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Battle for the top post

india Updated: Sep 09, 2007 22:45 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times
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Signs of a fierce power struggle within the Sangh parivar were visible as senior RSS and BJP leaders gathered for a four-day Samanvaya baithak at Bhayandar near Mumbai, obviously in anticipation of an early parliamentary election. The RSS as well as the BJP appear to be keen that the perception about differences between various factions of the Sangh should be corrected. They also want that the erroneous impression about continuous RSS interference in the day-to-day affairs of the saffron party should not come in the way of the Sangh’s unflinching commitment to Hindutva.

The political significance of the baithak lies in the fact that RSS chief K. Sudarshan and his deputy, Mohan Bhagwat, have a clear difference of opinion regarding L.K. Advani, whose coterie virtually runs the party, notwithstanding who the president is. Sudarshan wants to give Advani a chance to explain his position while Bhagwat feels that there is no such need anymore as ample opportunities have already been given. He, like many others in the RSS who attended the Surat conclave in 2005, believe that Advani’s pro-Jinnah remarks were unjustified and against Sangh ideology.

The BJP does not have much problem with the RSS, without whose support it can hardly be expected to win elections. The problem has been created because the RSS had forced Advani to give up his position as party president in 2005 in order to pave the way for Rajnath Singh. Before giving up his post, Advani had attacked the Sangh and advised its leaders not to interfere in the BJP’s affairs. The fact is that Advani has not been able to digest the RSS’s snub and has shown no hesitation in exploring other options like getting support from NDA allies. But now the NDA too is showing signs of collapsing, with Mamata Banerjee giving pointed hints about distancing herself from the alliance.

Advani and his supporters will be keen that the RSS finally gives in and allows him to have a free hand in leading the party in the next polls. If Advani gets RSS endorsement, his opposition to the Sangh’s interference in the BJP affairs will also go away. In other words, all this talk of RSS interference is to put pressure on the RSS leaders to succumb to the agenda put forward by Advani, his coterie and some RSS leaders like Madan Das Devi.

The Advani faction wants to step up the pressure because the RSS has virtually made up its mind to project a Brahmin as the potential prime-ministerial candidate. This thinking gathered momentum after Brahmins and other upper castes shifted towards Mayawati’s BSP in the last UP assembly polls. The Advani faction is trying to impress upon the Sangh that circumstances have changed after the UPA-Left standoff and it is Advani alone who can steer the party towards big numbers.

There are attempts to generate a debate on whether the leader of the Opposition should be the Prime Minister-in-waiting. Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha said during a television interview that his position as Opposition leader did not automatically qualify Advani as the PM-in-waiting. This is true. Barring Atal Bihari Vajpayee, no leader of the Opposition has become Prime Minister. Y.B. Chavan, C.M. Stephens, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi did not occupy the august office after holding the post of leader of the Opposition.

The supreme irony is that the BJP has failed as an Opposition party. In fact, if the prospects of a mid- term poll have become stronger, it is because of the opposition to the government from the Left parties and not because of the BJP’s feeble stance that comprises a series of inconsistent statements made by its leaders. When the BJP has conceded the opposition space to the Left already, where is the question of its leader in the Lok Sabha being seen as as the PM-in-waiting? If after this, the RSS and the BJP still decide to project Advani as their prime ministerial bet, then it is a decision which they, as political outfits, are free to take.

The sole purpose of the pressure being put on the RSS is to make it change its mind regarding Advani. But Yashwant Sinha also said some other interesting things in the interview. He said that the party had the option to choose its future prime ministerial candidate from among Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Advani, Jaswant Singh and Rajnath Singh since “our party is neither a one-book party nor a one-leader party”. Sinha is politically astute and would never say something like this unless he knows that Advani is yet to receive any kind of endorsement from the RSS for projection to this position. However, the names he mentioned included only one Brahmin — Vajpayee, who is unwell and excluded the other, Murli Manohar Joshi, who is close to the RSS.

The RSS and the BJP both will also need a contingency plan at hand in the next few weeks if Advani does not get the required Sangh endorsement. Advani is not going to give in easily. The power struggle could well turn into one between Advani and the BJP as he will continue to apply pressure till he has his way. He knows that this is his best, and last, chance. It is another matter that the people may not be impressed by the BJP’s track record as an effective Opposition and not rally around it. In the end, it is neither leaders nor organisations, but the people who make you win. Between us.