Sangh’s Narendra Modi Problem
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

Given the intentional inscrutability and deliberate obfuscation that the Sangh tends to practice in its communication, it will never go on record admitting that it has a Narendra Modi problem. And this problem is quite serious given that it is bound to have an impact on its ideological trajectory and on the socio-structural fault lines within the larger Sangh.

Sangh vanguard, to put it charitably, practices a bit of sophistry when they claim that they do not meddle in the political affairs of BJP. I have observed Sangh for long, often with huge admiration at their exemplary record of social service and purposeful patriotism but also with consternation at their prejudiced pronouncements and regression in to some kind of a secretive, Marathi Brahmin brotherhood.

Denials notwithstanding, Sangh is facing a huge talent problem. Combined with intellectual atrophy it makes things worse. No transformational ideas seem to be emerging from their cloistered world. Of course, as one of my perceptive colleagues at CRI put it, Work-a-day Hindutva is as imperative and not necessarily inferior but striking the right balance holds the key. Victimhood narrative will yield diminishing returns with aspirational middle India.

It’s now clear that Sangh’ s best laid political plans, for its handpicked Nagpur boy Nitin Gadkari, is in complete shambles. If not for its Sangh’s petty provincial and parochial preferences, Gadkari would have not been persisted at cost of such huge perception loss to the party. Of course politics is not about combating perception fostered by Delhi establishment elite and media talking heads but let us be clear that Gadkari is no mass leader. For a brief while, while basking in glory of Delhi studio hopping, Gadkari might have been tempted to think he was one (Delhi does that to you). Neither is Gadkari a powerful regional satrap like Kalyan Singh or even a Yedyurappa. To the contrary he has been a source of endless embarrassment and so completely inconsequential in the BJP’s electoral scheme of things that he is not worth defending at cost of expending such enormous political energy. Instead of letting him go, what we witnessed was rather a sad spectacle of an erudite, highly respected, high-minded ideologue giving ‘clean chit’ to Gadkari, that too in a most unseemly manner. Innovative window dressing (social entrepreneur etc) cannot obscure the fact that Gadkari, is in mould of a typically brazen, resourceful Maharashtra politician- the types who leverage cross political connection to build a business empire and in the process indulge in wheeling dealing that is not entirely above board .

With Gadkari project imploding in ignominy, one would think that Sangh has no political options and will reconcile to the real-world realities. But it would be imprudent to underestimate the extent to which Sangh will go in not losing its control of BJP that it wrested after a hard fought, internal battle. Personally I think BJP is in for a tough challenge in Gujarat(but will manage) and if Modi flounders, even marginally, I expect Sangh vanguard to persevere with their charmed Nagpur boy. Sangh has invested huge in Gadkari project and will sustain it even if it means the electoral eclipse of BJP. After all in it’s typically fork tongued manner, Sangh can always claim that it’s not in the business of electoral politics.

But that does leave us with the larger question. It’s clear that Sangh bosses fear the rise of Narendra Modi. Apparently an unnamed Sangh insider was quoted as saying this on Modi “Shivling mein bichhu baitha hai. Na usko haath se utaar sakte ho, na usko joota maar sakte ho”. (I reconfirmed import of this from a Hindi knowing friend given my less than decent proficiency of this language). But why does Sangh fear the rise of Modi? After all isn’t Modi a model pracharak schooled in Sangh tradition? He stands as a testimony to what Sangh claims epitomize the qualities of a quintessential cadre in its rank (but they rarely tend to be)- sterling personal character, profound bottom up understanding of society, empathy with impoverished and marginalized, indefatigable energy, tremendous organizational ability, moral certitude and not amenable to lure of lucre.

Undeniable Brahminical fetish of the Sangh vanguard has been forwarded as an explanation for tension filled dynamics between Sangh and Modi , by both critics and as well as its well-wishers. But that I think is only a partial, inadequate explanation. Tension between Modi and Sangh is essentially rooted in Sangh’s inability to come in terms with meteoric rise of Modi and his remarkable transformation in to a mass leader based on a brand of unique leadership model so evocatively captured here by that fine political pundit Albatrossinfo.

Journey of Narendrabhai Modi, from an energetic, simple-minded, itinerant prachark (they who come their own set of prejudices and positives) in to a leader, who has managed to fashion a complete new grammar of governance, is simply the most inspiring political story of last decade. A lowly son of a tea vendor, from a poor backward caste household today remarkably stands tall as the man who many think and justifiably so, as the only one in the ruling class, with demonstrated ability to ideate and execute solutions on complex governance challenges.

Personally I am completely flummoxed on how Modi seems to be superbly in sync with modernist impulses but still can retain that native ruggedness. Modi has shown how one can embrace modern ideas, tools and idioms brilliantly without adopting its shallow external trappings which the parasitic, dynastic Delhi ruling elite mistakenly assume modernity to be.

Writing long back, I spoke about an ideological strand that I wished BJP should move towards.

“Metaphorically this strand is more comfortable with “laptop” rather than “lathi”. This strand as we see it is perfectly at ease with modernist impulses, maintaining a studied indifference on civilization/cultural issues though waiting to articulate it in an almost adversarial manner when they see a particular political context arising. Common characteristic among those who belong in this strand includes anti-caste orientation, near irreligiosity, liberal disposition and effusive sense of idealism

Once they assume political power what can be expected from those who subscribe to this strand is a benign authoritarianism style leadership with emphasis on qualities like impeccable personal integrity quotient and result oriented “de-ideologiesed” governance with help of handpicked set of efficient upright bureaucrats. “Managerial state” would be an ideal word to describe it

Among the important personalities one can be locate in this strand in BJP is Modi”

We predicted that yearning for such a leader will gain ground when a suitable political climate or inflexion point is reached. Instinctively we did sense a tacit longing for a strong leadership but country was conflicted on arriving at a shared understanding of who that leader is. Increasingly urbanizing India with a high aspiration quotient is now poised to embrace this stream as they see a clearly identified leader fitting in this mould.

Sangh unfortunately has not been clear on which ideological strand it wishes to promote within BJP. Currently it seems to be leaning towards the mercenary mercantilism variety. Some of Sangh functionaries see Narendrabhai as an ambitious upstart who needs to be reined it. Does it not occur to Sangh worthies that after Balasaheb Deoras and Govindacharya, Modi is one of those rare transformational thinker and a doer, who has emerged indigenously from Sangh ranks.

By unequivocally endorsing Modi and his brand of politics, Sangh has a unique opportunity to embrace modernity that it always feared and resented. Through Modi, Sangh has a historic chance to leave behind embarrassing aspects of its legacy which included advocating isolationism of mind, fostering fear of modernity and contempt for politics as an instrument of socio-political change.

Is Sangh up for this challenge? If you go by history, answer unfortunately is no.

(Image courtesy-