For me, Kushabhau Thakre, the former BJP president, would always remain the embodiment of all that is good in the RSS. The man who built the BJP from a stretch in MP was known for his Spartan lifestyle. Like most RSS wholetimers, he was a bachelor.
When I first met him in early 80s, he used to live in a small room that opened on a noisy street in a building that housed the BJP office in old Bhopal. That small room served as his bedroom, office, visitor’s room, dining and guest room.
The furniture conisted of a wooden cot, a couple of chairs and an earthen pitcher (ghada) for drinking water. He used to share a table fan with his neighbour, Kailash Sarang, the office secretary, whose family would use it whenever Thakre did not need it.
Some time he would invite me for lunch to that room. The food, a very simple affair, came in a thali from Sarang’s house. This was the life style of a man who could make or unmake a chief minister.
Hence, my eyes nearly popped out when I met Eknath Gore, a Sangh parivar activist, at Bhopal that winter morning in the early 90s. I had gone to meet ex-CM VK Sakhlecha at his office at Nisarga hotel in Bhopal’s MP Nagar area.
We were sipping tea when Dilip Singh Judeo, the most colourful of BJP leaders in MP, walked in. A scion of Jashpur princely family, Judeo would later become a minister in the Vajpayee government. He was then into limelight then due to his movement to reconvert the tribals from Christianity to Hinduism.
The blue-blooded Thakur, attired in his trade mark olive green military fatigues, was accompanied by an elderly man of short height. Sakhelcha got up to greet him with folded hands.
Judeo introduced him as his “guru” Eknath Gore of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram at Jashpur, the RSS-managed centre leading the movement to re-convert the tribals to Hinduism.
Sakhlecha asked for more tea. But Gore cut him short, saying he did not want tea.
“Kya lenge,” Sakhlecha asked with reverence due to a person who was reputed to be one of the main fund raisers for Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.
“Main saaman saath lekar chalta hun,” replied his guest, indicating at a string bag he was carrying, and added, “ek glass aur paani manga do.”
Gore was carrying a small cotton bag, known as pishvi in Marathi, in one hand. After the glass arrived, he took out a bottle of Old Monk from the pishvi, poured out a liberal quantity, mixed some water, relished his first sip and relaxed. Sakhlecha, the Jain puritan and the strict disciplinarian, was speechless.
It was 11 in the morning, if I may recall the time correctly after all these years.
The midnight mystery
I would refrain from naming the persons mentioned in this story because of obvious reasons. It involves another former Pracharak, high in the BJP hierarchy, who would later occupy a top post.
He was a supposed to be tough nut with short temper and abrasive manners. Although a bachelor, he occupied a sprawling government bungalow in New Delhi as a member of parliament.
I had gone to cover the BJP’s plenary session at Mumbai in 1995 for India Today. The session was attended by 1.3 lakh delegates and the party had erected a sprawling township of tents and swiss cottages to accommodate them.
It also made it compulsory for everyone, including the top leaders, to stay in that township. But not everyone stayed there, as I discovered, quite by chance.
While most visiting journalists were staying at hotels arranged for by the party, I was staying at Hotel President, a Taj property, where my magazine had booked me.
I reached my hotel around 12.30 in the night after a late-night dinner. As I entered an elevator that was going up, I discovered that it was already occupied by two persons.
The RSS pracharak-turned-BJP leader was in the lift. The other occupant was a lady, a prominent BJP leader from Delhi. Both were in Mumbai to attend the plenary session. They were supposed to be staying in the tents.
I wished the BJP leader, whom I used to meet often in New Delhi. He acknowledged with a curt node.
When the lift stopped, both the leaders got out.
As luck would have it, I was staying on the same floor. I also got out.
Both the leaders kept walking, a little uneasy by now. The lady stopped at a room and took out her key. The leader stopped too.
My room was a little further down the corridor. After a few feet, as I reached my room and turned slightly to open it, I found both leaders had disappeared.
Things changed for me, at least in my beat, after that midnight encounter.
Every time I visited the BJP leader at his bungalow, I would be treated like a VIP. He would fawn over me, order bowls of dry fruits and mithai for me, followed by steaming cups of tea and equally hot information.
First Post 9 December 2018