The RSS on Sunday gave its sah-sarkaryawah (joint general secretary) Arun Kumar the key job of coordinating with the BJP. Kumar replaced Dr Krishna Gopal, another sah-sarkaryawah, who had been the RSS’s BJP pointsperson since October 2014.
Before being made sah-sarkaryawah this March, Arun Kumar, 57, was the RSS’s Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh, looking after the organisation’s outreach programmes. Delhi-born Kumar has been a pracharak since 1982, and was posted mainly in Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir before he became part of the RSS national team.
Kumar was among the RSS leaders who were in constant touch with the government and advising its functionaries on matters related to J&K before the constitutional changes of August 5, 2019. He had long pushed for the abrogation of Article 370, established a think-tank, Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre, in Delhi, which worked on the RSS’s core concerns in the erstwhile state, including the now irrelevant Article 370.
Arun Kumar’s predecessor
When he replaced Suresh Soni four months after the BJP-led government came to power, Dr Krishna Gopal, a PhD in botany from Agra University and with wide experience in UP and the Northeast, was considered the most appropriate man for the job.
In the initial years, several appointments, especially in education, were made on Gopal’s advice. His office in Delhi’s Paharganj saw frequent visits by ministers and government officers. This situation, however, changed subsequently.
The RSS has described the replacement of Gopal with Arun Kumar as “routine”.
What is the BJP pointsperson’s role?
The primary responsibility of the RSS office-bearer who coordinates with the BJP is to ensure the party remains on the right ideological path. The RSS also appoints certain pracharaks to be Sangathan Mantri (Organisation Secretary) for each of its front organisations, including the BJP.
The coordinator’s role is mainly advisory. But given that the BJP is in power at the Centre and in several large states, his position carries much authority today. Even though it claims to be a non-political “cultural” organisation, the RSS influences government policy wherever the BJP is in power. Regular meetings at multiple levels are held between the RSS and its offshoots, and the BJP and the government. The coordinator mediates all interactions between the BJP-government and the RSS.
The RSS’s BJP coordinator is different from the Sangathan Mahamantri, the BJP’s General Secretary (Organisation). The incumbent of the latter post is deputed to the BJP by the RSS, but he is part of the BJP for as long as he is in the job. There are several General Secretaries (Organisation) in the BJP from the national to the state levels, all of whom are in close touch with the RSS.
At the national level, the BJP’s General Secretary (Organisation) is B L Santhosh. His predecessor Ramlal returned to the RSS after he was withdrawn in July 2019. Ramlal is now the RSS’s All India Sampark Pramukh.
The coordinator is an office-bearer of the RSS itself, and looks after the front organisation of the Sangh allotted to him.
The early leaders
When the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the precursor to the BJP, was formed in 1951, several senior RSS pracharaks, including Deendayal Upadhyay, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Nanaji Deshmukh, L K Advani and Dattopanth Thengdi, were deployed to the new party. The RSS and BJS were not that big then — and no need was felt in the RSS for a BJS coordinator.
In the early years, when the BJS had just one post of General Secretary, Upadhyay held that position and looked after organisational work. When he became BJS president in 1967, Nanaji Deshmukh became General Secretary.
In the early seventies, Sunder Singh Bhandari was brought from Rajasthan to Delhi as BJS vice president, and to look after organisational work. When the Janata Party — with which the BJS had merged — formed the government in 1977, Deshmukh decided to leave politics. Bhaurao Deoras was given the job of coordinating with BJS leaders who had become part of Janata. This was the time when some Janata leaders raised the issue of “double membership” against the former BJS leaders in the government.
Deoras continued to do the coordination job after the BJP was formed in 1980. He was the younger brother of then sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras, had a better understanding of politics than anyone else in the RSS, and had relationships cutting across party lines.
Bhaurao Deoras mentored leaders like Upadhyay, Vajpayee, and former sarsanghchalak Prof Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiya). After the BJP was wiped out in the elections of 1984, several changes were initiated. Bhaurao brought K N Govindacharya to the BJP; he was initially assistant to then BJP president Advani and, after the BJP constitution was amended, became the first General Secretary (Organisation). Bhaurao continued to coordinate with the BJP until his death in 1992.
Bhaurao passed the coordination baton to Rajendra Singh. After Singh became sarsanghchalak in 1994, then sah-sarkaryawah K S Sudarshan served as coordinator until he became sarsanghchalak himself in 2000. As sarsanghchalak, Sudarshan was openly critical of the BJP leadership and the policies of the Vajpayee government. In March 2001, he told the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Delhi: “There are some incompetent people sitting in the PMO.” On another occasion, Sudarshan advised Vajpayee and Advani to make way for younger leaders.
Sudarshan was followed as coordinator by Madandas Devi, who had the difficult task of managing the Sangh-Vajpayee relationship. In August 2005, with Devi’s health failing, another sah-sarkaryawah, Suresh Soni, was announced for the job.
With BJP in opposition, Soni, under the leadership of sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. promoted the second generation of leaders in the party, bringing Nitin Gadkari as president and subsequently sidelining Advani and other seniors to project Narendra Modi as Prime Ministerial candidate in 2013.