The statement of Mohan Bhagwat, sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) , on the importance of ideology has put a question mark on the future of senior BJP leaders. Bhagwat’s message to the BJP cadres, mostly drawn from the RSS, is that the party is in a mess because it has deviated from its ideology. Therefore, the only way to restore sanity is to go back to its core beliefs.
A simple interpretation of Bhagwat’s press conference is that the RSS will now be required to put in place systems for the BJP to function properly. For the RSS, individuals are no longer important. There would be no larger-than-life leaders like LK Advani and AB Vajpayee in future. Instead, the new leaders will have to be part of the established system and carry their work in accordance with the Sangh’s ideology. Therefore, Advani’s continuation as the top-most party leader is in doubt. It is also unlikely that one of the four second-rung leaders, who are in their 50s, would be acceptable to the RSS to lead the party inside or outside Parliament.
There are four names doing the rounds as the BJP’s next top leader: Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar. All of them may be capable but the RSS holds a dim view of their capacity to lead the party and adhere to its ideology. By this yardstick, if any of the four continues to enjoy importance within the parivar in the post-Advani scenario, it will be a surprise. It is also certain that none of the four as well as Advani is going to give in to the RSS easily and may have to be forcefully persuaded to quit.
The future of these leaders is linked to Advani, whose credibility is now at an all-time low. His colleagues — George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Brajesh Mishra and Arun Shourie — have accused him of lying about the Kandahar episode. Further, it is being alleged that he was the brain behind the cash-for-vote scam in Parliament in July 2008. Any leader who is painted as a ‘liar’ by his own colleagues will be on the backfoot. His continuation, therefore, is untenable. It is for the party and the RSS to decide the timeframe for his departure. But it has to be sooner than later. Otherwise the BJP’s credibility will sink further.
The four second-rank leaders draw their strength from Advani since they have no mass base. All of them had a role to play in the party’s electoral strategy and ticket distribution in 2009 and can be held accountable for its poor showing. Out of the four, only Ananth Kumar has the distinction of winning four consecutive Lok Sabha polls and may survive the crisis because of his good electoral record and also because he is one of the most-promising younger leaders from south India, where the BJP wants to make inroads.
There has also been an attempt to target Rajnath Singh so that the focus shifts from Advani. Rajnath’s ability to lead the party was always in question and as a senior BJP leader put it, his is the case of a jawan becoming a general. He has been already told that he has to go but, like Advani, he is also trying to buy as much time as possible.
Many BJP leaders thought that Advani would not give in easily to the RSS and could contemplate severing links with the Sangh. But if he does that, he may discover to his dismay that there will not be too many supporters. He is a swayamsevak and knows what M.S. Golwalkar had stated: if a leader loses his relevance whatever his past contributions may be, he should not become a liability for the organisation but withdraw himself from the scene. Will Advani do that? Between us.