Last leg of pracharak era

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Delhi
  • Published 6.10.09
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New Delhi, Oct. 6: Pyarelal Khandelwal, among the last of a generation of Sangh pracharaks loaned to the BJP, has died. He was 80.

A Rajya Sabha MP, Khandelwal, who was battling cancer, died this morning at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where he had been shifted five days ago.

Top leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Vice-President Hamid Ansari, visited the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road to pay their last respects to the man whose tryst with fame had lasted a few hours.

Days after Jaswant Singh was expelled from the BJP, he wrote a letter to party president Rajnath Singh, calling it “unconstitutional” and “unfair”. He also made it a point to publicise his act in sound bites.

In the 65 years or so that Khandelwal lived first in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and then the BJP, he was another apparatchik: faceless, faithful to his masters in the Sangh and the party. So, when he died this morning, old-timers turned misty-eyed at the passing away of a generation of “pracharaks” who were leased out by the Sangh to the BJP to straighten out the apparatus as and when the Nagpur high command thought it appropriate.

It isn’t easy being a pracharak. Any “swayamsevak” with a year’s experience is qualified to be one. But that is just looking at it from the outside. A pracharak gets no salary and is required to work anywhere in the country — forests, hills, deserts — while the RSS takes care of his minimum requirements.

He has to remain celibate and virtually sever relations with his family.

However, the Sangh, known as much for its pragmatism as its doctrinaire policies and discipline, has maintained a fuzzy line between a pracharak and a political worker. So, persons like Khandelwal and his more illustrious predecessors, Sunder Singh Bhandari, K.N. Govindacharya and Kushabhau Thakre continued to be called pracharaks even after they were inducted into the BJP and plunged full-time into politics.

As the BJP tasted and savoured power, the pracharak’s image got burnished. There were also times when big reputations fell, implicated in scams and personal scandals, as the average swayamsevak and the party worker puzzled over what had happened to the leaders’ “commitment” to terms like morality, integrity and incorruptibility.

The pracharaks, however, continued to stay in their Spartan quarters at the BJP headquarters — single rooms with a cot, a couple of plastic chairs, a study table and a ceiling or pedestal fan — while ministers and MPs moved into sprawling bungalows and flew first class.

The pracharaks also shared a common bath and toilet and ate in a mess.

Those like Bhandari and Khandelwal, who became Rajya Sabha MPs, were granted the privilege of living in official houses. But it is said the RSS fought a “moral” battle with itself before letting them.

The “advantage” a BJP “pracharak” had over his colleagues was the moral authority that enabled him to hold his own against top leaders as Bhandari did.

Bhandari, whose death too had prompted a visit by the Prime Minister to the BJP office, was known to tell off L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee at internal meetings.

The BJP’s ups and downs with the RSS have seen fewer pracharaks in its midst. Especially since Sanjay Joshi was disgraced after a CD allegedly showed him making out with a woman. The RSS quickly distanced itself from Joshi.

Ram Lal is the only pracharak left after Khandelwal. Nobody knows how long he will last in the BJP.