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Soul-keepers

Since its inception in 1925, the RSS has perplexed observers with its organizational skills, military discipline and single-minded quest for influence in all walks of Indian life. Often seen as insidious and banned thrice, the pace of its growth and ideological dominance of the political landscape in the second decade of the millennium have been remarkable.

Delhi-based journalist Dinesh Narayanan is deeply interested in understanding the interplay of politics, society and business and the impact of these on our lives, both as individuals and collectively as a nation.

 

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In June 2018, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) discussed a proposal to train a million young men and women annually to prepare them for the purpose of creating a disciplined nationalist force of youth. Titled the National Youth Empowerment Scheme (N-YES), the year-long training was proposed to be an essential qualification for enrolment in the army and paramilitary services. The scheme was aimed at instilling values of discipline, nationalism and self-esteem in young people, the Indian Express reported.  The government called the report sensationalizing but did not deny the meeting in the PMO. It said the meeting had discussed strengthening the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and the National Service Scheme (NSS).

Established in 1948, at the instance of then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and home minister, Sardar Patel, in the wake of the invasion of Kashmir by Pakistan-supported tribesmen, the NCC’s stated aim is ‘developing character, comradeship, discipline, a secular outlook, the spirit of adventure and ideals of selfless service amongst young citizens . . . and creating a pool of organized, trained and motivated youth with leadership qualities in all walks of life, who will serve the nation regardless of which career they choose’. The NSS was established to provide ‘hands on experience to young students in delivering social service’. These organizations’ values aligned with those of the RSS although the latter’s definition of ‘secular outlook’ is  different. It contends that India is a Hindu nation, and a Hindu by nature and definition can be nothing but secular. Like the NCC, the RSS also considers itself as a reserve force.

The RSS || Dinesh Narayanan

The N-YES proposal sounded very close to the RSS’s idea of creating a militaristic society. Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has claimed that although the RSS was not a military organization, its discipline was like that of the army. While the army may require six to seven months to ready a force, the RSS could raise a trained force of its volunteers in three days.

Organizers of Hindus often rue that they are pusillanimous compared to other communities. V.D. Savarkar, one of the early ideological mentors of the RSS, wrote: ‘At the time of the first inroads of the Muhammadans, the fierce unity of faith, that social cohesion and valorous fervour which made them as a body so irresistible, were qualities in which the Hindus proved woefully wanting.’

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The RSS is a close and relevant insight into the current socio-political landscape of our country.

Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar answer questions on the life of Manohar Parrikar and the process of writing a biography

Over the last two decades, the exploits of one man, an IIT-Bombay alumnus, changed the way mainstream India looked at Goa and the political goings-on in the country’s smallest state. An Extraordinary Life traces the life and times of Manohar Parrikar through the informed voices of his relatives, friends, foes, bureaucrats and IIT contemporaries. The daily battles of a gifted individual are brought to the fore as he encounters love and vices. But more importantly, it showcases his rise in politics from the son of a grocery store owner in a nondescript town, a sanghachalak in Mapusa town, an Opposition MLA and leader, to a chief minister (on multiple occasions) and, finally, to a defence minister.

Read below an interview with the authors:

 


 

Writing a biography needs an author to write without bias. How difficult is that and how did you make sure of it?
The battle with bias is a constant one. A biography is less about relaying everything about a person’s life. It involves a process of curating a selection of events, personality traits and portrayal of relationships, so as to convey an account of one’s life, which is as accurate as it can get. The key is of course getting the selection right. It’s like a well curated menu, which has the right balance of hors d’oeuvres, main courses and desserts. You simply can’t make do with desserts alone. 

 

Could you share a moment while writing this book which made you pause in awe of Manohar Parrikar’s life?
The account in the book narrated by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary Ratnakar Lele. He talks about a young Parrikar drawing water from a well when everyone else was asleep, using a coir-rope tackle and a pitcher for four hours from 11 pm to 3 am, because an electric water pump malfunctioned at an RSS camp attended by hundreds of swayamsevaks.  After he was told about Parrikar’s feat, Lele even checked the calluses on his swayamsevak’s palms to verify the story. 

 

To make sure you cover all angles while writing biography involves extensive research; could you share with us the research process?
Manohar Parrikar as a subject wasn’t a new one for us. As journalists we had covered developments involving him and the BJP extensively for our respective media publications. There was a blind spot though; his family. We laid a lot of emphasis to weave his family, including all his siblings and children, into the biography’s narrative. Their stories helped add fresh facets of his personality and familial relationships which were rarely discussed before, to the manuscript. 
The discipline of research involved meeting up with Sadguru and drawing up multiple questionnaires for resource persons we had identified. The questionnaires would be constantly updated ahead of second, third visits. Sadguru did a bulk of the information-gathering for the biography. Every time we met, we would discuss the day’s draft which needed to be written which was my responsibility. This research was complimented with both short and long deadlines to complete the daily quota of writing and for finalising individual chapters and eventually the manuscript. 

 

Do you have any advice for writers wanting to delve into the biography genre?
If you are diligent enough, the obvious won’t be missed. But one still has to look for the scattered pearls. And sometimes, you need to know which oyster to shuck open to get to that missing pearl. 

 

The life of a politician involves tremendous sacrifice; which one incident from Manohar Parrikar’s life did you think made him rethink how to balance work and personal life?
Just to set the context right, the word ‘sacrifice’ tends to read with a positive overtone. Something about it does not seem to be in harmony with the word ‘politics’, the way we see it in India in general. As far as Parrikar’s life goes, there appeared to be an imbalance between his family life and his political mission. The latter seems to have overwhelmed his time, leaving little for the former. But there is one incident, where Parrikar, who was rarely known to indulge own sons when they were young, made time during an official trip as Defence Minister to China, to buy a toy excavator and a truck from a shopping mall, for his grandson Dhruv. 

 

Do you think there should be more representation of youth in positions of power?
For the sheer need to break the status quo of stagnant political thought, yes. 

 

 You’ve covered politics extensively over the past years; any suggestions for people of this generation who wish to join politics?
If you are looking for tips from writers vis a vis joining politics, then maybe you don’t have it in you to make it there. If you feel you are cut out for it, just take the plunge. You will either learn to swim or be cast ashore by the tide. 


 

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Take a close-up look at what went on behind the scenes in Maharashtra elections 2019

On 28 November 2019, Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, was sworn in as the eighteenth chief minister of Maharashtra. This event marked the culmination of a high-voltage political drama that had the entire nation glued to their television sets for days on end. With no party being able to claim a majority in the assembly, President’s Rule was imposed in the state. This book takes its readers through the twists and turns of the dramatic political crisis that unfolded as Maharashtra waited for its chief minister.

What really went on behind the scenes?

With access to inside sources and private conversations, this book reveals the hitherto untold story of this political drama, with a comprehensive overview of the state’s politics in the last few decades.

Read below an excerpt from the book:

 


After leaving the Maha Vikas Aghadi meeting at the Nehru Centre (Worli) on 22 November 2019, Ajit Pawar arrived at his Churchgate residence. He again left the house at around 10.30 p.m. He asked his driver to stop on the way. He then asked the driver to return to his house with the car. Pawar stepped into another car and left for the western suburbs. Around the same time, Fadnavis also left his chief ministerial convoy and, in a different vehicle, arrived at the Hotel Sofitel in BKC, around midnight. Both leaders chose to avoid the public glare and media attention. They entered the five-star luxury hotel from a back door. It was an hour-long meeting. After hearing the name of Uddhav Thackeray as a possible candidate for the position of the chief minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis panicked and informed Ajit Pawar that they had to take the oath the very next day, on 23 November 2019, at Raj Bhavan. Ajit Pawar asked him about President’s Rule and other procedures and requested Fadnavis to not be in a hurry. Ajit Pawar told Fadnavis that Sharad Pawar had given the green signal but the final discussion was yet to happen. However, according to an NCP leader who spoke with the author, Fadnavis told him that discussions could take place later.According to Fadnavis, it was of utmost importance to take the oath as soon as possible and then resolve other pending matters.

Meanwhile, Ajit Pawar had come to know that his uncle was reluctant to align with the BJP. A person close to Ajit Pawar said to this author that while planning the formation of the government with the Shiv Sena and the Congress, the state NCP president Jayant Patil’s name was finalized for the position of the deputy chief minister with the home portfolio. It was a big shock for Ajit Pawar. There seemed to be a plan afoot to systematically sideline Ajit Pawar, and to later bring in Supriya Sule as the chief minister of Maharashtra for the half term once Uddhav Thackeray’s two and a half years were over . . . It seemed like the end of Ajit Pawar’s career.

Perhaps, therefore, Ajit Pawar also panicked and decided to go ahead with what must have seemed to be his last resort—joining hands with the BJP despite his uncle’s reluctance. …

Ajit Pawar and his close aide had called the thirty-eight NCP legislators in Mumbai and had asked them to assemble at Dhananjay Munde’s bungalow in front of the Secretariat House (Mantralaya) at 12.30 a.m. Sunil Tatkare, Dhananjay Munde and Praful Patel had been kept in the loop. …While leaving their own constituencies, the NCP legislators started calling each other, mentioning that Ajit Pawar had called them for a meeting. It turned out that the other legislators who were not a part of the thirty-eight had no clue about this meeting in Mumbai. … Finally, out of thirty-eight, only fifteen NCP legislators reached Mumbai. This was perhaps the first signal that Ajit Pawar’s coup would not be a cakewalk.

The NCP chief, Sharad Pawar, got wind of this development around 12.30 or 1 a.m. on 23 November. At Raj Bhavan, the engineers had asked the sound and microphone system operators to remain there only. This news spread and there were suspicions that something was up at Raj Bhavan. The NCP legislators who were directly in touch with Sharad Pawar informed him that Ajit Pawar had called them for a meeting. However, after speaking with Sharad Pawar, many of them decided not to attend the meeting. Pawar thus had an idea about his nephew’s plans, but he remained doubtful about its success. Later, around 3 a.m., on Saturday, Pawar sought an update on how many legislators were siding with Ajit Pawar. He knew that if only these fifteen legislators went with his nephew that would not help him to form the government. The BJP had 105 seats and the support of fifteen independent legislators; it needed at least twenty-five to thirty legislators to cross the 145 mark. Ajit Pawar teaming up with the BJP would not only be a fiasco but he would also lose his credibility

As per his interview with ABP Majha, Sharad Pawar said that he went to bed late, around 3 a.m., at Silver Oak, hardly a fifteen-minute drive from Raj Bhavan. Around the same time, Devendra Fadnavis was getting ready to take the oath as chief minister of Maharashtra for a second time. As per a local television channel, around 4 a.m. in the morning, Fadnavis and his wife, Amruta Fadnavis organized a mirchi havan (a sacred ritual around a fire), which was performed by the priests from Nalkheda’s Baglamukhi temple in Madhya Pradesh. Baglamukhi is a tantric deity in Hinduism. Fadnavis was told that this same havan was performed to save the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand. When the Rawat government lost the majority in the house, his brother Jagdish Rawat rushed to the Baglamukhi temple to perform the mirchi havan and, eventually, apparently, Rawat was able to save his government. Since then, this temple town had become famous among politicians and businessmen. The report of the channel stated that Fadnavis was convinced that if this mirchi havan was performed by him at Varsha Bungalow, his official residence in Mumbai, he would again be chief minister of Maharashtra. Earlier also, Fadnavis had conducted the same mirchi havan on several occasions to retain the chief minister’s chair whenever it was in trouble. Once the havan was done, the tantriks were paid dakshina (donation) and they left for Madhya Pradesh; their return journey was coordinated by Prasad Lad.

It was time for Fadnavis to get ready for his second swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan. Rather than choosing his favourite blue jacket, he had, as per the instructions of the tantrik, opted for the colour black to ward off evil spirits. Ajit Pawar, as leader of the NCP’s legislative party, had with him two original copies of the signatures of the fifty-four NCP legislators, in Marathi and in English. A copy of the list was handed over to Maharashtra’s chief secretary, Ajoy Mehta, who was waiting at Varsha Bungalow. As per an Indian Express report dated 2 December 2019, Mehta had been specially flown in from Delhi to expedite the Devendra Fadnavis–Ajit Pawar swearing-in ceremony on 23 November.


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