Debating India

BJP

Advani retains his job, but for how long?

Thursday 16 June 2005

The unwritten understanding seems to be that Mr. Advani will soon quit as BJP chief.

THE END game for L.K. Advani has just begun. For the moment he seems to have manoeuvred a move that has successfully met the checkmate challenge by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but he is in a very vulnerable position and fair game for attack by the various constituents of the many-headed Sangh.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has already demanded that he take sanyas from politics - resign his positions as Bharatiya Janata Party president and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha as well as from Parliament. There are others, including colleagues in the BJP, who feel that he will have to give up at least one of the two positions he is holding in violation of the party principle of one-man one-post.

Any moment, and certainly before the BJP national council session scheduled for December in Mumbai or even as early as the start of the monsoon session of Parliament, party insiders say he will be out. Apparently, all that he is looking for is a graceful exit, a senior party leader, who is his well-wisher, hinted.

Late in the evening on June 6, the day Mr. Advani returned from Pakistan, senior RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat made it clear to the handful of BJP leaders who met him that the Sangh Parivar would like him to exit as BJP chief. This prompted Mr. Advani to call BJP general secretary Sanjay Joshi to his residence on June 7 and hand him his resignation letter. That day and the next morning he repeated several times that there was no question of any re-think on his resignation. How could he? The RSS had made up his mind for him.

A mere formality?

The appeal by the BJP parliamentary board on June 8 that he continue to lead the party made through a resolution placing on record the party’s appreciation of his leadership read like an obituary. The appeal was meant to be a mere formality. Not a word was said about the controversies relating to his Pakistan yatra. His response to that appeal was that he would consider the request of his colleagues and give his response the next day. At that point, that response was expected to be a rejection of the appeal and an insistence that his resignation be accepted.

However, later, when most of his party colleagues left his residence, it was to the former party president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, that Mr. Advani reportedly revealed the possibility of his being persuaded to stay on. He wanted a graceful exit, not to be virtually pushed out of the job. And then began the feverish attempt to reach a compromise with the RSS leaders to buy a little more time for Mr. Advani. And by the next day both sides accepted the formula. A statement was adopted by the party’s parliamentary board strongly reiterating the Sangh’s view of Jinnah as the father of the two-nation theory (it did not matter that like the Hindu Mahasabha the RSS had always believed in the concept of Hindus and Muslims being two nations), which led to the Partition of India on the eve of Independence. The compromise formula offered a small consolation to Mr. Advani in the shape of appreciative references to the "inauguration" of the restoration of the ancient Katasraj temple in Pakistan by Mr. Advani.

But the bottom line of the happy ending to the BJP’s political crisis last week was the unwritten understanding that Mr. Advani would soon quit as party chief. But Advani loyalists - or rather, those leaders who fear that Mr. Advani’s exit could mean their own eclipse - are hoping that some miracle like a win in the Bihar Assembly elections three to four months from now could provide the window to force open the understanding with the RSS that he would quit his party post soon. That, however, is considered to be a remote possibility. The best that Mr. Advani could hope for is that he could quit gracefully and with honour if the party was to notch a victory in the Bihar election, some party leaders close to the Sangh feel.

Tense relations

It is not only the "Jinnah" episode in Pakistan that did Mr. Advani in. RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan had said just a couple of months ago in an interview to a television channel that Mr. Advani should "step aside" and make way for a younger leader. At that time after some skirmishes between the RSS and the BJP an uneasy truce followed. The Advani pronouncements in Pakistan - his "Jinnah is secular" formulation and the Babri Masjid demolition day being the "saddest day in my life" comment - came when the relations between the Sangh and Mr. Advani were already tense. The result was that they snapped.

Mr. Advani has been checkmated. He may postpone the acknowledgement of defeat for a while by making a few inconsequential moves, but that is not expected to change the result.

See online : The Hindu

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