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Sangh shakha for MPs

New Delhi, Aug. 14: Parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu hosted a belated Raksha Bandhan get-together for BJP MPs today, formatted like an RSS shakha with a boudhik (didactic) discourse by Sangh leader Suresh “Bhaiyya” Joshi.

Nearly 300 of the party’s 321 MPs from both Houses attended the event that began at 7.30am at Naidu’s home, sources said. For an hour, they went through the regular shakha (training camp) rites, including tying a rakhi around the RSS bhagwa dhwaj (saffron flag) and on each other’s wrists.

Joshi, the Sangh general secretary and second-in-command, emphasised that a “person nurtured and moulded by the RSS” (Narendra Modi) was leading the country now and “will lead the country for many more years”.

The comments come days after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat underplayed the primacy of the personality cult in shaping the BJP’s fortunes, saying it was the people who had voted for the party.

Prime Minister Modi was not present at the get-together that coincided with the last day of the Parliament session, nor were Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh. Rajnath had been hospitalised with complaints of stomach pain last night and was discharged today.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj represented the government top brass.

Joshi’s praise of Modi appears significant for several reasons. More than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP’s first Prime Minister, the RSS has considered Modi as its own because of the long years he put in as a pracharak (whole-timer). Vajpayee was a swayamsevak (ordinary member).

In his speech today, Joshi called on the MPs — some of who had switched from other parties and were participating in a Sangh programme for the first time — to introspect and seek answers on how far the RSS had travelled since it was founded in 1925.

“Where have we reached?” a source quoted him as saying. “We have travelled a lot. We worked towards creating social harmony and we faced all kinds of threats (the RSS was thrice proscribed) but we are proud of what we have done for society.”

Joshi cited the example of the Northeast. He claimed that despite the myriad ethnic groups in the region’s states, a recent tribal conference the RSS convened in Assam drew representatives from each denomination.

The RSS leader then turned to the south and said despite the Dravida movement — which was accused of refusing to recognise Hindus as a homogenous religious community — the RSS worked, “survived” and “got results”.

Joshi alleged that in Kerala, “hundreds” of swayamsevaks and pracharaks were jailed and murdered. “But their spirit was indomitable. They worked for the consolidation of Hindus.”

The MPs seemed to have come away enthused. Uttar Pradesh Lok Sabha member Jagdambika Pal, who had crossed over from the Congress just before this year’s elections, gushed: “It was an excellent boudhik, inspirational, full of unity and national integration. There was not even a hint of divisiveness in it.”

In terms of realpolitik, though, host Naidu’s conduct as parliamentary affairs minister evoked mixed response. Some of the MPs believed he had not “finessed” his consensus-building approach with the Congress and the rest of the Opposition on the insurance bill. A source said: “A whiff of trouble, and a BJP leader tends to please the RSS to try and insulate himself against action.”