It looks like the RSS has finally decided to come out of the closet. For the first time, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat held a breakfast meeting with foreign diplomats posted in New Delhi. It was organised by the rightwing think tank, India Foundation, started by RSS ideologue Ram Madhav and Shaurya Doval, son of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
Interestingly, the event was called a breakfast briefing. Apparently, ambassadors and senior diplomats from around 50 countries attended the session, which began with a welcome address by minister of state for civil aviation and India Foundation director, Jayant Sinha, then a speech by Bhagwat and finally, a question-answer session with the RSS chief. Among the points Bhagwat stressed was that the RSS does not control the BJP and vice versa. Both function autonomously of each other but have regular consultations on key issues. While Bhagwat has been meeting foreign ambassadors and visiting dignitaries off and on, this was his first formal structured interaction with the diplomatic community based in New Delhi.
It would seem that the RSS is keen to clarify misconceptions about the organisation and its relationship with the BJP and the Modi government. The interaction comes in the wake of negative reports and commentaries in the foreign media about RSS programmes like cow protection and the controversy over beef lynchings in BJP-ruled states.
The breakfast briefing has set off a buzz in BJP circles. They are surprised by the RSS chief’s readiness to participate in a function billed as a “briefing”. The RSS likes to maintain a closed door on its interactions even with public personalities and is loathe to release information to the media. But this breakfast briefing was widely publicized on Twitter, courtesy India Foundation. Are winds of change blowing through the RSS?
Subramanian Swamy’s wife, Roxna, has penned a book on her husband which is bound to make interesting reading. Although it deals with Swamy’s colourful and controversial life from the early 1970s till 1991 only, it has enough masala in it because of the momentous events of those decades. Swamy was an important actor in many of them. It contains, for example, the story of his dramatic escape from Parliament during the Emergency, right under the nose of the police who were looking to arrest him. But more interesting are the stories of two significant relationships in Swamy’s political life: the antagonistic one with Atal Behari Vajpayee and the close rapport with Rajiv Gandhi.
The author writes in detail about the tensions between Vajpayee and Swamy during the Janata Party years when Swamy had expected to be rewarded with a cabinet berth.
After all, he ducked the might of the State when he slipped out of Parliament and evaded arrest during the Emergency. He has always blamed Vajpayee for keeping him out of Morarji Desai’s government. She also goes into the bond that Swamy shared with Rajiv. It was an unusual relationship because Rajiv was Indira Gandhi’s son and leader of the Congress while Swamy was an RSS man through and through and had fought against the Emergency. Apparently, after Rajiv lost the election in 1989, he moved even closer to Swamy and looked to him for advice on economic issues.
Remember, the Indian economy was in doldrums in that period, which eventually led to Narasimha Rao accepting the IMF prescription for liberalisation. Unfortunately, the author has stopped the book in 1991 when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated although Swamy has remained an active mover and shaker in Indian politics. Perhaps she will write a sequel when she feels the time is right. The title of the book is as interesting as the subject. It’s called “Evolving with Subramanium Swamy: a roller coaster ride”.
Here’s an irony that has gone unnoticed in all the chatter over Nirmala Sitharaman’s appointment as defence minister. Rajiv Pratap Rudy was among the first to be axed in the reshuffle. He was summoned by Amit Shah from Patna and told to hand in his resignation letter to BJP organizing secretary Ram Lal. The reason given out for his summary removal was non-performance. As skill development minister, he was in charge of one of Narendra Modi’s showpiece schemes to create jobs. But he failed to deliver, say BJP sources.
On the other hand, the man who was secretary in the ministry, Sunil Arora, was recently rewarded by being appointed Election Commissioner. If the Modi government follows the seniority rule, Arora will be Chief Election Commmissioner when the 2019 Lok Sabha polls happen. The other two members of the EC will have retired by then. BJP circles defend Arora’s elevation and Rudy’s removal, saying the secretary cannot be held responsible for the skill development ministry’s poor performance. Arora left the ministry in 2015 to join as secretary information and broadcasting. The PMO was apparently very satisfied with his performance there.
Among the more obnoxious trolls who cheered journalist Gauri Lankesh’s foul murder was a saffron sympathizer named Ajay Gautam. Not only did he have a field day posting insulting tweets about Gauri, he got even more publicity because television channels invited him to join prime time debates. This gave him an opportunity to defend his abusive tweets and even repeat what he posted on Twitter. Surely, there has to be a law to stop this kind of ghoulish celebration of a murder. And surely, TV channels must be more responsible before giving air time to people like this who do not respect any boundaries, even the tragic boundary of death.