Debating India

Parivar caught in a muddle

Friday 22 April 2005

It is damage control time in the Sangh Parivar, judging by the swiftness with which statements have been retracted and the blame has been laid squarely at the door of the news media. First, K.S. Sudarshan sets off a fusillade by prescribing on television camera that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani should make way for the next generation of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. The camera faithfully follows the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief as he reveals his innermost thoughts on the competence and trustworthiness of the BJP’s big two. Mr. Vajpayee adds some spice by pointing out, to a well-assembled gathering of journalists, that while he holds no post in the party, Lal Krishna Advani does; and indeed that it is for the former Deputy Prime Minister to decide whether or not to stay on at the helm. All the players have now decided they cannot afford to continue this debilitating war. So Mr. Sudarshan demands an apology from the media for "twisting" his recorded remarks; and Mr. Vajpayee insists he was "misquoted" — he meant for Mr. Advani to continue to lead the party and not quit, as reported.

Not for the first time, the media have become a scapegoat in this raging internal fight. Having launched into an ill-advised tirade against the BJP leadership, the RSS chief now wants to take back his words. Mr. Vajpayee similarly appears to have realised the negative charge of his remarks. The mother organisation knows, as does the daughter party, that by hitting out at the other, you injure yourself. Unfortunately for the actors in this attack-retreat drama (or rather soap opera), the message has gone out that the Sangh Parivar is one quarrelsome family. Mr. Sudarshan’s advocacy of a newer, younger BJP leadership and Mr. Vajpayee’s seeming agreement with his thinking have restarted a debate that barely six months ago set the second generation on a collision course. Who among the second rung leaders qualifies for the top post? Who can carry forward the RSS agenda without alienating allies? The National Democratic Alliance Government survived without any major problems notwithstanding the BJP’s truck with Hindutva. However, there is no guarantee that the allies will go along with an agenda that includes construction of the Ram temple and other hard-core RSS demands. Managing the contradictions in office is one thing; managing them without the strong glue of power is quite another. The Sangh Parivar retains its status as the most speculated upon politico-social network in India. The curiosity derives in part from the mystique associated with a secretive and reclusive RSS. For a long time, the family was perceived as a monolithic unit working to one definite purpose. Pundits and conspiracy theorists tended to over-interpret intra-Parivar actions: if key members quarrelled or contradicted themselves, they did so as part of a larger plan. The events of the past week prove, if proof were needed, that the BJP and its ideological parent are caught in an unprecedented muddle.

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