Whose Line Is It?
- Advani’s resignation and its withdrawal at the RSS’s behest shows the Sangh in control
- Advani’s stature is dented: an organisation he fought to keep off the party has made him toe its line
- Modi, too, held in his tracks. He has accepted the RSS’s decision and his further elevation is in doubt.
- Gadkari redeemed in the party; remains the RSS’s trusted man
If there are any takeaways from the great churning in the BJP over the last few days, the most prominent would be the resounding return of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to micromanaging the party. To make way for that, what could have been more fitting than to have the man who has spent considerable time fighting the Sangh’s interference eat humble pie—never mind that he happens to be the party’s patriarch and founder, L.K. Advani. The message in June 2013 is clear: the RSS is the overriding authority; there’s no question of the BJP severing the umbilical cord with the Sangh.
Bhaiyyaji Joshi, a general secretary of the RSS, has been in Delhi for the last few days, holding detailed discussions with Murlidhar Rao, the RSS’s representative in the party. At the time of going to print, meetings were scheduled with party president Rajnath Singh and Advani as well. Sources also confirmed that RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat has promised to meet Advani in person next week when he arrives in Delhi on June 18. On the agenda, party insiders say, are matters pertaining to the BJP’s functioning and the role played by RSS functionaries Suresh Soni and Ramlal, both pointsmen who deal with the BJP, in precipitating the recent crisis. Insiders confirm that the Advani camp in Delhi, represented by former party president Nitin Gadkari and S. Gurumurthy, had conveyed Advani’s displeasure over Soni and Ramlal’s conduct over the past few days to the RSS chief. In return, sources confirm that Bhagwat promised Advani a say in all decisions of the party in the future, action against Soni and a “unanimous solution to key decisions”.
It’s a win-win situation for the Sangh. Six months after its own prodigy and chosen one, Nitin Gadkari, was forced into a humiliating exit by senior leaders of the BJP, including Advani, pushing sarsanghchalak Bhagwat to retreat painfully into his shell, the infighting in the BJP has only helped the Sangh redeem itself all over again. A senior pracharak from Nagpur says, “We had left the BJP to sort out its own leadership issues. In the last six months, there had been no communication between us. When BJP leaders were unable to solve their problems and came to us seeking a solution, we helped them resolve their issues. That’s a role the Sangh has always played and will do so whenever the need arises.” So, is the RSS micromanaging the BJP? The proof, as sources confirm, lies in the events of the party’s Goa conclave and what followed.
Sources in Nagpur explain that while the Sangh isn’t entirely comfortable with Modi, “given his autocratic and brazen attitude”, it had made it clear that “Advani’s ambition was becoming a liability and that he could well be sidelined in an election year”. The reservations about Modi and the fear of the Sangh facing a shutdown with Modi’s ascent have been discussed threadbare. “Yet, when the subject of making Modi the head of the campaign committee came up, the Sangh gave in to the arguments put out by Suresh Soni and Ramlalji and reluctantly approved the decision—with or without Advani,” says a source. He adds that “things came to a head when Advaniji decided to resign from all party posts. The Sangh then decided to bank on the advice given to it by its most trusted face in the party, Nitin Gadkari.” Gadkari, who had literally camped at Advani’s Prithviraj Road residence since his return to Delhi from Goa, helped broker peace by connecting Advani directly with Bhagwat. After all, the truce between Advani and Gadkari had been called in early May when Gadkari drove to Advani’s residence to discuss his rehabilitation within the party. Insiders confirm that Advani, at that meeting, had apologised to Gadkari “for an error of judgement in ousting Gadkari” and offered him the post of the head of the election management committee. Even as Gadkari turned down Advani’s proposal, after mulling over it for six weeks, the differences between the two leaders had been sorted.
The outcome of Gadkari’s efforts, insiders say, was a much-needed assertion of Sangh authority. A senior pracharak told Outlook, “Look at the larger picture. The BJP’s worst crisis ever has worked to straight-line the hierarchy once and for all. When the sarsanghchalak himself asks Advaniji to go by the decision of the parliamentary board, he makes a few important points. One, that the RSS’s decision is the final decision in the party. Two, both Advani and Modi have to bow to the Sangh’s decision. Three, it checks Modi’s brazen run, which seemed difficult to do under any other circumstance. Four, it redeems Gadkari—he will always remain a more trusted karyakarta for the Sangh than Modi or anyone else in the BJP.”
So where does all this lead? For one, now on, it would be easy for the Sangh to remote-control the BJP’s political decisions in an election year. A senior RSS leader said, “It would be difficult for the BJP now to push any one particular case citing cadre sentiment and cadre support. By stepping in at the right time, the Sangh has managed to defuse any emotional demand for Modi’s further elevation in the future. It has managed to pre-empt future attempts by Advani to claim the top job in 2014 and re-establish Gadkari’s stature and reassert his consensus-building skills.” Would that mean a greater role for Gadkari in 2014? An RSS leader says, “It could well be. As of now, Modi has only been given charge of spearheading the BJP’s election campaign. That does not mean a PM candidature for him. Given a choice, the Sangh would prefer to push for Gadkari, considering Gadkari is not just more acceptable within the party (he has managed difficult jobs like the rehabilitation of Sanjay Joshi and Uma Bharati easily) but is also seen as pro-development and more acceptable to the NDA allies.”
If that be the case, then what are the other takeaways from Goa? Insiders say, “The Goa goings-on have underlined a few important and so far unsaid truths: the roles of Advani, Modi, Rajnath and Gadkari have all been redefined.” How? For one, Advani’s dissidence and resignation have underlined the fact that Modi is a polarising figure and unacceptable even within his own party. That alone will make Modi not just cautious about his conduct but even check his truculent, all-out claim to any top post in the future. The differences between Advani and Modi in a way discredit both of them at the national level. While Goa served to confirm Modi’s image as an autocrat, Advani’s own submission to the RSS will force him to to abide by the RSS’s wishes in the future, considering that the Sangh has stuck its neck out in rehabilitating him within the party he himself founded. Beyond that, it also damages Rajnath’s own position within the party—from a consensus president to one who failed to build not just consensus over political functioning but even exposed himself as a mere stooge of the RSS when it came to the crunch. With the RSS pulling strings like this, the script for the BJP in 2014 may as well be ghost-written.
By Prarthna Gahilote in Goa and Mumbai