Two pilgrimages

Published : Apr 07, 2006 00:00 IST

The RSS leadership is not fully convinced of the political utility of two "national integration" yatras planned by the BJP.


WHEN the Ramjanmabhoomi movement was at its peak, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal used to draw parallels between a mass campaign and a boxing match. He said: "You should know when to evade, when to pull your punches, when to roll and when to strike." The general perception within the VHP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar was that Singhal, the so-called Field Marshal of the movement at that time, brought this boxing regimen into play in the Hindutva campaigns during the period.

The VHP veteran almost echoed his 15-year-old refrain in his first reaction to the two "national integration" yatras announced by Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani. They are to begin on April 6 from Dwaraka and Puri, under the leadership of Advani and BJP president Rajnath Singh respectively. Singhal said that the "time was not opportune" to launch the yatras and that "it would not get support from the Hindu masses even though the campaign was to focus on the minority appeasement policies of the United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government at the Centre and the encouragement these policies have given to the rise of Islamic terrorism in the country". Singhal did not elaborate the reasons for his opinion, but it was widely perceived to have the support of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The fact that Singhal and RSS sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan made joint appearances in several programmes in March added substance to the perception.

Later, however, the RSS did put its stamp of approval on the BJP's yatras, but it was also noticed that the clearance came after a significant gap of time. By all indications, the delayed approval was a face-saving device for the BJP. According to several informed sources in the Sangh Parivar, the tactical problems posed by the yatras were discussed in its higher echelons even after the public approval. The discussions apparently revolved around their timing.

The RSS top brass, like Advani and other leaders of the BJP, had little doubt that the social and political context in the country was developing in a manner suitable for the advancement of a Hindutva-oriented mass campaign. It shared the opinion that the policies of the UPA government were helping create the political atmosphere for the campaign. However, the RSS top brass and those such as Singhal held that the Sangh Parivar should allow this situation to ripen in order to strike a blow at the UPA and the Left parties, which support the government from outside. "Advani's announcement about the yatras," said an Uttar Pradesh-based senior VHP activist considered close to Singhal, "did not take this considered view into account and seemed to reflect an undue haste. In short, Advani jumped the gun."

The overwhelming perception within the RSS and the VHP is that this "jumping the gun" in many ways points to a revival of the struggles within the Sangh Parivar. The RSS had to spent most of 2005 dealing with these battles, especially those involving Advani, and dousing the organisational fires that broke out from time to time.

In its first major stocktaking of the New Year - the Akhil Bharatiya Prathinidhi Sabha meet held at Nagpur in February - the RSS evaluated that the troublesome period was over with Advani's descent from the position of BJP president. It assessed that the Sangh Parivar could now push its Hindutva agenda in a more systematic and measured manner. The VHP leader said: "But Advani's announcement of the yatras and the way in which it was made indicate that we may have some more internal tussles on hand."

Central to this perception is the appraisal that Advani, who was virtually thrown out of the BJP president's position on account of his "lack of commitment to Hindutva", was trying to use the yatras to recapture his political and organisational primacy. Informed sources in the Sangh Parivar said that Advani did not even have proper consultations with Rajnath Singh before making the announcement. They added that the former party president could come up with some more one-upmanship games during the yatras.

But there can be little doubt that the RSS did not expect to succumb to similar worries when the Prathinidhi Sabha met in February. At that meeting, the RSS top brass discussed not only getting Advani out of office, but also the progress in carrying out the "Chitrakoot plan", which aimed at raising the importance of Sangh Parivar outfits other than the BJP and making the latter follow their initiatives. Many Hindutva programmes, including the VHP-sponsored Shabari Kumbh Mela in the Dangs district of Gujarat, progressed according to the "Chitrakoot plan". The "inopportunely timed" yatras seem, according to informed sources in the Sangh Parivar, to challenge both the "Chitrakoot plan" and the progress it has made.

However, sections of the Sangh Parivar, especially those belonging to the VHP, believe that there are other political developments that could fit in with the "Chitrakoot plan". One of the most significant developments in this regard is the massive response that expelled BJP leader Uma Bharati got during the conclusion of her Janadesh Yatra on March 21. The concluding rally in New Delhi surprised not only the BJP leadership, but Uma Bharati herself. That the rally could attract senior BJP leaders such as Madan Lal Khurana, Sangha Priya Gautam, Swami Chinmayanand, Sanjay Paswan and Harcharan Singh Balli added to the "shock success value" of the Uma Bharati initiative.

Uma Bharati was also able to rope in some secular parties such as the Om Prakash Chauthala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Apna Dal. And, significantly, she made it clear to the secular parties that she would not compromise on core Hindutva issues such as construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya and introduction of a uniform civil code.

As a VHP activist said, Uma Bharati is showing greater affinity to core Hindutva issues and the new political entity that she is planning to launch in April from Varanasi could well come in handy in the advancement of the "Chitrakoot plan".

It is not clear as to how far the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is abreast of the goings-on in the Sangh Parivar, but Manmohan Singh has already expressed concern that the yatras could be destructive for the country as they hold out the threat of rampant communal polaris ation. Only after the yatras begin can one say whether these apprehensions would come true.

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