It is the ultimate irony. The BJP’s new central campaign chief Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi says he will erect a statue of Sardar Vallabhhai Patel that will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.
I wonder if he has forgotten that it was Patel who in his time banned the RSS which was the chief mediator in the BJP imbroglio which was set off by party patriarch LK Advani’s resignation.
If you had any doubts as to who calls the shots in the BJP, let them be laid to rest. As the BJP scrambled for cover following Advani’s thunderbolt the day after Modi’s elevation, it seemed that the party would literally split wide open.
It took a call from Nagpur, the seat of the RSS, to calm the churning waters. Party president Rajnath Singh stood by harried, groping for a way to project some semblance of unity as the party leaders squabbled like schoolboys.
But such is the power that the RSS wields over the party that once the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat stepped in, a hushed silence fell over the school yard.
I have noticed this ever so often. Every time there is a crisis in the BJP, it is resolved from Nagpur. I am given to reliably understand that the decision to elevate Modi and signal the end of the Advani era was taken quite a while ago by the RSS.
Many feel that the steadying hand of the RSS ensures party discipline. But on the other hand, it is worrying that an unelected organisation, indeed the RSS claims to be a cultural body, is actually calling the shots in a democratically elected party like the BJP.
The Congress may have a high command, but equally the BJP has its high command in the RSS. As long as the RSS is in command, and there is no reason to believe that it will fade away into the sunset any time soon, the BJP will be gripped by a sort of political schizophrenia.
It realises that to remain relevant to India’s youthful demographic, it will have to project itself as a modern, inclusive party. But, the RSS is clearly not on the same page here.
It has always felt that the BJP lost power because it diluted its core competence, that of Hindutva. It feels that the BJP tried to be a Congress clone and this is why people opted for the real McCoy.
This is why it went ballistic when Advani, in an attempt to project himself as a moderate and inclusive person, praised MA Jinnah. For the RSS, the very mention of the name of the founder of modern Pakistan is as garlic to a vampire.
The RSS accepted Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the party’s genuinely moderate face as it saw in him a means to attain power. But it felt that once having got power, the primary agenda was to implement the principles of Hindutva.
After nine long years out of power, the men in Nagpur are convinced that the time for all this show of moderation is over. The party must return to projecting its core values, that of Hindutva.
Hence, it was clear that Advani with the Jinnah taint could not possibly have been the choice to lead the party. The only thing that would work, Bhagwat must have felt, is a return to an aggressive Hindutva.
But, what Bhagwat whose world view goes little beyond Nagpur does not realise is that India has moved on. No one, except some right-wing fringe elements, is interested anymore in the Ram mandir.
No one is all that keen on rath yatras, no one is keen on a return to a solely Hindutva agenda. That phase in our history is over. Modi will seek to package Hindutva along with development but I wonder if that will be a winning formula.
For the BJP to grow as a party, it needs to cut its umbilical chord with the RSS. It has to evolve its own conflict resolution mechanisms. It has to evolve its own positive agenda.
It cannot go running to big daddy in Nagpur every time the going gets rough. This diminishes the party and the many talented people in it.
The RSS too should in its own interest not be seen to be so overbearing in the BJP’s affairs. I can’t understand how Bhagwat and his men can possibly decide on who should lead the charge in the elections or who should be prime minister given their complete lack of understanding of the compulsions of electoral politics.
And I find it even more strange that the BJP from which the RSS draws its immense political power accepts a subservient position to Nagpur.
And it is not as though the RSS always comes up trumps in its political choices. It disastrously foisted the portly Nitin Gadkari on the party as president, a move which backfired terribly.
It then pushed the somewhat inarticulate Rajnath Singh as president. Poor Rajnath looked on helplessly as his party leaders went for each other until reinforcements came from Nagpur.
My advice to the RSS is let the party get on with the business of politics and leave well alone. Backseat driving is bad enough. But when a driver without a licence gets behind the wheel, it is possible that the car will go very much off course or worse still incur some serious damage.