BJP fights, RSS wins

Last Updated: Wed, Jun 12, 2013 04:28 hrs

Whatever be the nature of the truce worked out to appease a visibly sulking Lal Krishna Advani, it is unlikely that even after the withdrawal of his resignation, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, will be able to fully recover from the leadership tussle it has been faced with for some time. 

What we saw in the last few days is only the first stage of that battle. The second stage of that battle is likely to manifest itself immediately after the results of the next Lok Sabha elections are out, perhaps in a worse and uglier form.

If the BJP manages to do well, Narendra Modi and his followers will call the shots. And if it fails to deliver decent Lok Sabha seats after the polls, Mr Advani and his silent supporters will get an opportunity to reassert themselves. What that might mean for the unity of the BJP or its future organisational shape is anybody's guess. 

Either way, the spectacle will not be very pleasing for a party that has prided itself on its organisational strength, leadership depth and, above all, its discipline. It is ironical that Mr Modi, whose appointment as the party's campaign committee chairman triggered the crisis and Mr Advani's resignation, has proved to be a powerful polarising force even for his own party, not just for the country and its people.

Unfortunately, for the BJP, the Advani drama has brought to fore many more ironies of even greater significance for the party and those managing its affairs cannot afford to ignore them. One, it now appears that the supporters of Mr Advani, or those in the party who follow the soft Hindutva brand of politics, are now more outside the BJP than within. 

Consider the voices that were heard in support of Mr Advani. Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) came out in support of Mr Advani, raising questions about its continued association with the BJP if Mr Advani were allowed to be marginalised. In contrast, voices within the BJP were by and large muted and all that the parliamentary board of the party did was to reject Mr Advani's resignation without doing anything to address his concerns over which the octogenarian leader had quit several of his party posts.

Two, it has now become clear that the future of Mr Advani or his followers is closely linked with the performance of the BJP in the next general elections. If the BJP does well, Mr Advani and his supporters, the few who are now left with him, would be further marginalised. On the contrary, Mr Advani would emerge stronger if the BJP's performance were moderate, requiring the party to present a more acceptable face to lead the National Democratic Alliance, or NDA. 

In such a scenario, the BJP would need somebody from the Advani camp - and not Mr Modi, who would not be acceptable to all the constituents of the NDA. Rarely have the fortunes of a political party been so inversely related to the future of its key leaders!

Those who are surprised by the manner in which Mr Advani behaved in the last few days should turn to the autobiographical book that he wrote a couple of years before the last general elections in 2009. Published in 2008, the book ends with the following message from Mr Advani: "I have performed every responsibility, minor or major, that has been entrusted to me from time to time in the course of my long political journey with honesty, devotion and commitment. 

This accounts for the credibility I have earned in public life. In future, too, I shall perform any duty that Destiny may assign to me with the same aspiration: make my humble seva towards ensuring that India becomes more united, stronger and stands taller, with its Tomorrow brighter than its Today."

Here is a leader who is obsessed with his idea of responsibility and fulfilling it, without perhaps realising when the right time is to give up or hang up one's boots. For the BJP, managing a leader with such intellectual proclivities would be a tough task. And the months ahead will reveal how the story of the party's longest-serving leader unfolds.

Out of all these uncertainties about the BJP's future leadership challenges, one message is fairly clear and definite. 

The Modi-Advani battle and the way the current crisis got resolved establish once again the suzerainty of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, over the affairs of the BJP. 

Note that without RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's suggestion to Mr Advani, the resignation would not have been withdrawn. Nor would the BJP president, Rajnath Singh, offer his assurances to Mr Advani that the latter's concerns would be addressed. The real gainer in this unseemly leadership battle is the RSS. 

Mr Modi cannot afford to overlook this development as he prepares to make the next move in his political journey.

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