07 Oct 2017
Is the Bhagwat-Modi relationship facing stormy days ahead?
RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat, in his September 30 Vijayadashami address, had targeted PM Modi's economic policies in an understated manner.
Subsequently, on October 4, when Modi defended his economic policies at the Institute of Company Secretaries' celebrations by referring to senior BJP leaders' criticism, he tackled Bhagwat, albeit with subtlety.
As Bhagwat-Modi exchange barbs, has the relationship hit a rough patch?
Modi's relationship with RSS was not always cozy
Modi began as an RSS pracharak in 1974 and was soon a favorite among his seniors who pushed him into electoral politics in 1987.
He rose to become Gujarat CM in 2001. But, the relationship hit troubled waters as RSS tried to control him through BJP's organizing state secretary, Sanjay Joshi.
Both leaders were highly ambitious, and Modi used his clout to sideline Joshi.
However, RSS backed Modi for prime-ministership in 2014
During 2002 Gujarat riots phase, RSS supported Modi but he faced dissent within the party.
RSS, which had witnessed BJP's 2009 electoral defeat under candidate Advani, didn't want to take chances and decided to back Modi for 2014's prime-ministership.
He was popular and was one of the few having administrative acumen, who could further RSS' Hindutva agenda of Ram Mandir construction, cow protection etc.
Communication between RSS-BJP has improved compared with Vajpayee-Sudershan era
RSS-BJP relationship was fraught during PM Vajpayee and RSS chief Sudershan's period as Vajpayee pushed for autonomy and took a moderate Hindutva stand.
Comparatively, BJP leader Ram Madhav asserted that communication is better now as formal and informal mechanisms are at work.
Example is One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue, where RSS' gentle nudge led to government announcing an OROP settlement within 48 hours.
But, after Modi became PM, there have been disagreements
After Modi's ascension as PM, Modi-Bhagwat differences have surfaced.
Regarding cow vigilantism, Modi lashed out at "so-called gau rakshaks" being involved in anti-social activities. Bhagwat resented Modi for terming all cow protectors anti-social.
In addition, during 2015 Bihar elections, Bhagwat suggested a committee to decide who needs reservation and for how long. This, many believed, affected BJP's Dalit/OBC voter base, whom they had wooed.
Bhagwat for president
Relationship's instability was signified by Bhagwat's name for presidentship
Further, Mohan Bhagwat's name was floated for India's presidentship.
If Bhagwat was to become President, RSS' current joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, recently appointed on Modi's recommendation, was tipped to become Bhagwat's successor.
This could've resulted in Modi dominating the "parent organization" as RSS restraints would've loosened, and along with a diminished opposition, Modi's impediments would've reduced.
At Vijayadashami celebrations, Bhagwat pulls up Modi for economic policies
The latest tiff began when during his Vijayadashami speech, though Bhagwat highlighted demonetization's and GST's importance, he had expressed concerns over its impact on SMEs, small traders and businessmen, i.e. RSS/BJP's core support base.
He also expressed disapproval of Modi's economic advisors, such as members of the NITI Ayog, who he claimed were stuck in "economicisms'" and were unaware about "ground reality."
Taking the cue, Modi immediately prepared for damage control
Following Bhagwat's warning, Modi responded immediately.
He promised to examine MSME's hardships and reached out to the middle class by demonstrating that they are doing better economically than under earlier governments.
However, he snubbed criticism towards his economic advisors claiming that reforms were important and had led to attracting more FDI in his three years than all earlier governments combined.
What does this latest disagreement signify?
Though there have been disagreements before, this is the first time that Modi and Bhagwat have gone public.
Bhagwat, who believes political power is essential for establishing a "Hindu rashtra," and Modi, who acknowledges importance of RSS for 2019 LS elections win, may push this disagreement under the carpet.
However, Modi will need to address the economic decline to iron out the creases.