A friend, well-connected with the RSS in Nagpur, said this to me some months ago, in the thick of allegations of corruption against BJP president Nitin Gadkari: "There was a time when Diwali would be celebrated at Gadkari's home each time he received a call from LK Advani. Today, that's no cause for celebration. Advani may call and call. But no one at the Gadkari residence has any time for the doyen of the BJP."'
From this and other conversations with people similarly clued in, I have known for weeks that, no matter what, Gadkari would return as the party president for a second term. It was obvious to all that the campaign against him was orchestrated by the older leaders in the BJP and while Gadkari may have been too 'small' to combat these stalwarts, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has always had his own plans. So a small thing like the big ambitions of an Advani here or a Narendra Modi there was not going to derail Bhagwat and the current dispensation in the RSS from their charted course.
That course is to seize control of the BJP back from hands of north Indians. But that is not the only reason why Advani and Modi do not find favour with Bhagwat. The RSS has always believed in collective leadership and shied away from the overriding ambitions of individuals - and both Advani and Modi have become those kind of individuals who are abhorred by the RSS leadership. Advani, in addition, committed the cardinal sin of compromising with Hindutva ideals, notably, labeling Mohammad Ali Jinnah 'secular', something with which even Indian Muslims did not agree.
Modi, on the other hand, was careful not to make a similar mistake by spurning the Muslim cap offered to him by clerics during his Sadbhavna fast. Yet, he stands unforgiven by the RSS for what he did to one of their other favourites, Sanjay Joshi, starting with an allegedly manufactured CD and forcing him out of Gujarat. 'I, me, myself' is not something that finds favour with the RSS.
I must then admire both the tenacity and consistency of Bhagwat. He has set a goal for the organisation and no leader in the BJP is big enough to change that course. During the Gujarat elections, I noticed, that while Modi came a-begging to Nagpur to call off the RSS hounds working against him, Bhagwat chose a neutral path.
I saw many RSS men work against Modi and for his rival Keshubhai Patel - had that not been so, Modi, whose charisma and powers were overwhelming, would have won more than just the 115 seats - two short of his previous tally - he did out of 182 in the Gujarat assembly. However, I am told by those who know the RSS mindset that the Sangh was content to confine Modi to Gujarat - but had he lost and been free to exit Gujarat, he would have been packed off as a pracharak, no more, and still not been allowed anywhere near the party presidency or even within striking distance of the PMO.
Now, though, some Congressmen in Maharashtra worry about the impact Gadkari's candidature from Nagpur might have on their own party, I notice they are treating his impending second term as good news. And Bhagwat cannot be unaware of the fact that that would put an end to the BJP's rather successful campaign against the Congress on charges of corruption in the past couple of years.
But though the BJP might be left vulnerable and open to charges of a pot calling the kettle black on that particular issue, to Bhagwat and his cohorts it is more important to return the organisation to its basics - which is the Maharashtrian upper-crust domination of the RSS and its subsidiary wings.
Gadkari is important to those plans and, unlike Advani who always wanted to be PM yesterday (and Modi, today), I am told, Bhagwat is content to wait until even the day after if tomorrow proves a little too early to realise his dreams. So it will be interesting to see how the BJP plays out its 2014 campaign against a Congress freshly rejuvenated after Rahul Gandhi's elevation as vice-president of the party. BJP leaders are so fond of dismissing the Congress as dynastic but, given such RSS interventions, I notice, none of them is in charge of their destinies either. Big Daddy is, clearly, calling all the shots.