The coming of a new NaMo equation

Mohan Bhagwat’s attack was couched in generalities but if you read the RSS code right, the downsizing message was quite clear

 'Mo' of the new NaMo has redrawn boundaries. Will the NaMo of old pay heed? (photo: NH archives)
'Mo' of the new NaMo has redrawn boundaries. Will the NaMo of old pay heed? (photo: NH archives)

Purushottam Agrawal

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speech in Nagpur is probably the first dressing-down Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP colleagues have received from their parent organisation.

At the height of the election campaign, BJP president J.P. Nadda had confidently declared that the BJP was now capable of supporting itself, that it no longer need ed the Sangh as it once did when the party was smaller.

The slightly mutinous note didn’t go unnoticed. Nadda’s confidence obviously flowed from the unchallenged supremacy of his not-biological boss, who now sees himself as a divine messenger, an avatar and other such extra-terrestrial beings.

It was this hubris that Mohan Bhagwat chose to attack in his speech. Referring indi rectly to Modi’s self-description as ‘Pradhan Sevak’, the RSS chief said ahmkar (arrogance) and seva (service) do not go together. That nobody, especially those in positions of power and influence, must ever lose sight of maryada (the code of ethical conduct).

Bhagwat also sought to clear the miscon ception created by journalists sympathetic to the BJP that the Sangh had not been very active in the recent elections. His point was echoed in an article published in the Organiser, which noted that RSS workers had in fact conducted as many as 200,000 ‘public awakening meetings’. In other words, the RSS refuses to share any of the blame for the BJP’s electoral setback.

The reasons for the debacle, according to Bhagwat, are: ‘the misuse of social media to spread lies’, ‘treating the Opposition as the enemy’, ‘the deliberate creation of social tension and estrangement’… Bhagwat’s attack is couched in language that may seem a general critique directed at all players rather than specifically the BJP.

But such a reading of the ‘message’ is to misunderstand the nature of the ‘medium’ the RSS adopts to communicate.

In the RSS code, the ‘medium’ always con tains two distinct messages, one for the public at large and the other for RSS workers and sympathisers, who spontaneously reach its core.

In any case, the RSS cannot and does not expect to address other political parties with the authority of a family elder. The expression of its pleasure or displeasure is always direct ed at the BJP, whether it is a pat on the back or a tweak of the ear. Mohan Bhagwat’s recent speech was no exception.

Peace, he said, is a pre-condition of ‘vikas’ (development), no development can take place in an atmosphere of mistrust, aggression and violence. Indeed.

He mentioned Manipur, which has been “suffering violence for one year”. True again. He also underlined the need for an environment-friendly lifestyle and government policies. Who will disagree with these noble thoughts?

But why now? Why didn’t the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sarsanghchalak raise these red flags earlier? Manipur has been burning for a year; the anti-environment ‘development’ model has been in full throttle for some time; ahmkar has been in full play day in and day out, only to be met with a deafening silence from the minders of the Sangh parivar.

For the past ten years, India has been ruled by people groomed in RSS shakhas. Can the RSS deny that its swayamsevaks have occupied positions of power and influence in the ruling establishment?

What are the chances the RSS was in fact unhappy with the drift, chose to convey its disapproval privately, but had its concerns and advice ignored? Not very likely. Everyone in the parivar was quite invested in the NaMo magic, their confidence finding expression in slogans like ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’, ‘Aayega to Modi hi’ and so on.

In the pursuit of power, success is the most persuasive measure of morality.

Failure, by the same token, frays the morality of the method. Which is why Mohan Bhagwat has chosen to speak now. In effect, this is an admission that the NaMo magic is fading. Narendra Modi may have come back for a third term, but his powers are considerably curtailed and his ego proportionately downsized.

In these changed circumstances, the RSS is re-asserting itself. Bhagwat was not speaking extempore or even only for himself. He was expressing the considered view of the RSS, which will do its damnedest to prevent a slide in the power establishment. Bhagwat’s speech is RSS code for a new NaMo equation— where ‘Mo’ now is the Mohan of Bhagwat.

The RSS wants power not simply for privilege, but as the means to fulfil a well-defined agenda and vision of the future. It will allow leeway to Modi or anyone else only as long as this is instrumental in the grand design. For that very reason, it will do its best to undercut a cult of personality.

Bhagwat, however, gave the Modi cult a very long rope. From Balraj Madhok of the Jana Sangh back in the 1970s to Advani and Vajpayee in the more recent past, the RSS never allowed anyone to consider himself indispensable.

Madhok was shown the door for being publicly critical, even contemptuous of Vajpayee; Advani was cut to size for paying handsome tribute to Jinnah; and Vajpayee forced to accept that Modi continue as chief minister of Gujarat even after the 2002 riots in the state.

Under Bhagwat, by comparison, the RSS has been pliant to the point of being a mute witness, even complicit in the making of the cult of Modi.

Like any political party, the BJP too has sought to create an aura around its leading lights. It did it with Vajpayee, largely due to his acceptance among the party’s non-Hindutva allies.

But nothing came even close to the efforts the party has made to create and fan the cult of Modi. In this enterprise, it enlisted the support of big business and corporate media besides the RSS workforce, in both the real and virtual worlds.

The rewards seemed worth the singleminded focus on this cult, manifest most recently in the party’s decision to fight the 2024 election on the supposed trump card of ‘Modi ki guarantee’. Modi was at the centre of all the promotional blitz.

Modi was greenlighting every new project, was flagging off all new trains, was the only face of the government in world affairs. Modi was the party. Even senior leaders like Rajnath Singh were kept out of the frame, quite literally sometimes. And the RSS, under Bhagwat, never objected, not even mildly. Maybe because the RSS had also acquired a taste for the perks of power.

Mohan Bhagwat’s comments would have carried a lot more moral weight had he delivered a similar speech in the wake of the 2019 ver dict. The BJP campaign then was no less divisive or aggressive.

He would’ve been credible had he expressed concern over the violence in Manipur even once during the last one year. But this is an ethical point, while the RSS’s concerns have been essentially, even exclusively, political.

The RSS claims to be a non-political, cultural entity. The word ‘culture’ here connotes not just creative expression or performance but the attitudes, habits, thoughts and discourses suitable to a particular kind of power structure.

The larger RSS project is to guide culture in this sense towards the creation of a polit ical system in sync with its Orwellian vision. That is why the RSS has, through the many members of its Parivar, a foothold in practically every sphere of national life, a fact reiterated in Bhagwat’s address with understandable pride.

For the RSS too this is a moment of reckoning. It seems to have decided that the cult of Modi is now subject to the law of diminishing returns. Hence the new NaMo equation. On the other hand, the NaMo of old, he of the unbridled ahmkar, who has no patience for ideas like teamwork, is also known to be a great political survivor. We’ll have to wait and see who survives the battle of attrition — NaMO or his hyphenators.

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