For a young man in search of “something more”, as his oldest brother Sombhai put it, the RSS gave Narendra Modi a sense of purpose and direction. But he remained unsure of his calling: whether to pursue the priestly life or volunteer himself towards the advancement of Hindutva. His parents had arranged him a marriage in keeping with the traditions of the Ghanchi caste in Vadnagar, which involved a three-step process that began with an engagement at age three or four, a religious ceremony (shaadi) by the age of 13, and cohabitation (gauna) around the age of 18 or 20, when the parents felt the time had come.
On 21 July 2012, around 2,000 angry farmers blocked National Highway 8 at the village of Asalwas in Haryana, fifty kilometers south-east of Gurgaon. They were protesting the government’s decision to acquire 3,300 acres of land in twenty-one villages in the surrounding areas to develop the Western Corridor, a highway project linking Delhi to Mumbai. When the district administration didn’t respond by the 1 pm ultimatum they had been given, the protests erupted into violence, with the farmers torching buses and other vehicles, and a police post. Police charged with lathis and opened fire to disperse them. In retaliation, the farmers briefly held eight policemen captive. Five farmers were arrested and at least sixty people were seriously injured that day.
On the auspicious 25th evening of Ramadan, in August 2012, I followed Sibal to an Iftar dinner at Faiz Masjid in his Lok Sabha constituency, Chandni Chowk. Despite having won the seat in 2004 and 2009, Sibal still seemed like a fish out of water among the crowds, clearly a little uncomfortable. (“He is not a born politician, not a people’s person,” one of his aides told me. “He doesn’t like too many people around him.”)
In the present scenario, I am strongly in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party, not as a party but as a movement. To explain why I like it, I would have to go back to Gandhi. In him I see a great combination of societal concern and a streak of anarchy. But after independence, we accepted only one part of Gandhi—the worship-able one—and forgot the Gandhi who walked to Dandi and made salt. Quite a few of his actions went against the law and can be interpreted as anarchy.
After Singh entered the upper echelons of the Congress in the late 1990s, the party gave him a ticket to contest a Lok Sabha election in 1999 from South Delhi—a posh constituency of middle-class voters who had reaped great benefits from the liberalised economy. His challenger was an unseemly state-level BJP leader, VK Malhotra. “It was meant to be a cakewalk for Doctor Sahib, a very sure seat for the Congress,” said Harcharan Singh Josh, a local party leader who served as Singh’s campaign manager. “In the previous year’s state election, ten out of the fourteen assembly seats were won by the Congress MLAs. The Muslim and Sikh populations came to more than fifty percent of the constituency. And everyone was buying the foreign brands in the South-Ex market, brought to India by Doctor Sahib. Malhotra had jhero chance.”
India’s first general election was, among other things, an act of faith. A newly independent country chose to move straight into universal adult suffrage, rather than—as had been the case in the West—at first reserve the right to vote to men of property, with the working class and women excluded from the franchise until much later. India became free in August 1947, and two years later set up an Election Commission. In March 1950 Sukumar Sen was appointed chief election commissioner. The next month the Representation of the People Act was passed in Parliament. While proposing the act, the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, expressed the hope that elections would be held as early as the spring of 1951.
Modi quickly acquired greater responsibilities within the RSS in Gujarat, including arranging reservations on buses and trains for travelling Sangh leaders, as well as opening letters sent to Hedgewar Bhavan. At around the same time, Modi went to attend the one-month officer training camp at RSS national headquarters in Nagpur, which was a prerequisite for him to take up an official position in the Sangh.
On the morning of 3 April, Abhinandan Pathak stepped off his sleeper compartment at Lucknow’s Charbagh Station. A posse of five men, including his 14-year-old son, Shivam, accompanied him. He wore white trousers and a white kurta, a gold Nehru vest, and a turban and neck sash coloured saffron and green—the colours of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It is not easy to comprehend the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It does not fit into the available models of political parties or social institutions and organisations. Some people say that the RSS has a dictatorial style of functioning. Others claim that it enjoins hero-worship. The truth is absolutely otherwise.
There are days when speeches made by our netas and so-called sants distress me so much that a voice within me screams, “Let all of them go to jahannum (hell). I’ll get on with my life as best as I can.” When I get over the depression, a wave of anger surges within me and I say to myself: “This is my homeland, I will not let these medieval-minded fanatics get away with wasting precious years squabbling over where exactly a temple should have its foundation-stone laid. I will shout my protest from the roof-tops.”