Rise of Ram Madhav: Modi’s outreach man

The sudden rise of BJP general secretary has as much to do with his acumen as with the internal dynamics of the BJP and RSS.

If today’s Modi carnival at Sydney’s Allphones Arena is any indication, there is no stopping Brand Modi. An encore of Modi’s grand show at New York’s Madison Square Garden on September 29, this event undoubtedly shows that the PM’s PR machinery is on a roll. But gathering 20,000 odd cheering NRIs, roping in a bunch of celebs and unleashing a media blitzkrieg is the easy part. The difficult part is tireless advocacy of Brand Modi that makes the prime minister’s foreign visits political successes. Here’s where Modi’s “Outreach Man” Ram Madhav comes in.

Originally from Andhra Pradesh, 49-year-old Ram Madhav is presently the general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a position he has occupied since July this year. A pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Madhav was the organisation’s Akhil Bharatiya Sah Sampark Pramukh before being deputed to the BJP. Madhav’s rising stock within the BJP first became apparent during Modi’s US visit, in particular the Madison Square Garden event. Madhav camped in the US well in advance to make the event a success. Mobilising the Indian American community, overcoming legal and political roadblocks to the event and mobilising resources were some of the tasks Ram Madhav is said to have performed.

However, it is believed that Madhav’s outreach efforts for Modi precede his appointment as general secretary and even Modi’s election as India’s prime minister. Some believe that Madhav played a key role in the behind-the-scenes negotiations that brought about the end of the European Union’s boycott of Modi in January last year when the EU ambassadors met him for lunch. Two months later, Germany delinked Modi’s image with human rights concerns. This was much before Modi was declared the BJP’s PM candidate.

However, Madhav’s role isn’t restricted to international outreach. He paid a visit to ex-separatist Sajjad Lone in Srinagar and his conversation eventually culminated in Lone’s meeting with Modi on November 10, giving BJP an important friend in the Kashmir Valley ahead of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections. Whether it be negotiations in the power corridors abroad or in the separatist circles in the Valley, Madhav’s key asset is his sharp understanding of geopolitical realities. This skill sets him apart from his colleagues in the BJP as well as in the RSS and, more importantly, gives him access to Modi’s ears. Madhav is a keen China-watcher and has written a book on Sino-Indian ties Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after Fifty Years of the War.

The sudden rise of Ram Madhav has as much to do with his acumen as with the internal dynamics of the BJP and RSS. The RSS has time and again deputed its pracharaks to the BJP: Kushabhau Thakre (during Jan Sangh days), KN Govindacharya, Narendra Modi himself, Sanjay Joshi, Ram Lal to name a few. This is done to maintain the umbilical cord between the parent organisation and the party and provide greater ideological coherence. Madhav’s induction also marks the rise of a new kind of RSS pracharak: one who is suave, techno-savvy and has an international outlook. He is also not averse to taking positions that go against conventional Sangh wisdom. For instance, he invited the ire of pro-Hindutva trolls on Twitter by paying tribute to historian Bipan Chandra who died earlier this year. More recently, he strongly condemned the killing of two young boys by security forces in Budgam, a stand perhaps dictated by the BJP’s desire to make inroads into the Kashmir Valley.

Only time will tell whether this pracharak will end up as a Narendra Modi, a Kushabhau Thakre or a KN Govindacharya. But his profile in the BJP is only likely to rise in the months to come. Ever since Amit Shah became BJP president, the unofficial number two in the party has been general secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda. Nadda was the key point person in the recent state elections and had emerged as an influential strategist in the party. He is also part of the BJP’s highest decision making body the Parliamentary Board. With Nadda being made the health minister in the Union cabinet, Madhav might fill in the vacuum.

It is being speculated that Madhav might be included in the Parliamentary Board as well. Under party rules, a general secretary is made the secretary of the board. Nadda will have to relinquish his general secretaryship now that he has been made minister. Therefore, Madhav could be included in the board at the expense of one of the present members – apparently the choice is between Nadda, Thawarchand Gehlot or Shivraj Singh Chouhan – and be made its secretary.
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