RSS’ window to the world

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Ram Madhav’s inclusion in the BJP is to blunt Arun  Jaitley’s clout, smoothen relations with the rss, and use  his diplomatic and academic contacts.

By Bhavdeep Kang

From time to time, the RSS deputes those it deems its best and brightest to its political arm. Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Nanaji Deshmukh, Lal Krishna Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, KN Govindacharya and Sanjay Joshi come to mind. In keeping with this hallowed tradition of generational change, Ram Madhav—the best-known face of the RSS—has been sent forth to serve the BJP. The rumor is that he will be appointed as one of party’s general secretaries; he may eventually become its organising secretary. 

Representing the convergence of NDA government, the BJP and the RSS, he occupies a unique niche in the “sanghiverse”. While he is generally regarded as being “Narendra Modi’s man” and enjoys his confidence, those who know him say Madhav is, first and last, an RSS man. With his boss and the newly-anointed BJP president, Amit Shah, a staunch Modi loyalist, he will serve to balance the BJP-RSS hegemony of the Arun Jaitley-Suresh Soni duo (Soni is number three in RSS).

Madhav was seen primarily as “the communicator”, responsible for transmitting the RSS view to the media and the world within its reach. Officially, the RSS did not have a spokesperson; the post of pravakta was created for him. The fact that RSS supremos, particularly the current sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat and his number two, sar karyavaha Suresh ‘Bhaiyyaji” Joshi, are given to cryptic off-the-cuff remarks open to diverse interpretations, compelled him to do damage control with the media.

He became spokesperson at a critical time for the BJP, when it had taken a battering after the Gujarat riots of 2002. His adroit handling of the media naturally raised hackles in an organization wedded to the concept of prasiddhi parimukta, which roughly translates into staying away from fame. Elements within the sangh questioned the necessity of a spokesperson and he responded by avoiding the limelight. This abnegation had a boomerang effect and the sangh decided to expand its interface with the media by drawing up a panel of spokespersons. De facto, Madhav remained the primary channel between the media and the RSS.

When Bhagwat told sangh workers (a month before polling for the 2014 general elections) to quit chanting “NaMo-NaMo”, journalists turned to Madhav for interpretation. Did this mean the RSS was miffed with Modi and not support him for prime minister? Nothing of the sort, said the imperturbable Madhav. Merely, the RSS wanted its workers to pro-actively highlight national issues, not cruise along on a personality wave.

Madhav is the proverbial iceberg, keeping nine-tenths of his persona—and activities—below the surface. Few people, even within the media, know he has been the liaison between the RSS and the NDA government ever since it took oath on May 26. Prior to that, he was instrumental in coordinating the sangh parivar’s crucial role in the 2014 poll campaign—a first for an organization that prides itself on staying away from politics.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled and unflappable 49-year-old’s most significant successes are unknown outside the parivar. A decade ago, he was given the job of establishing a connect between the RSS and the outside world. Today, his contacts with the international diplomatic community run wide and deep. No one in the RSS is as widely travelled and no one, other than the foreign secretary and a couple of veteran diplomats, can boast a more extensive network among diplomats. Some ambassadors are just a phone call away.

With his entry into the BJP, Madhav becomes a valuable resource for diplomats who had the foresight to cultivate, through him, a relationship with the RSS. Naturally, he is expected to play a role in foreign ministry appointments. He has also cultivated bureaucrats within the IAS and the IPS.

The RSS leader has established beach-heads in academic institutions worldwide, a slow and frustrating process, given the deep suspicion of “Hindu fundamentalism”. The fact that he is a voracious reader came in handy. It was to this end that he set up India Foundation, one of many RSS think-tanks, but certainly the most active. It has brought out numerous publications. Madhav’s own book, India and China: Uneasy Neighbours after Fifty Years of the War is a critique of India’s China policy during and after the Nehru years.

Madhav’s association with the sangh started early. As a bal swayamsevak, he acted as a courier during the Emergency, carrying messages to protestors who had gone underground. After the mandatory training at the Nagpur officers’ training camp (OTC), he became a full-time pracharak. Born and brought up in Andhra Pradesh, he was spotted by a senior BJP leader from the state, who mentioned his name to the powers that be. The turn of the century found Madhav at Keshav Kunj, the RSS headquarters in Delhi.
Early on, he realised the importance of IT as an outreach tool. Long before the social media became integral to everyday life, he was making the RSS website interactive, as director of its publications division. As a communications specialist, he could always be trusted to have the latest cellphone. His attire might be simple—Fabindia kurtas—but his phone, tablet and laptop are invariably high-end.

To be fair, Madhav’s success can be attributed in some measure to Bhagwat’s willingness to adapt to the challenges of a changing global scenario—perhaps the first sarsangh-chalak since Balasaheb Deoras to display that kind of flexibility. Having said that, Madhav took the ball and ran with it.

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