Debating India

RSS Bombshell

Tuesday 12 April 2005

THE BHARATIYA JANATA Party is understandably in a lather over K.S. Sudarshan’s advice that party veterans Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani should make way for a "younger leadership." Cast as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is in the role of the BJP’s spiritual mentor, it was perfectly in order for the Sangh’s supremo to dispense a dose of avuncular advice on the subject. Indeed, Mr. Sudarshan stated a truth that has stared the BJP in the face for quite a while now: Mr. Vajpayee as well as Mr. Advani are well past their prime; the former Prime Minister is 80 and the BJP chief 77; and neither can realistically hope to be at the helm for much longer. Some months ago, Mr. Advani himself hinted at a leadership change in an interview conducted by Karan Thapar for BBC World. The BJP is undoubtedly unsettled by the harshness of the RSS chief’s censure. In an interview to a television channel - described by the BJP as a "dhamaka" or explosion - Mr. Sudarshan lit into the BJP’s big two. He criticised Mr. Advani for overstaying his welcome at the top and bristled at Mr. Vajpayee for the way he ran the Prime Minister’s Office. The RSS chief refused to count him among India’s best Prime Ministers and questioned the role played by his relatives and favourites (he mentioned Brajesh Mishra by name) in the affairs of the state.

In retrospect, it is clear why Mr. Vajpayee seemed so distraught at the BJP’s silver jubilee celebrations. The former Prime Minister regretted not being able to function as efficiently as before and wished the party the best under Mr. Advani’s helmsmanship. This retreat was evidently more serious than the "tired and retired" lament he often used in the past to have his way in the party. Barely had Mr. Vajpayee said his piece than a BJP spokesperson announced that the party would continue to benefit from his "margdarshan [guidance]." Did the elevation of Mr. Vajpayee to "philosopher-guide" run according to the RSS script? Did Mr. Advani feel threatened as well? It would seem so judging by the lengths to which he went to please the Sangh on the same occasion. There was none of the chic vocabulary of 2004 in the presidential speech, which concentrated on a single issue: ideology. The BJP remained intact where other parties split and mutated because the party was rooted in ideology, Mr. Advani intoned, even as he proudly recalled the Jan Sangh’s refusal to break with the RSS on the "dual membership" issue. He was emphatic this relationship would stand the test of time: "Our inflexible stand on our association with the RSS gave us a distinct ideological identity about which we have never been apologetic nor will we ever be."

Not just this. The BJP’s strong man reversed his own stated position on ideology and governance. If he had propagated a degree of ideological flexibility when the National Democratic Alliance was in power at the Centre, he retraced his steps at the Rajat Jayanti celebrations. Now he attributed the party’s defeat in the 14th general election to its presumably short-sighted "focus on issues of governance" and its consequent inability to "nurse its core constituency of ideological supporters." With ideology regaining its pride of place in the BJP’s 25th year, it was but natural that the former Deputy Prime Minister should reiterate his party’s "total, unshakeable and irreversible" commitment to building the Ram temple in Ayodhya. It is ironic but the RSS’ once favourite son cannot seem to bend enough before his ideological mentor.

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