The differences within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appear to be directly linked to the succession war within the coterie around senior leader LK Advani. This group has controlled the affairs of the saffron outfit for many years now. While it is true that there are several factions within the BJP, the latest round of turbulence is on account of the intra-faction battle to determine who will eventually replace Advani.
The other dimension is that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) may be happier replacing everyone who is at war given that it is the Advani coterie that led to the party’s defeat in 2004 and again in 2009. Instead of holding those who were in charge responsible for the defeat, an attempt is being made to shift the blame on to lesser minions in states. The aim is to establish that they were responsible for the BJP getting only 116 seats, 22 seats less it notched up in 2004.
The latest round has been sparked off by the urgency with which appointments were made to various positions, including the leader and deputy leader of the Opposition in both houses. The rank and file of the party was expecting that those responsible for the defeat would be sidelined. But, some of them were rewarded. Advani who himself first offered to quit his position seemed keen to occupy it after some feeble persuasion from certain colleagues. The general perception is that despite Advani’s expertise at manipulating the media to present the BJP affairs only from his point of view, he is being viewed as a person who was rejected in the general elections and who needed to be replaced.
The RSS that was hoping to be consulted on the matter was shocked that the BJP had gone ahead and announced the appointments. The Sangh decided to keep a low profile initially because Parliament was in session and because it was preoccupied with the culmination of its internal three-year officers’ course that ended nearly ten days ago. But before any missive could arrive from the Sangh, Advani’s main aide and political adviser Sudhendra Kulkarni wrote an article in a magazine holding the RSS responsible for the drubbing. It was not the first time, the RSS had been under attack. Advani himself had advised the Sangh not to interfere in the BJP’s matters at Chennai in the aftermath of the Jinnah controversy.
All hell broke loose after that and the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat conveyed to the BJP leadership that if it concurred with Kulkarni, it should get the matter endorsed in its meeting of the National Executive on June 20. If the members thought that the BJP should be independent of the RSS, the RSS would have nothing to do with the saffron party any longer. Senior leader Sushma Swaraj tried to explain Kulkarni’s article as being his personal opinion as a journalist. The RSS was not convinced. Ultimately, Advani dissociated himself from Kulkarni’s remarks. But the battle had begun.
Jaswant Singh who was irked over Sushma and Arun Jaitley’s appointments in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha expressed his disappointment over the manner in which the party was being run. He made two very significant statements. First, that the question of who should succeed Advani should be settled naturally where his successor should come up through an evolving process.
The political meaning of it was that Advani should be replaced and the replacement cannot be someone he foists on the party. Second, he said he was not clear what the definition of Hindutva was and, third, the BJP has to be a party of the present and not of the past, a direct attack on the RSS. At one level, Jaswant challenged Advani and the appointments but, on the other, like Advani had done earlier also questioned the wisdom of persisting with the Hindutva agenda. He said that extreme elements (read RSS) had caused a setback to the party.
Some of the younger leaders who were on Jaswant’s radar went to the president demanding disciplinary action against him. Now as per the BJP constitution, the matter has to be first referred to the disciplinary committee that comprises members who are all junior to Jaswant. In order to function without fear, the committee will have to be reconstituted with senior members. But this is besides the point.
Others including Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha too have expressed their unhappiness over recent events. The common theme is that all of them, even Jaswant, were a part of the Advani coterie. So it is a fight within the coterie to keep outsiders from getting responsible positions.
The RSS has delayed things for too long. If the BJP does not shape up and carry out corrective measures by June 20, its relationship with the RSS may come under strain. It will then have to choose between the Advani coterie and the RSS. So much for the Hindutva agenda. Between us.