Strife within

Published : May 06, 2005 00:00 IST

RSS sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan's public criticism of Vajpayee and Advani forces the BJP to rethink its priorities.

NOT too recently, a relaxed L.K. Advani gave a fairly long and exclusive interview to a television news channel, in which he spoke candidly, and with visible confidence, on the new tasks before the Bharatiya Janata Party, its relations with the National Democratic Alliance, and he dwelt with obvious satisfaction on what he called its `inner party democracy'. This, he said with a slight trace of smugness, was something that only `the Communists' had, apart from the BJP.

Within a week, or perhaps ten days of this interview being aired, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh chief gave an interview, on the same channel, in which he said quite openly that it was time for Advani and Vajpayee to make way for younger leaders. He was particularly critical of Vajpayee, saying, in effect, that his was, on the whole, an undistinguished tenure as Prime Minister. While some `clarifications' were hastily made soon after this interview, they were by other functionaries. K.S. Sudarshan, the RSS chief did not make any statement. In fact, there were media reports that he had a rather dramatic meeting with Advani, in which the latter offered to resign, and Sudarshan is said to have told him to go ahead and do so.

As if this were not enough, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders, notably Giriraj Kishore, publicly endorsed Sudarshan's stand, saying that it was time for both Vajpayee and Advani to make way for younger people. He, too, was critical of Vajpayee's tenure as Prime Minister. In other words, the two organisations from which the BJP draws its strength and which sustain it in a very real sense, have turned against the leadership of the party, and done so openly. It is pretty evident that the ideological base of the BJP, which is rooted in the RSS, has been not merely shaken but virtually taken apart.

Sudarshan mentioned Sushma Swaraj as one of those who could be among the new, younger leaders; Giriraj Kishore has disagreed and mentioned Narendra Modi, Uma Bharati and Vasundhara Raje instead. If the VHP has its way, the BJP and its identity in Indian politics will change in a manner that will be positively dangerous for the country.

To be fair to Vajpayee, it needs to be admitted that he was a good Prime Minister; he may not have been the most dynamic, and when he spoke he did take forever between the phrases of one sentence, but his was a voice of sanity and moderation, on the whole. Gujarat will remain a terrible blot on that image; that was a time when, instead of being a statesman, he became a common politician, using casuistry as a shelter against his failure to take the steps a truly upright Prime Minister would have taken. Of course, Advani was even better at this; and did it more openly, but then he was a Member of Parliament from Gandhinagar, and needed Modi's support. Nonetheless, the NDA government did manage to provide some stability and economic growth.

The trouble is that it did this at the cost of the fundamentalist ideology of the RSS and the VHP. Both organisations probably expected to be more closely associated with the policymaking process, but they were not. This relegation to the background has not been taken very well by either organisation, and by the RSS in particular. It means a serious crisis for the BJP, but there is an implication to what will inevitably follow that is rather disturbing.

It seems fairly certain that the BJP will have to reorganise its policies to make them more acceptable to the RSS; and that will mean less flexibility, a more stridently communal approach to some issues and a couple of steps, if not more, towards a fundamentalist posture that it has so carefully been avoiding as a member of the NDA. It will inevitably have to choose between keeping the NDA together and placating the RSS, and there are no prizes for guessing which of these the BJP will jettison. The party will abandon any argument it may have about the need to maintain a broad-based front against the United Progressive Alliance, not because it does not think it necessary, but because it needs to placate, and go along with, the RSS merely in order to survive.

Already one hears that the rank and file are resentful of the `clarifications' made by Ram Madhav and others of what Sudarshan had said in his television interview; they want no apology on his behalf. .

Vajpayee may well take this opportunity to retire from politics, something he has said on some occasions he wishes to do. Whatever kept him from doing so will now give way before this frontal attack on him by the chief of the RSS and VHP. To all his other arguments - ill-health, age, and all the rest - will now be added the fact that he will, inevitably, enunciate at some time or the other, that he is ideologically no longer on the same wavelength as the leaders of either the RSS or the VHP and, consequently, will cease to take any further part in the political process.

Advani will, going by his past record, not give up. He will hang in there and muster support for his way of thinking, and try to isolate Sudarshan within the RSS. What he does will not be within the BJP; he will carry the struggle to the ranks of the RSS. That was where he found his political base, from where he carved out his career, and that is where he will go to renew it. He may well resign, but he will not leave the party or the RSS. He knows he is a greater public figure than Sudarshan, and he is also a very astute man. He knows only too well how to bring the general opinion within the Sangh Parivar over to his side. Most of us know just how well - many of us remember the rath yatra he undertook and its horrific aftermath.

The question is really what price Advani is willing to pay to win this war of attrition. If he is prepared to return to ways of the demagogue, to the stirring up of base passions and prejudices, even hatred, then we are truly heading into a dark age in public life. If, on the other hand, he uses his considerable skills to wean the mass of the RSS and BJP supporters away to a path he shows them to be more worthwhile, which means the garnering of more allies and more general support, he may pose a threat to the UPA and its allies, but he may just edge closer towards that bi-polar political world he talked of only a few weeks ago in such a comfortable manner.

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