BJP to start process to elect next chief; choice may have RSS imprint

The change in the national president will also lead to a change of guard in States

Updated - June 12, 2024 12:21 am IST

Published - June 11, 2024 09:40 pm IST - New Delhi

A decorated structure in the shape of BJP symbol lotus at party headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay marg, New Delhi. File

A decorated structure in the shape of BJP symbol lotus at party headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay marg, New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The formation of the government and distribution of portfolios may have had the imprint of the BJP’s national leadership, but RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on Monday — on the “undignified” nature of the Lok Sabha campaign, of humility being the ideal characteristic of a sevak or public servant, and his demand that peace be restored in Manipur soon — hint that the election of the next BJP president will be within the close embrace of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The induction of current BJP president J.P. Nadda into the Union Cabinet, allied to the fact that his term at the helm of the party was only till the end of June, had already pointed to a change in leadership soon. Mr. Bhagwat’s remarks and the nature of the mandate that the BJP got, 32 seats short of a majority, indicate the likelihood of a churn within the Sangh Parivar with regard to the BJP’s leadership.

At a function to mark the end of a training period for RSS swayamsevaks, Mr. Bhagwat had said, “A true sevak maintains decorum while working... The one who maintains decorum does his work, but remains unattached. There is no arrogance that I did this. Only such a person has the right to be called a sevak,” he said, in an oblique response to the 2024 Lok Sabha mandate being seen as one that calls for greater humility in the BJP that had got a 303-seat majority in 2019.

The remarks that peace must be restored in Manipur was again directed at the Modi government’s inability to control ethnic violence in the State. Both Lok Sabha seats in Manipur changed hands and went to the Congress this time.

There could be many reasons for waters being muddied between the BJP and RSS recently, but Mr. Nadda’s comment that the BJP “runs itself” now compared to previously when the umblical cord between the BJP and RSS was stronger, was seen as encapsulating the main reason. “The BJP is the political wing of the RSS, the RSS is not the silent partner in the equation,” said a senior RSS source.

Many lower level RSS swayamsevaks were disheartened by Mr. Nadda’s remarks, saying that while Mr. Nadda may not have phrased it in a politically correct manner, his “mindset” and that of the current BJP was clear to see. In Maharashtra especially, this alienation between the BJP and the RSS cadre was noticeable, with not many turning up for campaigning, specifically in seats where the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was contesting the polls. “Old resentments against the NCP could not be overcome by this late-hour alliance in Maharashtra,” said a source.

Sources in the party said that a membership drive, the first step to the election process of the new president will be started soon, after which district, state and national level polls will be undertaken. After 50% of State units complete their polls, a national president can be chosen. All of this may stretch to September.

The candidate this time, most agree, will not be one wholly chosen by the current national leadership, but will have to be a considered choice of both the BJP and the RSS. A new president of the BJP will also mean new office-bearers and possibly a new general secretary (organisation), a key post in the party organisation, who is always “lent” to the BJP from the RSS directly. Unwritten rules say that the general secretary (organisation) cannot remain for more than two terms, and B.L. Santhosh, the incumbent has completed two terms.

Sources say that Mr. Nadda may be retained as a working president till the process of electing a new president is complete, or someone else could be appointed to that position, in addition to Mr. Nadda.

The change in the national president will also lead to a change of guard in States. The overhaul there too will be influenced by the mothership of the Sangh Parivar, to ensure that the flock does not stray too far.

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