Mohan Bhagwat: "Most powerful outsider in Indian politics"
Mohan Bhagwat, RSS supremo and sarsanghchalak (head), turns 67 today. Bhagwat was an unknown face until the then RSS Chief KC Sudarshan appointed him his successor in 2009. Bhagwat acquired the party's reigns when BJP-RSS relations were unravelling after the 2004 elections, considering controversies around LK Advani, Pramod Mahajan's death and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's retirement. Read on to know about Bhagwat's eventful journey.
Mohan Bhagwat's formative years
Bhagwat was born in 1950 in Sangli, Maharashtra in a Brahmin family closely tied to the RSS. After his grandfather Nanasaheb and father Madhukarrao, Mohan is the family's third generation to hold an authoritarian post in RSS. Bhagwat, known to enjoy theatre and poetry, studied veterinary sciences at Akola and worked as a veterinary officer for some time, before becoming a full-time RSS pracharak.
From sarkaryawah to sarsanghchalak
After becoming a pracharak, he served at Vidarbha and Bihar. He rose through ranks and in 2000, became the sarkaryawah (general secretary). In 2004, after BJP lost elections, RSS' ties to the saffron party were affected: it was worried BJP leaders' lavish lifestyles would corrupt swayamsevaks. In 2009, as Sudarshan battled ill-health, RSS underwent a generational shift and made Bhagwat a sarsanghchalak at 59.
Bhagwat takes on the reigns of the Sangh Parivar
After becoming sarsanghchalak, the first task he set for himself was repairing damaged relations with the BJP. Bhagwat, known for his accessible and amiable nature, tried to understand the BJP's moderate Hinduism tone. Through informal dialogue with the BJP leadership, he strengthened the organization by sending RSS contingents at various levels. For the 2014 elections, Bhagwat rallied the entire Sangh Parivar behind Modi.
Is Bhagwat Modi's man, or is Modi Bhagwat's man?
As per a Hindu report, though "many think Mr. Bhagwat is Modi's man but it's the other way around." Bhagwat has evidently supported Modi's rise in the BJP. Though Modi is a good organizer, he ruffled feathers due to his strong ideological views. Bhagwat was reportedly not concerned. Bhagwat might've been attracted to Modi because Modi has never challenged the Sangh's fundamental ideology.
What changes has Bhagwat made in the Sangh Parivar?
Bhagwat brought about several changes once he assumed power. He's responsible for fixing the age limit for holding office at 75. Advani was made aware of this in 2009 and after his defeat, he was told to take the role of a mentor. Bhagwat ensured the Sangh adapted to the times. He changed shorts to trousers, ensured flexible timings and encouraged social media use.
Bhagwat has also made headlines for his controversial statements
Mohan Bhagwat has frequently courted controversy because of his statements. Following the brutal Nirbhaya gang-rape in 2013, Bhagwat commented that rapes are an urban phenomenon and an influence of western culture. In February this year, Bhagwat claimed that anyone born in India is a Hindu. So, though Muslims perform prayers in a different manner, they are Hindus "by nationality."
What might Bhagwat aim for in the future?
With eight years left for retirement, Bhagwat might look at fulfilling RSS goals of ensuring construction of Ayodhya's Ram temple and revocation of Article 370 giving special status to J&K, among other goals. If the RSS aims to warm up to backward classes, it might have to let go of its communal image. This is a tough task that Bhagwat faces.