Dattatreya Hosabale, 66, replaced Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, 73 as the general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on Saturday, signalling a significant change ahead of the Sangh’s centenary celebrations that will begin in 2024.
Hosabale’s appointment was announced at the ongoing Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the meeting of the highest decision-making body of the Sangh, in Bengaluru.
His appointment comes at a time when the Sangh is in an expansion mode and has set itself the task of opening at least one Shakha, or unit, in every mandal or a cluster of 10-12 villages ahead of its centenary celebrations. While the ties between the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its ideological parent, the Sangh have become increasingly synergistic over the past decade, it wasn’t always that way, and analysts said it will interesting to watch the interplay between both as they expand .
In the Sangh, the general secretary is the deputy to the chief or the sarsanghchalak but is largely seen as a key figure in decision making and everyday running of the organisation.
Hosabale’s skills as a planner and an organisational leader, displayed during his stint with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) or the students’ wing of the RSS and the ease with which he balances the Sangh’s ideological position with political pragmatism have been pivotal in his selection for the crucial position, said people familiar with the thinking behind his appointment who asked not to be named.
“His ability to straddle the ideology of the Sangh and BJP’s politics are well known and will be put to good use as the Sangh prepares for its expansion as well as acts as a guiding force for the BJP that will also face a test in 2024 (general elections),” said one of them, a senior RSS functionary.
A joint general secretary of the RSS since 2009, Hosabale was in the reckoning for the position for the last six years. In 2018, when the last elections took place, there was a section of the cadre that pushed for a younger, more articulate Hosable to replace Joshi, who served as second-in-command for three terms. Joshi went on to complete his fourth term.
In 2018, when speculation about Dattatreya being appointed the general secretary arose, a section within the Sangh was reported to have expressed concern over the insinuation that his promotion was being linked to his ties with PM Narendra Modi. Many felt that his equation with the PM could influence the Sangh’s work.
“There were fears that the Sangh, which is known to not shy away from taking a stand against government policies, could soften its stand. But the Sangh follows a robust process and does not intervene in political decision making,” said a second person familiar with the matter, also a senior Sangh functionary.
Rakesh Sinha, BJP member of Rajya Sabha and an author who was extensively written on the Sangh, said Hosabale has been a driving force behind the Sangh’s efforts to reach out to marginalised sections of society.
“He has the capacity to contextualise the ideology as per emerging trends and socio-economic forces. He believes in discourse and dialogue and consequently even those opposed to the Sangh enjoy engaging with him. He represents Sangh’s model of outreach,” Sinha said.
Keeping in view that a larger section of the karyakartas (volunteers) is under 50, Hosable who is younger than Joshi is expected to have a better understanding of the “aspirations and the changed thought process of the cadre”, said a third RSS functionary.
And Hosabale is also perceived to be Sangh’s liberal face. “While there is no question of diluting the Sangh’s ideology; there is a need to be more inclusive. It was Dattaji who articulated the Sangh’s view on controversial issues such as homosexuality,” the second person added.