Modi at the reception on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 4: When Narendra Modi arrived at a power-packed social do at the capital’s Ashoka Hotel on Monday with Suresh Soni in tow, it was intentional.
By now it’s a given that the Gujarat chief minister hates sharing his walking, talking and living space with anyone, however obscure the person may be.
And Soni’s name barely rings a bell outside of the RSS parivar. But for Modi, the togetherness with him at the wedding reception hosted by the BJP president Nitin Gadkari for his son was a political statement aimed at his party and the RSS clan at large.
Soni is the RSS’s sah-sarkaryawah, its joint general secretary that places him third in the hierarchy. The buzz in the Sangh was that even after Modi sought chief Mohanrao Bhagwat and his deputy Suresh Joshi’s “blessings” for his prime ministerial aspirations, Soni wasn’t taken up with the idea.
Indeed, the first display of disaffection on Modi’s ambition surfaced in the BJP’s in-house journal Kamal Sandesh. Editor Prabhat Jha is believed to be close to Joshi and often acted as Rajnath Singh’s conduit to him when the latter headed the BJP. Those familiar with the parivar’s internal intrigues deduced that the edit couldn’t have gone if Soni hadn’t green-flagged it.
So did Modi unbundle the reservations he harbours about the Sangh and visit its Delhi headquarter at Jhandewalan before the reception? “It’s possible,” said a swayamsevak, adding, “The idea was to tell the BJP that the RSS stands united behind him.”
Modi’s politics — which thrives on symbols and signals, created and tweaked entirely to give himself heft — is now focused on rectifying the perception that his relations with the RSS are patchy.
Yesterday, reports that three veteran Gujarat “pracharaks” — Bhaskarrao Damle, Narendra Panchasar and Ramesh Gupta — were eased out of the RSS’s state executive panel because they were “anti-Modi” left several “swayamsevaks” stupefied.
“They were dropped because they were old and infirm and incapable of discharging even the small jobs they were assigned and not because of Modi,” a “swayamsevak” stressed.
However, he admitted that Damle, 90-plus, was “close” to Modi’s bete noire Keshubhai Patel and had attended meetings convened by BJP rebel Gordhan Zadaphia.
Damle also spearheaded agitations against the Modi government’s land acquisitions. “He was a thorn in Modi’s flesh, so the ouster suits him. However, that was not the RSS’s idea. But Modi’s spin doctors projected the episode as his victory,” a source said.
At Monday’s reception, Soni came and left almost unnoticed. Modi was the scene-stealer, the show-stopper as several guests stampeded their way to reach him. They touched his feet, got his autograph and clicked pictures with him.
That Modi had emerged as a power centre unto himself was reinforced when he ensconced himself on a sofa, slightly away from the high table seating L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj in a VVIP enclosure. Two general secretaries were glued to Modi as sundry functionaries, MPs and MLAs genuflected and then went to Advani.
The BJP’s other Modi, from Bihar, arrived and departed in virtual anonymity. “Here comes the secular Modi, the favourite of the capital’s secular journalists,” a party official remarked in jest when Sushil Modi walked in well after the Gujarat chief minister had gone.
Sangh sources said he too had done the Jhandewalan parikrama (perambulation) but the purported visit couldn’t be independently confirmed.
Even if Sushil Modi had gone to the RSS headquarters, BJP sources said he had “reasons” to, against the backdrop of the party’s uneven equations with ally Janata Dal (United) and his own comments against the Gujarat chief minister. “He has to prove that he remains a loyal swayamsevak,” a source said of the “secular” Sushil Modi who began his career in the Sangh.
The BJP’s ministers and MLAs from Bihar rubbed the point that the “secular-communal” debate, instigated by chief minister Nitish Kumar’s demand for a “secular” leader to lead the NDA, and Sushil Modi’s endorsement rankled with them. They lustily cheered the Gujarat Modi.
Ironically, in this make-or-mar moment in the BJP’s history — it needs a leader like Modi for a chin-up but an excessive projection might shrink the scope of its alliances — both Modis need the RSS on their side, even though they are presumed to stand on different sides of an ideological breach.