Debating India

SANGH PARIVAR

Patriarch’s Hard Glare

Monday 25 April 2005, by BHAUMIK*Saba Naqvi

As the parent-child spat spills out, the BJP swings between rebellion and obedience

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Jitender Gupta

Why is RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan so angry? The story goes that, in March end, a group of BJP and RSS ’intellectuals’ gathered in Bhopal for what was dubbed a two-day ’thinkers meet’, chaired by Sudarshan and his deputy Mohanrao Bhagwat. The RSS members viewed the event as an opportunity to discuss problems between the Sangh and the BJP. But they came away with the impression that the BJP representatives had responded to even mild criticism with arrogance.

L.K. Advani’s aide Sudheendra Kulkarni calmly told Sudarshan the Hindu vote was "a myth" and chasing it was "undemocratic". For effect, he said the BJP must reach out to Muslims and even defended Jawaharlal Nehru.

Former BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu also refused to hear any criticism of the NDA rule and dwelt on all its wonderful feats. But sources say the real bombshell came from ex-disinvestment minister Arun Shourie. He told the Big Chief that during the NDA rule, requests to favour individuals or enterprises didn’t only come from the BJP but the RSS too.

Sudarshan was said to be furious. It was the culmination of a long history of disaffection. Then came his now-famous tirade. In the days that followed, events took on a momentum. Vajpayee—stung by the direct criticism of his rule, and his family—was the first of the Big Two to react. Speaking in Pune, he said he was "not one to take insults lying down. Mein maut se nahin, badnami se darta hoon (I dread dishonour, not death)." Before him, it was only his former aide Brajesh Mishra—who has no real stakes in the party—who spoke up by describing Sudarshan as "a frog in the well" who makes "inane, absurd and fictitious allegations".

Insulting the sarsanghchalak is out of the question for anyone who fancies a future in the BJP. But there are ’off the record’ murmurs. One senior leader described him "as a man with a limited worldview". Another said: "Sudarshanji believes everyone he is talking to is a swayamsevak." A third asked angrily: "Why does he need to attack Vajpayee after he has said he is retiring? He is digging graves."

Sudarshan’s ire goes beyond Vajpayee or the NDA rule. For one, he was unhappy over the hasty manner in which Advani took over the party presidency from Venkaiah. The RSS was informed, not consulted. Sources say, Sudarshan asked Advani how he could defy the principle of one-man, one-post by being both BJP chief and leader of the Opposition. "You had yourself moved the resolution to sanctify that principle," he reportedly said. Says an RSS hand, "Sudarshan kept telling Advani to give up one post but he didn’t listen."

The six years of NDA rule had already left Sudarshan with a deep resentment of Vajpayee. While the ex-PM enjoyed an excellent rapport with earlier sarsanghchalaks Balasaheb Deoras and Rajju Bhaiyya, he never clicked with Sudarshan, his junior in the parivar. As PM, Vajpayee chose to keep the Sangh at an arm’s length. Proposals to induct the editors of Sangh publications Panchajanya and Organiser into his pmo were turned down—the RSS blamed this on Brajesh Mishra.

The RSS and VHP have also been led to believe that Mishra and Kulkarni were responsible for scuttling a proposal of the Kanchi Shankaracharya that could have settled the Ayodhya dispute to the VHP’s satisfaction. This may or may not be true but it has been whispered into Sudarshan’s ear that they wanted to give ’undue weightage’ to Muslim opinion. As Mishra has said, "Sudarshanji is susceptible to believing rumours his coterie spreads."

Besides disappointment over the Ayodhya issue, the RSS was also opposed to Vajpayee’s disinvestment policy and, most crucially, the Pakistan peace process. Sudarshan reportedly holds Vajpayee responsible for kickstarting the Pakistan initiative and he is unhappy with the current ’bhai-bhai’ mood.

Says an RSS insider: "We don’t believe there can be any friendship with Pakistan, a nation we are told in our shakhas should disintegrate into small pieces." That’s why it is believed in the parivar that Advani scuttled the Agra summit not because he disagreed with the Atal line but because the RSS told him to.

The BJP is responding with a twin strategy. Efforts are on to arrange a meeting between Sudarshan and Advani. One compromise formula could be Advani remaining president till the year-end when the BJP’s silver jubilee celebrations are concluded. He could then hand over charge to a younger leader. Two names tentatively doing the rounds are those of Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh.

The BJP is also quietly asserting its separateness. A day after Sudarshan’s remarks became public, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, like other BJP leaders, refused to comment on the sarsanghchalak. But he held an impromptu briefing on the BJP’s membership touching three crore and said a drive was on to increase it to four crore.

One unintended outcome of Sudarshan’s attack may be a reaffirmation of the BJP’s old guard. It’s served to remind the restive second rung that Vajpayee and Advani are perhaps the only individuals with the stature to challenge the RSS. And given the narrow worldview of the men in khakhi shorts, it must have been a monumental task for both to separate ideological issues from governance. A BJP veteran remarks: "If they had listened to Sudarshan, the BJP would never have come to power."

A senior swadeshi ideologue has this take: "It’ll take a while for the dust to settle. Then we will see who is left with their izzat (honour) intact. Like ragpickers we will collect our garments and cover ourselves. Ghada phoot gaya, doodh batorna hai (The vessel has broken, the spilt milk has to be collected)."

But Advani is no rebel who will challenge the sarsanghchalak’s primacy. But he is a politician who will gather his forces and negotiate from a position of strength. He knows the BJP would suffer in future elections if RSS cadres stop working for it. In fact, there are 200 whole-timers in important BJP posts on loan from the RSS. The RSS is clearly the parent body. There are some in the BJP who believe the child has outgrown the parent. They say the BJP’s future lies in becoming a conventional right-wing opposition to the Congress and in jettisoning the loony fringe. But this view is unrealistic given that half the BJP is the RSS. It’s unlikely that the umbilical cord will be cut. But fireworks could continue as for the first time in the RSS, the sarsanghchalak is under attack. Given the nature of the parivar, it will have to be a covert operation.

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