Former RSS Goa Chief Subhash Velingkar Can Create A Major Headache For The BJP

400 committee members at all levels have quit after the sacking of the state RSS chief.

01/09/2016 6:48 PM IST | Updated 01/09/2016 7:17 PM IST
Amit Dave / Reuters
RSS members exercise as they take part in an annual celebration in Ahmedabad, India, April 10, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave

The unprecedented revolt in the Goa unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has sent shock waves through the Sangh Parivar, which prides itself on being a disciplined organisation. For the first time in its history, the RSS has been hit with mass resignations after it sacked its Goa chief, Subhash Velingkar.

The toll is deadly. Some 400 committee members at all levels, from the shakha to the state, have quit, virtually shutting down the RSS in Goa. They have also threatened to float their own political party and contest next year's assembly polls with the sole aim of defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The upheaval in Goa is significant because a fault line that has been worrying the Sangh top brass for quite some time has finally ruptured. Swayamsevaks and pracharaks have crossed the rubicon with a public declaration of their political ambitions. The challenge for the RSS will be to contain and confine this politicisation to Goa and ensure that the virus doesn't spread to other state units whose members have occasionally shown an inclination to grow political wings.

The upheaval in Goa is significant because a fault line that has been worrying the Sangh top brass for quite some time has finally ruptured.

Leaders of the RSS and its affiliates have clashed with the BJP in the past, mostly in silent turf battles and behind-the-scenes tussles for perks and privileges. However, this is the first time that an RSS state chief and his office-bearers have thrown a political challenge at a BJP chief minister by vowing to fight him on his terrain. The move is being seen in the BJP as Velingkar's declaration of his desire to be CM, something no RSS leader has ever stated or hinted at. It opens up a new problem for the RSS, which has always tried to keep its swayamsevaks and pracharaks insulated from what it regards as the corrupting influence of electoral politics.

The interplay between the RSS and BJP is carefully calibrated with the Sangh releasing chosen numbers from its cadre to its political wing from time to time. Narendra Modi, for instance, was a full-time pracharak till he was deputed to join the BJP in 1987. He was part of a host of RSS workers who were sent to the BJP in the mid-1980s as part of an exercise to infuse new blood into the party and to impart ideological direction with Hindutva as the defining creed. RSS cadre also fans out in large numbers to help the BJP at election time but always returns to the barracks once the polls are over.

The decision of the Goa RSS unit to break free from this tightly controlled discipline is highly unusual and reflects the changing nature of the Sangh's cadre. Velingkar is no spring chicken. He is a venerable 68 years of age and has been with the RSS for 55 years, from the time he was 13. He has headed the Goa unit for 20 years and claims to have mentored both former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar and the present one, Laxmikant Parsekar.

Velingkar is no spring chicken. He is a venerable 68 years of age and has been with the RSS for 55 years, from the time he was 13.

His quarrel with the Parrikar-led BJP on the issue of language has been building for a long time. He wanted the BJP government to stop giving grants to English-medium school run by the Catholic Church. This is something Parrikar refused to do, having won Goa for the BJP after striking an understanding with the Catholics who voted for the saffron party for the first time. Parsekar simply carried on with Parrikar's policy, which irked Velingkar.

Although the tussle has been on for a long time, few thought a disciplined sanghi like Velingkar would rebel openly. But he did, much to the surprise of saffron circles. So what prompted a dedicated and disciplined soldier like Velingkar to jump into the murky waters of electoral politics?

The ideological war over language is the ostensible reason. But Velingkar's revolt could also be a pointer to a shift in the mindset of RSS leaders, now that the BJP has become a dominant political force and is in power in so many states. The ego tussle between the ideological mentor and its political wing is evident in the kind of remarks Goa RSS leaders have made after Velingkar was sacked from his post.

Senior leader Ratnakar Lele was quoted as saying that the BJP cannot dictate terms to the Sangh as the RSS is the parent body. This was a reference to the fact that Velingkar was sacked after BJP president read the riot act to the top brass in Nagpur. He is believed to have told them that the BJP cannot win in Goa under the current crop of RSS state leaders. This happened soon after Velingkar and other RSS workers waved black flags at Amit Shah during his Goa visit.

With Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) throwing up a strong challenge to the BJP in Goa, saffron leaders are deeply worried about the aftershocks of Velingkar's revolt. The former RSS Goa chief can certainly create problems for the BJP by cutting votes. With the Congress still to awaken from the slumber induced by the 2014 defeat, it looks like advantage AAP at the moment.

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