.
New face, new chapter
The more important question, however, is how this election matters in terms of the larger question of the spirit of new India? What difference will Dattaji make as RSS’ new sarkaryavah?
The answer is simple. Hosabale represents the new or modern face of the RSS. An MA in English from Mysore University, he plunged into the maelstrom of anti-Emergency politics while still an undergraduate at National College, Bengaluru. Arrested under the notorious Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), he spent 16 months in jail. Later, he functioned very effectively as the General Secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for 15 years, working closely with national president, later Bharatiya Janata Party MP Balvant or Bal Apte.
Himself a writer and critic, Dattaji came in contact with all shades and stripes of Kannada literary personalities. He started a Kannada monthly called Aseema. Known for his progressive views on controversial subjects such as LGBTQ rights, temple entry for women, and freedom of expression, Dattaji has a good connect and rapport with sections of Indian intelligentsia.
Well-traveled across India and abroad, he communicates fluently in several languages including his native Kannada, as well as Hindi, Tamil, English, and Sanskrit. Dattaji is also known as a clear thinker and articulate representative of the contemporary RSS, under the quiet but game-changing leadership of Mohan Rao Bhagwat, the current sarsanghachalak.
It is under Bhagwat’s guidance that the Sangh has shed its defensive and combative attitude on several issues. Instead, the ideas, if not the core ideology of the Sangh, have penetrated the Indian mainstream after the collapse of the so-called Nehruvian consensus of socialism, secularism, and minoritarianism.
Dattaji has spoken out in the past against both pseudo-secularism and Hindu-phobia. He believes that Hindus are open and accepting of all faith and traditions. They do not need a foreign import such as secularism to teach them tolerance. Likewise, he has been a critic of the weakening of Hindu society through conversions, whether by stealth or by incentive. Little wonder that he is in favour of sensible safeguards against ‘love jihad’.
In his own way, Dattaji embodies the best of both the hard and soft faces of Hindutva. Speaking of the latter, he understands the vital importance of conciliation and consensus-building rather than coercion and compulsion. If the RSS has to be attractive to a younger generation, it is leaders like Dattaji who will make it happen. Having been the Sah Sarkaryavah (joint secretary) since 2009, he brings a rich record of top-level experience to his new role.
South India connect
In addition to this, Dattaji, who hails from Soraba in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district , symbolises the Southern face of the RSS. Again, it is untrue that the RSS is only a Maharashtrian or North Indian organisation. In the current group of Sah Sarkaryavahs, or joint secretaries, Suresh Soni and Krishna Gopal are from the North, Manmohan Vaidya from Maharashtra, and V. Bhaigaih and Mukund, both from the South.
It is also important to remember that another Kannadiga, K. S. Sudarshan, albeit raised in Madhya Pradesh, was the sarsanghachalak just before Mohan Bhagwat. The current national convenor of Prajna Pravah, J. Nandakumar, hails from Kerala. The RSS aims at increasing its all-India acceptance. Dattaji’s Karnataka roots will be helpful in this process.
Given their broader plan for a new India, the RSS and the BJP have to walk hand-in-hand. In keeping the broader national goals of common good and resurgent India in mind, Dattaji will be the new key RSS player on Narendra Modi’s dream team.
The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.
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