HOW dare he say that and that too two years ahead of the assembly elections?” fumed a senior RSS leader when a journalist told him about Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s assurance to industrialists from across the globe in the concluding session of the two-day Global Investors Summit (GIS) that concluded on October 23 in Indore.
Announcing that the next GIS would be held in February 2019 in Indore, Chief Minister Chouhan assured the delegates that he would preside over the next investors’ meet too. This implies that Chouhan has not only anointed himself the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for the Madhya Pradesh assembly election due in November/ December 2018, but is also confident of leading the party to victory a record fourth time in a row.
Chouhan’s cockiness in front of the GIS delegates has surprised BJP and RSS leaders in the State. They are wondering whether the Chief Minister, when he made a rather premature claim of remaining on the post after the 2018 polls, was oblivious of the fact that the BJP has marched well past the Advani era when Chouhan would have had his way as a pampered child of the marginalised party patriarch. The RSS leader, who fumed over the Chief Minister’s remark, is reported to have conveyed his displeasure to the BJP high command. The leader is close to BJP president Amit Shah and a known detractor of the Chief Minister. Shah is understood to be suspicious of Chouhan’s ambitions, especially after the BJP president got negative feedback about allegedly corrupt bureaucracy in Madhya Pradesh from the RSS and BJP legislators during the two-day coordination meeting between the Sangh and its political arm at Bhopal in the last week of August. Therefore, speculation is rife about the fallout of Chouhan’s subtle challenge to the party high command’s authority by advance jockeying to stay as Chief Minister. While the BJP high command might not be in a hurry to upset party-government equilibrium in Madhya Pradesh, given its focus on the UP assembly elections for now, the RSS has already accelerated its backseat driving of the Shivraj government.
In RSS circles, the Chief Minister’s proclamation is viewed as the latest and surest sign that he would rather like to be like Narendra Modi of Gujarat than Manohar Lal Khattar of Haryana. Much as the RSS may adore Modi, the organisation is painfully aware of its complete marginalisation in Gujarat when the incumbent Prime Minister headed the State for 12 years. In contrast, feels the RSS, the hardcore pracharak at the helm of Haryana affairs provides a model State of its vision. RSS leaders point out how their men hired from across the country are manning the Haryana Chief Minister’s office.
Talks with a number of senior RSS leaders elicited an interesting vision of governance that the parent of the saffron family cherishes for Madhya Pradesh. The vision, first and foremost, pre-supposes complete saffron dominance of the bureaucracy. The leaders are convinced that unless the bureaucracy, particularly at the lower rung, is made to dance to the tune of saffron cadres, the officers will remain Chief Minister-centric. This was precisely what the state of affairs was when Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister and situation in Madhya Pradesh is no different, they point out.
“The perils of Chief Minister-centric bureaucracy are all too obvious in Gujarat where bureaucrats have become autocrats after a strong Chief Minister like Modi is no longer around to shepherd them into unquestioning submission,” remarked a RSS leader.
IN the RSS assessment, the BJP’s control in Gujarat has got weakened considerably because the bureaucrats in the State had been for over a decade acculturated to take order from one individual while RSS cadres were kept at bay. The organisation doesn’t want that to happen in Madhya Pradesh, a State that the RSS dreads losing in the coming assembly election to the Congress if Chouhan doesn’t change his style of functioning. In their scheme of things, a system must be put in place that owes allegiance to the Sangh, regardless of who is the Chief Minister.
So, what changes does the RSS want in the Chief Minister’s style of functioning? “Not much,” avers a senior Sangh official, who often coordinates between the BJP and the organisation. “All we want is that bureaucrats and police officials in the field become more deferential to local RSS cadres so that both share an equal sense of belonging to the BJP government, something like what used to be the case in West Bengal where the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPM) ruled for 34 years on the strength of coordination between communist cadres and grassroots bureaucracy,” he explained.
The RSS’s overt and covert attempts to demand respect from the bureaucracy have brought it into conflict with the BJP government many a time, especially during communal strife in the State. But a shrewd politician that he is, Chouhan managed to outwit the Sangh without hurting government officials.
However, the recent incident of alleged custodial torture of a RSS district pracharak has landed the State government in an acutely unenviable situation. On one hand, the government has failed to placate the RSS and, on the other, the police force is feeling demoralised.
The force is demoralised owing to the Chouhan government’s unprecedentedly harsh action against a dozen police personnel—from the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to constables—posted in a police station over alleged custodial torture of the district RSS pracharak of Balaghat, 300 km south-west of Bhopal.
UNDER RSS pressure, the State’s Home Minister, Bhupendra Singh, asked the Balaghat police to register FIRs against Additional SP Rajesh Sharma, Baihar station in-charge Zia-ul-Haque, sub-inspector Anil Ajmeria, assistant sub-inspector Suresh Vijaywar, and constables Abhay Singh, Dharmendra Tembhre and Kunjbihari Sharma, under IPC Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 392 (robbery), 147 (rioting), 323 (causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation), 294 (obscene acts) and 452 (house trespass).
The RSS pracharak, Suresh Yadav, was allegedly thrashed by a police team in Baihar police station of Balaghat district on September 25 for circulating a highly offensive post against Islam on the social networking site Whatsapp. The post particularly targeted All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP, Asaduddin Owaisi.
Yadav’s arrest followed registration of an FIR under Section 295 of IPC (outraging religious sentiments) over a complaint by some Muslim youth.
Taking up cudgels on the behalf of the punished police personnel, Democratic Lawyers forum filed a PIL in the MP High Court, seeking revocation of the government action against the officers and a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the entire incident of alleged custodial torture. Congress Rajya Sabha member and noted Supreme Court lawyer, Vivek Tankha, is fighting the case.
Responding to the PIL, a division bench, comprising acting Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Anjuli Palo, issued notices to the MP government through the Home Secretary, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the CBI, State DGP and Balaghat SP.
According to BJP sources, the Chouhan government is edgy over the court’s possible adverse verdict on the PIL. It has reason to fear, feel senior police officials. “The Chief Minister’s abject surrender to the RSS pressure has not only demoralised the police force, but has also set a horrible precedent,” says an Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) in the police headquarters, requesting anonymity.
A section of the police force has vented its frustration over the government action in the social media through oblique and sarcastic references to RSS influence over the government. A mock IPC also came up in wide circulation in the social media, suggesting how and why RSS cadres must not be touched, howsoever heinous their crimes.
The incident has given the opposition Congress party a potent issue to portray the government as a “stooge of the RSS” ahead of the Shahdol parliamentary election due on November 19.
The incident may have, at the most, compelled the State’s Home Minister to transfer or suspend the policemen involved in the alleged bashing. But, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya’s tweet, deploring ‘unpardonable act’ of beating a RSS man fuelled the row.
Coming as it did a day ahead of the BJP state executive meeting in Gwalior, the Baihar incident dominated the proceedings. Many more BJP leaders considered to be the Chief Minister’s detractors in the party—such as Lok Sabha member Prahlad Patel, his younger brother and MLA Jalam Singh and another MLA Sanjay Sharma—voiced support for Vijayvargiya’s tweet. They even demanded the resignation of agriculture minister Gaurishankar Bisen, who hails from Balaghat. The discord in the ruling party over the issue prompted the RSS to exert more pressure on the government.
As a result of RSS pressure, the State Home Minister announced suspension of “guilty” police officers in the BJP meet itself. This apparently did not satisfy the RSS. So, Singh, with his cabinet colleague Bisen, visited the pracharak at the Jamdar hospital in Jabalpur the next day. Here, the ministers not only endorsed the RSS accusation of police brutality but also announced that henceforth police officials across the State would be asked to keep meeting RSS cadres in their respective jurisdiction so that such incidents do not recur.
“The government has decided to sensitise every police station about RSS leaders and workers in their area and how to deal politely with them,” said State Congress president Arun Yadav, adding, “This is a dangerous sign for democracy”.
THE Home Minister also announced that 9 police personnel will be booked for attempt to murder, rioting and robbery. Even this punishment was not deemed enough by the RSS. Its two influential leaders in the state, BJP organisation general secretary Suhas Bhagat and regional head Arun Jain, called on the Chief Minister to act tougher. On October 2, the holiday on account of Gandhi Jayanti, the Chief Minister removed the IGP and the SP.
The RSS is still not satisfied as the ‘accused’ have gone underground. On October 20, two RSS volunteers of the organisation’s media cell in a press conference accused the State government of deliberately not arresting the policemen. They also charged the media with distorting the facts about the incident and siding with the police.
The Baihar incident presents a sharp contrast to similar incidents in which the alleged abusers of social media have been severely punished. Two months ago, the Bhopal Police had arrested a bookshop owner for allegedly selling Nai Duniya—an Urdu weekly—that had published the photograph of a local Bajrang Dal leader. Bajrang Dal activists had lodged a complaint accusing the magazine seller of inciting hatred among communities. In July, the police in Betul district had arrested two men in connection with a communally sensitive message that was shared on a Whatsapp. In another instance, the Bhopal Police had booked two men under the National Security Act after arresting them from Mumbai. They had reportedly posted obscene images of deities on Facebook. In all these incidents, the accused were Muslims whereas in the Baihar case, the accused is a RSS volunteer.
In the recent communal clashes in Gandhwani town of Dhar district and Petlawad town of Jhabua district during the Dussehra processions, the RSS prevailed over the government to shift the “guilty” police officers. The home department rode roughshod on the punished officers’ pleas that they merely did their duty to book the mischief mongers, mostly RSS workers.
THESE instances of RSS pressure on the government are not isolated. They are, in fact, a more strident manifestation of the Sangh’s attempt to prevail over the government machinery, allege senior police officers while pleading anonymity.
Delicate as it is, the RSS-Chouhan government equation is viewed from diametrically opposite angles. While the RSS maintains it must further tighten its grip over the government to prevent it from going astray, bureaucrats and neutral observers feel the Chief Minister is to be blamed squarely for allowing an extra-constitutional entity to emerge as a Frankenstein monster posing a grave danger to his government.
A senior BJP leader and former minister, who is unhappy with RSS’ seemingly insatiable hunger for power without responsibility, says the Chief Minister whetted Sangh’s appetite. Chouhan unquestioningly yielded to the RSS diktats in transforming the academics, cultural and non-government organisations into saffron bastions in the State. Also, many RSS men were facilitated to occupy important posts in constitutional bodies like Information Commission and even Lokayukta. Senior Sangh leaders were given free rein to splurge government money in organising mega events, including the `5000-crore Simhastha 2016 and the World Hindi Conference in Bhopal. There is hardly a public sphere left in Madhya Pradesh without an indelible RSS imprint.
The BJP government’s resources came handy for the Sangh to gain this enviable position in the State. “Having thus tasted power, the Sangh’s ambitions soared. If the Chief Minister thought that he could insulate the bureaucracy from the RSS influence by humouring its top and middle rung leaders, he was sorely mistaken,” says a senior IAS officer.
The present uneasy equation between the RSS and BJP government is primarily due to pressure from lower rung RSS cadres in small towns. “They feel cheated as their more resourceful seniors have walked away with prized postings and privileges that the government bestowed on the RSS with gay abandon,” the officer opines. The RSS, on the other hand, blames the Chief Minister’s over-reliance on bureaucracy for deficit of trust in the government.
According to a senior RSS leader, the Sangh had been sending out warning signals to the government ever since the Modi era dawned in the BJP three years ago. Before that, the RSS desisted from meddling into the Chouhan government’s affairs beyond a point because the Chief Minister enjoyed an unstinted support of the then super BJP boss, LK Advani.
Soon after Modi was anointed PM candidate, the RSS decided to tighten the grip in MP. Union Minister Ananth Kumar, who enjoyed tremendous rapport with Chouhan, was replaced by Vinay Sahastrabuddhe as Madhya Pradesh in-charge. Besides, Anil Madhav Dave, another RSS pracharak and now Union environment minister, was tasked with overseeing the MP government. The changes had positive effect from the RSS point of view. But, these leaders were largely unapproachable to the lower rung of RSS cadres. Therefore, senior leaders had little clue to what Sangh volunteers at town and district levels expected from the bureaucracy. Their problems were supposed to be addressed by the State BJP organisation secretary, Arvind Menon. However, Menon was so much under the Chief Minister’s spell that he chose to create his own network in the party and government rather than solving issues of RSS cadres.
As complaints continued to pile against him of financial misdemeanours and moral turpitude, the RSS replaced Menon with Suhas Bhagat in April. Under Bhagat’s down-to-earth stewardship, RSS cadres began to feel invigorated. He consciously shunned media and stayed away from the charm offensive of the Chief Minister. He didn’t mind clashing with the government for cadres’ causes. No wonder then, the strain between the bureaucracy and the RSS has become unmistakably pronounced after he took over.
BHAGAT played a major role in organising the two-day coordination committee meet between the MP BJP and RSS in Bhopal in August. The marathon meeting was attended by RSS Sarkaryavah Bhaiyaji Joshi, Sah-Sarkaryavah Krishna Gopal, national General Secretary of BJP Ramlal, the Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues, State BJP chief Nandkumar Singh Chouhan, State BJP office bearers and MPs.
Almost all the participants in the meeting accused the State’s bureaucracy of getting out of control. Bureaucrats don’t deny that corruption is indeed rampant in this government. But, they say, the RSS’s sanctimonious calls for helping curb corruption is nothing but hypocrisy. The RSS cadres’ hue and cry over corruption is a ploy to make them stakeholders in the booty at local levels, bureaucrats say.
They fear more strains in the fraught relations between the RSS and the Chouhan government unless the Chief Minister acts tough against corrupt bureaucrats as well as greedy RSS cadres with fairness and equal determination.