New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the rest of the Sangh Parivar have never liked Narendra Modi. The Sangh Parivar does not approve of individualism and Modi is individualistic. This is not a trait peculiar to the Sangh. It equally applies to dynastic and Communist parties like the Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India - Marxist. This hatred for individualism is a national trait. India does not appreciate individuals.

Narendra Modi’s problem with the Sangh Parivar began in Gujarat. When he became chief minister, it expected to rule the roost. His administrative inexperience played into its hands after the Godhra carnage. In subsequent retaliation, he cut Sangh organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, and even the Gujarat chapter of the RSS, to size. He did not prevent their investigation for the 2002 riots. Praveen Togadia lost his footing in the state and has never forgiven Modi.

What Modi could do in the state apropos the Sangh is not easy to replicate at the Centre. For one, law and order is a state subject. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has some control over Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states, his government can only send advisories to other provinces. In Parliament, M. Venkaiah Naidu exhorted states to take action against conversion and re-conversation. Coming from a Union cabinet minister, that is as good as an advisory. The prime ministry would be lowered if such direction comes from Modi himself. The cabinet speaks for him and he for the cabinet. This should be clear to anyone who is objective about the Westminster system.

But that is only the political-constitutional side of the issue. There are other aspects to consider. At the heart lie BJP-RSS relations and Narendra Modi’s equation with Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief. The RSS chief is usually on a higher political plane than a BJP leader, even if he happens to be the prime minister. This situation obtained with A. B. Vajpayee too till Rajinder Singh was the RSS chief. His successor, K. Sudarshan, was junior to Vajpayee in the Sangh hierarchy, and not highly rated by Nagpur. It, therefore, took no time for Vajpayee to put him in place.

This is not the case between Modi and Bhagwat. Bhagwat is not highly thought of in Sangh circles. He is parochial to the extent that he cannot see a Chitpavan, Nitin Gadkari, sidelined in any manner. He was not in favour of Modi but conceded to the cadres. After Vajpayee, nobody in the RSS wants a prime minister who can defy it. Narendra Modi has a history of defiance. The RSS is also scared of Modi’s growing cult of personality.

There is another factor which has drawn minimal attention. In the Sangh, there are several leaders who have gone their own ways. While not actively militating against the RSS, they have still established their separate identity. Nanaji Deshmukh was one; Eknath Ranade is another. An admirer of Swami Vivekananda, Ranade solely guided the construction of the Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari. He brought the entire political establishment into the project, believing that Vivekananda was above politics. The Sangh cannot claim proprietorship over the memorial.

Eknath Ranade was Modi’s guru, and he learnt his politics at his feet. He recently once again acknowledged Ranade’s role in moulding him. Extrapolating from there, one can say Modi is not mainline RSS. That explains how he virtually outlawed the Sangh in Gujarat. This writer has heard hardcore Sangh politicians from Gujarat abuse him. Only recently, he turned away a Sangh delegation seeking government largesse, saying he was accountable for every “naya paisa” of spending to the public.

Commentators who paint Narendra Modi with the Sangh broad brush reveal their ignorance and superficiality. Modi is far deeper than anyone can imagine. He is non-sectarian and his administration of Gujarat is proof of it. But he has a problem all the same. The RSS does not want him to become another Vajpayee who grows bigger than the Sangh. Modi’s popularity also causes heartburn. Before Modi, the BJP needed the RSS to win. Now the BJP cannot win without Modi. The RSS is growing irrelevant as an electoral force. The RSS cannot have this. Beyond a point, it would threaten Mohan Bhagwat’s position. Nagpur will dump him if he is not useful to RSS growth.

Before the larger world rushes to conclusion that the foregoing is based on special briefing, it is not the case. This writer has met no one in government or the party to gain this understanding; but it is there, as clear and biting as the Delhi cold, for anyone to perceive and record. It is likely that Prime Minister Modi has this same understanding; it is likelier that he is reasonably clear how to control the hotheads who are rampaging through the country damaging his agenda of growth and prosperity. But time is not on his side. He has suffered once.

Otto von Bismarck single-mindedly made Imperial Germany into a great power. He turned political pragmatism into a fine art, making and breaking alliances when it suited his aims for Germany. His greatest weapon with a suspicious imperial court was his threats to resign to have his way. There is much Prime Minister Modi can learn from history, especially as he has made himself indispensible to India’s rise as the “Iron Chancellor” became to Germany in the late 19th century.

Editor’s Note: Here’s wishing all our readers a Happy New Year.