Assembly polls 2018: BJP's general secretaries working behind the scenes

Top left- Suhas Bhagat (Madhya Pradesh), bottom left- Chandrashekhar (Rajasthan), middle- Pawan Sai (Chhattisgarh), top right- Mantri Sreenivasulu (Telangana), bottom right- Atul Rai (Madhya Pradesh)
A degree of opacity always clouded the appointment to what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) indubitably considered the most important post in the hierarchy after that of the national president. It’s the designation of general secretary (organisation) or GSO,  national and state. In state units of the BJP, the GSO is often more powerful than the provincial president because he/she has direct access to the national president and even the prime minister. 

The incumbents remain shadowy and rarely speak with the media. 

Among other reasons, a GSO is important because he/she is the BJP’s artery to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and transmits all that the Sangh wants and needs to know about its political progeny. Given the GSO’s distinctive position, it’s hard to tell if the RSS has the carte blanche in choosing him/her or merely proffers suggestions to the BJP. Article XVII 5 (a) of the BJP’s constitution stipulated two conditions: The GSO, national or state, will be appointed by the national president and in a state, he/she can be chosen from outside the state’s apex executive committee. Article XX 5 is more specific; it says “only a whole-time worker” shall be appointed, he/she cannot contest an election as long as the person holds the post, and, even after forfeiting, he/she must wait for two years before jumping into electoral politics. The exceptions were Narendra Modi, who was national GSO before relocating to Gandhinagar as chief minister, and Manohar Lal Khattar, the Haryana chief minister who was the state’s GSO until the 2015 assembly elections. 

Modi’s and Khattar’s success stories are held up as parables of the rewards that toil can bring because that’s what a GSO does: Work in unsparing conditions. And, that’s why “only a whole-time worker”— a euphemism for an unmarried RSS pracharak — was eventually ordained for the post after the Bharatiya Jana Sangh experimented with family men and concluded that a “grihasta (householder)” was not cut out for it.

A senior BJP office-bearer said, “Keeping away from contesting elections enables them to rise above factional politics and vests the post with a moral authority that few in the organisation exude. We who are in politics get entangled in group rivalries and dilute our moral position. GSOs are the BJP’s bone and muscle and we are its skin. Their job is to burnish the skin.” To a Telangana leader, the GSOs represented an “old school of organisation-building that entailed building organisational blocks, strengthening the party at the grassroots and creating durable networks of human contacts.” 

The GSOs are not supposed to own anything. They live in party offices, eat meals at workers’  homes, travel extensively to “spread our ideology”, identify talent, and, in BJP President Amit Shah’s regime, straighten the creases in booth management. “The GSOs are not political patrons who meet people waiting in queues, seeking and expecting instant favours,” said the BJP’s national secretary, Sunil Deodhar.

Come election and for the leaders, the invisible GSO is the primary source of information and assessment about ticket aspirants.  

Chandrashekhar (40) was cherry-picked by Shah a year-and-a-half ago as GSO for Rajasthan, a state which appears challenging for the BJP in the upcoming Assembly election. 

A resident of Banda in Uttar Pradesh, Chandrashekhar was an RSS pracharak who was “loaned” to the BJP in 2013. His first assignment took him to Modi’s Varanasi war room. His specific brief was to reach out to Varanasi’s students and youths.  Impressed with his execution, Shah later entrusted Chandrashekhar with the charge of western UP in the 2017 Assembly polls and he delivered a winner. “Without throwing his weight, he forces people to hear him out,” said a former Varanasi colleague.  

However, sceptics in Jaipur believe Rajasthan is another ball game. The persona of the chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, loomed large even over the party apparatuses. She seldom got on with an “unwanted guest”, the exception being Saudan Singh, who is  a national joint GSO. That was because Singh had served her mother, Vijaya Raje Scindia, in the past. But Chandrashekhar is buffered by Shah and is “slogging as no other GSO had”, said a Rajasthan BJP functionary.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Suhas Bhagat-Atul Rai duo replaced Arvind Menon in 2016. Although all three are RSS “pracharaks” and bound by the commandment of “keeping a distance from the BJP”, Menon was “transferred” from Bhopal for “seeming too close” to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Bhagat, who is from Bhopal, was a pracharak in MP’s Madhya Bharat region, while Rai, whose parents were migrants to Gwalior from UP’s Mau, was a bal swayamsevak like Modi, having been associated with the RSS since childhood. One of them admitted to still being an “alien” in the BJP and “overwhelmed” by media attention and the tête-à-têtes with the chief minister. 

Chhattisgarh has Pawan Sai, a protégé of Saudan Singh, as its GSO. Member of a backward community, Sai belongs to the Jashpur region of Chhattisgarh. His family has a long association with the RSS.

Telangana’s nuts and bolts are being put together by Mantri Sreenivasulu, a former RSS pracharak who had also worked for the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. 

In the end, the GSOs can do this much and no more in an election that’s always conditioned by the atmospherics a party whips up.

The Background actors

  • Deendayal Upadhyaya
  • Bhai Mahavir
  • Sunder Singh Bhandari
  • Kushabhau Thakre
  • Narendra Modi

And those who left under a cloud

  • K N Govindacharya: Got overly identified with L K Advani; called Atal Bihari Vajpayee a "mukhota (mask)" and Advani the "real power behind the throne" in taped conversations with a UK diplomat that were circulated. Lost his job in Vajpayee’s regime

 

  • Sanjay Joshi: Paid for playing factional politics in Gujarat and taking on Modi. His brief rehabilitations in the BJP ended unceremon-iously; once due to a video purportedly showed him in a relationship with a woman; and second, because Modi wanted him out

     


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