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Who rules the roost?

LK Advani has emerged the real winner in the recent party's reshuffle, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2007 02:34 IST

So much has already been written about how BJP chief Rajnath Singh cut to size two of his senior colleagues, Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi, while revamping the party organisational structure. The perception is that Singh, after wide consultations with the RSS and other top leaders, has had his way in the revamping exercise. He has succeeded in dropping controversial general secretary Sanjay Joshi who, through his exceptional organisational skills, had revitalised cadres in UP to carve out an impressive victory in the municipal polls. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who normally maintains silence, has obliquely backed the reshuffle and claimed that it was done keeping all important functionaries in the loop.

But in all this noise about Rajnath Singh, there is little mention of the fact that this is actually LK Advani’s victory. The changes have his distinct stamp. He has outwitted the RSS and other factions in the party with his clever manipulations, and has left no scope for either the RSS or even Vajpayee to contradict the impression created. On the one hand, the politically shrewd Advani has credited Rajnath Singh for the changes that were made at his instance, and on the other, he has put the RSS and Vajpayee on the backfoot.

In this game of deceptive politics, neither the RSS, which had backed Rajnath Singh for the party president’s post, nor Vajpayee can distance themselves from the decisions as they know that this could damage their image. For them to say that they were not in favour of certain changes would mean that they did not have their way, an impression that the Sangh can ill-afford to create considering the faction-ridden politics of the larger parivar.

Yet, some things need to be made clear. Jaitley’s wings have neither been clipped, nor has he been cut to size. In fact, he has assumed greater responsibility as secretary of the parliamentary board, which is the highest decision-making body. His removal from the position of chief spokesperson is insignificant. As the party general secretary and as secretary of the parliamentary board, he has the right to speak on policy matters or important issues pertaining to his charge. He does not have to join issue with other parties on a day-to-day basis but will take them on whenever the need arises. The revamp has made him stronger and he has acquired the envious position with the full backing of Advani, the man who actually calls the shots in the party, and at the expense of many other second generation leaders, including Sushma Swaraj.

As far as Modi is concerned, being part of the parliamentary board is not a matter of great importance for him since his close allies in the party, like Jaitley and Advani, will always protect his interests. It would have been a setback for him only if he had been removed from the Gujarat chief minister’s post or if his main adversary, Keshubhai Patel, and his supporters had been rehabilitated in a big way. The controversial leader, who was declined a visa to visit the US for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots, is being made to look like a victim by those analysing the reshuffle. In the process, he has gained sympathy from some in the party.

Modi must be having the last laugh since he was in the forefront of the campaign in Maharashtra and for Mumbai municipal elections and will also be the star speaker both in Punjab and Uttarakhand. He, too, has emerged stronger in the party. The BJP cannot afford to annoy its most successful chief minister just ahead of assembly polls. One must also not forget that Modi is crucial for both Advani, who needs his support to win from Gandhinagar again, and Jaitley, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from the state. Modi is also a favourite of the RSS, which has been outmanoeuvred by Advani, who has created the impression that Modi was being cut to size. Rajnath Singh, too, must have been made to believe that Modi was a challenge to him, so this perception suits him well.

As far as Sanjay Joshi goes, his removal is the result of a stand that Advani took during meetings with top RSS functionaries. It is known within the Sangh that the Leader of Opposition, who is also an aspirant for the prime minister’s post in the event the BJP wins next time round, insisted that Joshi had to go. The RSS finally succumbed to pressure.

Advani has emerged the real winner in the reshuffle and the RSS, which had forced him to resign the party president’s post after his controversial Jinnah remarks, is the loser. There is no doubt that the RSS leadership has come out rather poorly in the exercise. It has been browbeaten into submission and shown as a divided house. Sangh cadres are equally confused since they were given to understand that the RSS leadership had taken a strong view of the Jinnah remarks. Now, with Advani reiterating his views on Jinnah in TV interviews, the Sangh does not know how to deal with the issue. Its desire to put the BJP back to its original Hindutva ideology does not seem to be working well. Cadres, who were never taught to think on their own but to follow the top bosses, have perhaps been left wondering whether the idea of being Hindu nationalists was worth pursuing or would they have been better off singing praises of Jinnah. Between us.

Email Pankaj Vohra: pvohra@hindustantimes.com