Even though resentment exists in the RSS about Vajpayee's style of functioning, it was felt that criticising the government at an hour of crisis would mean helping the Congress and the communists. However, Sudershan sticks to his stand that "more competent" people should be inducted in the PMO. The RSS sarsanghchalak spoke to Rajesh Joshi.
You have categorically said that the officials in the PMO are not competent enough. Do you have some names in mind who could serve the PMO better?
We do not have any names. It's for the government to find out. What I mean to say is that ultimately, there are many things that a single man cannot handle. A single man handling two important things: foreign affairs as well as national security. Each of them require 16 to 18 hours of monitoring. So one man cannot handle them. It is for the government to decide. Brajesh Mishra is adept in handling foreign affairs because he has been in the field for long. Now, he has been given an additional charge. It's the prime minister's prerogative to choose his own team. But if two important matters are handled by a single man, will he will be able to do justice to both? Therefore some more competent persons should be inducted.
A parallel is being drawn between Sanjay Gandhi and Ranjan Bhattacharya. Do you agree with the parallel?
I don't want to compare at all. I do not know much about what Ranjan Bhattacharya is doing. So whether he is an extra constitutional authority or not I don't know. How can I compare him with Sanjay Gandhi?
The RSS has always been a votary of high moral values. Do you think the Tehelka expose of corruption in the NDA government has also adversely affected the image of the RSS. Isn't it a commentary on the dwindling moral authority of the RSS over the BJP and the prime minister?
The image of the RSS built by the sacrifices by our swayamsevaks over the last 75 years and it cannot be sullied by such political storms. Though it did engulf one of our swayamsevaks, we are satisfied that he has resigned the post and is ready for a judicial probe and wants to get his name cleared. As far as the moral authority is concerned, it does not mean that we can dictate to any of our sister organisations. They are all independent organisations and take their own decisions.
There is a growing perception that the RSS goes out of the way to justify or play down the wrongdoings of the Centre. Why should you play an apologist on behalf of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government?
There is no question of being apologists or play down the wrongdoings. We take an overall view of the national situation. As the story is slowly unfolding, there appears to be a well-considered conspiracy to destablise the present government.
Who do you think is responsible for this?
There are some vested interests. Maybe in the economic field -- in the stock market. Some political figures may also be involved.
Are you saying that the media is just a puppet?
I am not saying that. The controversy is being probed by the government. At the present juncture, to destabilise the government without an alternative in sight will be disastrous because the country is facing so many problems. There are many defects in the government; they can be pointed out. The government itself has come forward for a thorough discussion in Parliament and have a judicial probe into the allegations that have been levelled against it. Instead, the Opposition is this as an opportunity to indulge in street politics. That is not proper at this juncture.
It is said that the BJP has matured as a political party and it no longer needs the RSS or any other organisation for patronage?
We expect all our organisations to grow and act on their own. We don't expect that they should always come to us for guidence etc. It's only in the initial stages that we give them some logistic suport. And we don't consider ourselves to be experts on every field.
Have you ever thought about the RSS gradually distancing itself from the BJP, which has come under a cloud after the defence expose?
As far as the RSS constitution is concerned, we have given freedom to our swayamsewaks to join any political party provided it does not believe in violence and does not have any extra-territorial loyalty. But as things stand today, other political parties are not accepting our swayamsevaks unless they sever their links with the RSS, which our swayamsevaks, are not ready to do. Therefore, while earlier it was the Jana Sangh, now it is the BJP that’s left for swayamsevaks who want to opt for a political career. That’s why you find many of the swayamsevaks in the BJP today. But the BJP does not consist only of swayamsevaks, it’s a mass-based organisation.
Many people feel there is a subtle change in your attitude vis-a-vis the government. Initially the RSS slammed the government on the issue of Tehelka but now you are supporting them, as if on second thought...
(Laughs) There is no subtle change. When some pointed question was asked about Sanjay Gandhi and (Ranjan) Bhattacharya, I made only a general statement that as far as the resignation of the government is concerned, the government should not resign. So, if it is misreported and we correct it, you say we have changed our stand. That is wrong.
Don't you think that after all these incidents the authority of the sarsanghchalak has come down considerably? Even within the RSS?
I don't talk of the media, but I can tell you that we had our national meet here and we did not discuss the subject at all.
Were you criticised within the RSS?
Not at all. As we have so much of faith amongst ourselves, they believe that whatever is being done is in the right perspective and in the national interest. The swayamsevaks were a bit sorry that one of our swayamsevaks was engulfed in the (controversy). We know the limitations of the present government. I don't mean that the PM doesn't (listen). What I mean to say that in the present state of affairs, when he is running a coalition government, it may not be possible to follow all the suggestions that we give him from time to time. We understand his constraints also.
But the controversy was created when the PMO issued a statement criticising your stand.
That’s all right. What happened was that Doordarshan presented my statement in such a manner…. While I had made a general statement that there should be no extra-constitutional authority.
And you still stick to that?
Yes. Every decision should be taken by the cabinet. That’s what I said. The question itself mentioned Ranjan Bhattacharya’s name, somebody twisted it and said the RSS does not approve of it….
But, if Ranjan Bhattacharya does something objectionable, don’t you have the moral right…
That’s all right, but I don’t know what he is doing there. I only said he is the adopted son-in-law of the present PM. I don’t have any direct (introduction) with him. I can go and meet A.B. Vajpayee when it is required. He’s the kind to give an audience and we discuss if it’s needed. In the initial stages, I sometimes saw him (Ranjan) at meals, that’s all. Otherwise, I’ve no interaction with him.
Don’t you think you’ll now lose direct access to the PM’s house?
No never. Because Atal behari Vajpayee and we have been together for many years. He doesn’t have any wrong opinion about the RSS. So many people come to the prime minister, feed him with so many different sorts of news and opinions. But ultimately, the prime minister is intelligent enough to know what is right and what is wrong. He can never say that the RSS is wrong.
But sometimes you slam the government and at other times you appear to support it. Why this flop flop?
Aisa hai, koi policies is prakar ki hongi na !! If we say this particular policy is not good in the national interest that’s because we consider everything from the angle of national interest. We then write about it, speak about it and pass resolutions. Why do you take it as our criticism of the government. The government has a different perception and I have a different one. For example, when the government extended the ceasefire in Kashmir for three months, we had a different perception based on our feedback. Maybe the government was right because they had to take into account several things including the international situation. So, at times it may appear that there is a difference between the government and our thinking. Arre, ghar ke andar bhi kisi baat par do logon ke beech matbhed hita hai ki nahin? (Don’t two people in a family differ on some questions?)
By your own admission you prevailed upon prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to drop Jaswant Singh's name as finance minister. Do you think India's defence establishment will be safe in his hands?
We did not question the competence of Jaswant Singh. We had suggested that since he had lost the election, inducting him as a minister would have send a wrong signal. Therefore if he were to be allowed to work for the party for some time and then inducted and brought to the Rajya Sabha, it would be better.
You have decided to support the VHP on the construction of the Ram temple by March 2002. Don't you think that it will create fissures within the NDA partners and its fragmentation will ultimately benefit the Congress?
Because of the tremendous public support that the Ram temple movement generated, the then Congress government also had to bow to public opinion. Rajiv Gandhi agreed to earmark the place for shilanyas and commenced his election campaign from Ayodhya. When such strong sentiments are sought to be flouted either by political machinations or by creating legal hurdles, public anger can flair up. That's what happened on December 6, 1992. No political party can go against public sentiment.
Are you saying that NDA partners are not going to oppose the construction of the temple?
What they will do, I don't know. There is a strong public sentiment and even the Congress will not be able to go against it.
It is said that there is some kind of understanding between the government and the RSS on financial matters. The government is continuing with the economic reforms started by the Narasimha Rao government and there is virtually no resistance from either the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch or the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh?
The RSS does not have any understanding with the governemnt on economic matters. The pro-West, pro IMF-World Bank officers are still there in the government. Whenever you want to change track, you cannot do it all of a sudden. If you want to make an about turn, you can do it immediately. There are many people who feel that the Western model of development is good for the country.
How do you justify the SJM taking crores of rupees from the government against whose "wrong" policies it vows to launch mass movement?
The SJM does not take money from the government. It does not have a fund of its own. In swadeshi melas government departments put up their stalls. How do you think the SJM is going to meet the ends. They are not accepting any money from the government because once you accept the money from the government, you cannot do anything.
The main criticism of the RSS is that it doesn't take responsibility for any of its acts? Rather it unleashes its loose cannons to carry out its tirade against Muslims and Christians? What do you have to say?
We do not carry out a tirade against anybody. That's the way the RSS is sought to be painted by vested political interests. Had we been anti-somebody, we could not have grown to such extents, despite the propaganda that has been unleashed against us.
Do you still agree with M.S. Golwalkar's thesis that India has three enemies -- Muslims, Christians and the Communists?
He did not comment on the whole community. His observation was only on that section which acted against the interests of the country and was trying to instigate the Muslims.
A condensed form of the interview has appeared in the magazine issue dated 9 April 2001.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine