On September 18, 2005, LK Advani delivered his most blunt message to his party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), when he wound up the BJP national executive in an upscale hotel in rain-soaked Chennai.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (in car) with BJP's LK Advani after a breakfast meeting at the latter's residence in New Delhi in 2009. Arvind Yadav/HT file photo
The occasion was the first gathering of BJP leaders after he had sprung a surprise on June 4 that year at the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Karachi. His praise of Jinnah in the visitors’ book — as a man who strived for secularism — had knocked out the Sangh’s old line on the Partition. The Sangh ensured that Advani would quit, fixing a timeline.
That day in Chennai, three months after his Karachi bombshell, Advani minced no words: “An impression has gained ground that no political or organisational decision can be taken without the consent of the RSS functionaries. This perception, we hold, will do no good either to the party or to the RSS. The RSS too must be concerned that such a perception will dwarf its greater mission of man-making and nation-building. Both the RSS and the BJP must consciously exert to dispel this impression.”
Advani became the first BJP leader to convey to the RSS publicly that the BJP could do without its micromanagement and that “everyone (should) mind their own business”.
Yet, eight years later, on June 11, 2013, Advani accepted a “settlement” brokered by the RSS after a 36-hour standoff. He withdrew his dramatic resignation from all posts in the BJP after his supporters and aides raised a hue and cry about the very same “micromanagement”, supposedly in favour of Narendra Modi, which enabled BJP chief Rajnath Singh to declare the Gujarat strongman as head of the party’s Lok Sabha election campaign panel.
However, the truce revealed the changing contours of the BJP’s ties with the RSS even if Advani’s problems with the RSS were eight years old.
The bottom line was that no one in the BJP could do without the RSS — including Advani. No wonder, Advani’s critics could not help remarking that the veteran leader doesn’t mind the RSS’ micromanagement of BJP affairs if it’s in his favour.
But the Advani camp maintained that they had got an assurance from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that the Sangh wouldn’t push Modi as its prime ministerial candidate unilaterally unless Advani agreed and the influence of RSS officials like Suresh Soni and Ramlal (who is in the BJP) who favour Modi would be curbed.
Even as pro-Modi leaders saw Advani as a big loser as there was no way the BJP could have gone back on Modi’s new role, the RSS wanted Advani and the BJP to smoke the peace pipe — for now. Perhaps, in the Sangh’s calculations, Modi too needed to know his journey wouldn’t be easy unless he took everyone along, said a BJP insider. A diminished Advani too served the Sangh’s purpose.
Yet there was another angle. Ever since Gadkari was denied a second term as BJP president, Bhagwat was in withdrawal mode. But once Gadkari stepped in to appeal to Advani, Bhagwat backed him as a mediator.
Was it because there are divisions in the RSS also?
It is possible that Gadkari’s rehabilitation — an issue taken up by Advani — not only worked in his favour but also allowed room for the emergence of a new combine — Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Gadkari — to act as a counter balance to the Rajnath Singh-Arun Jaitely-Modi axis.