NEW DELHI: Ram Madhav stands considerably taller after BJP’s electoral sweep in Assam that he helped fashion as a key strategist, having secured his position just below party president Amit Shah in terms of power and influence in the organisation.
The triumph in Assam, coming not long after he helped the party reinstall the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir after skilful negotiations with PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti , has suddenly enwrapped the 51-year-old general secretary in the sort of halo that comes only with successive successes in politics.
“With the Assam victory, Madhav has successfully handled two border states which are completely different from one another,” a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary said of Madhav, who was once his protege.
The historic win in Assam marked the culmination of two years of groundwork that comprised artful negotiations and stitching up of difficult alliances by Madhav. “Coming from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh , Madhav has shown that he can adapt with ease to varying cultures like those of J&K and Assam, grasp the nuances and work with them, or around them as the need be,” the RSS functionary said, requesting not to be identified.
If Madhav went about meticulously stitching the “dream alliance” of various regional parties and communities in Assam, he walked the tightrope in J&K, maintaining the delicate balance between increasing demands of Mehbooba Mufti and sticking to the hard-fought common minimum programme agreed upon with her late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Shah was quick to congratulate Madhav on his efforts on Thursday, as soon as it became clear that the BJP was on its way to making history in Assam. He also asked Madhav to stay there for one more day to oversee election of Sarbananda Sonowal as the leader by the newly-elected legislators, paving the way for him to become the chief minister.
The RSS functionary cited earlier said that it was Madhav’s training as a pracharak that made him so flexible and dedicated.
Madhav started out as a “bal pracharak (child volunteer)” carrying messages to underground RSS leaders during the Emergency. Over the years, he has grown but “messaging” has remained his special skill. In 2003, the RSS sent him to DELHI as the spokesman to be the link between the conservative RSS and the outer world . The RSS then felt a need to “correct” its perception among the people.
The affable Madhav soon became popular in the media as he articulated the RSS viewpoint. For the RSS, Madhav proved just the right man to change its image from that of a shadowy organisation with illiberal attitude in some people’s minds. He spoke English, dressed well in colourful Fabindia kurtas and was tech-friendly, using the latest mobile phones.
His stint in Delhi helped him traverse the gap between the RSS and the BJP with ease when he was seconded to the party in 2014. Soon his networking skills and knowledge of foreign affairs made him an integral part of Team Modi’s international outreach.
For Modi, his first trip to us soon after becoming the PM was critical. Madhav worked hard, lobbying with the huge Indian community and the US lawmakers to ensure that Modi visited the country on his own terms. Visiting the US three times prior to the PM’s visit, he made sure that the PM got unprecedented reception.
Madhav has repeated the drill with most countries PM Modi has visited since. He goes with a team of the party’s foreign cell, conducts a recce, does the groundwork and ensures arrangements are perfectly in place.
Senior leaders in the party said that Modi’s trust in Madhav has grown over the years. “From the time Madhav defended him following the 2002 Gujarat riots, their proximity has only grown. Many a time when the RSS too had doubts about electing Modi as campaign incharge for 2014 elections and then declaring him PM candidate, Madhav was the bridge between him and the Sangh. In fact, he has almost become for Modi what (LK) Advani was to then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” a senior BJP leader said.
The comparison with Advani may be a bit of a stretch, but Madhav is widely acknowledged in the party among the handful of people who enjoy Modi’s trust. “The PM has never let criticism of Madhav by some quarters mar his judgement,” an RSS leader said. The PM did ask him to be careful about his public utterances after his remark on “akhand Bharat (composite India, implying reunification of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh)” in an interview to a foreign channel.
“Yes, he appears somewhat flamboyant compared to RSS leaders, or the image that people have of them. But that is what works for him,” said a BJP leader, who has worked closely with Madhav. “When he is actually working at something, you will never know what he is up to. He keeps a low-profile, works under the radar with a single-minded pursuit of what needs to be done. This is what makes him so critical in the present dispensation,” he said.