The Va­sund­hara Raje episode in Ra­jasthan has ex­posed the many strains in BJP-RSS re­la­tions, says ASHOK MA­LIK


Va­sund­hara Raje’s re­volt shows the in­abil­ity of Nitin Gad­kari to let pop­u­lar state lead­ers be

THE RSS,” a se­nior BJP leader once said in a mo­ment of ex­as­per­ated res­ig­na­tion, “needs to de­cide whether it wants to in­flu­ence the pol­i­tics of In­dia. Or run the pol­i­tics of the BJP.” Vari­a­tions of the frus­tra­tion and anger in that state­ment were on of­fer this past week when Va­sund­hara Raje, for­mer chief min­is­ter of Ra­jasthan, re­belled against her party and against what she con­sid­ered the lo­cal Sangh unit’s ob­du­racy.

Va­sund­hara’s re­volt led to 56 of the BJP’S 79 MLAS in Ra­jasthan of­fer­ing to re­sign and pre­sum­ably fol­low her into a re­gional party, should she so have de­cided. Her move came af­ter Gu­la­bc­hand Kataria, a se­nior party leader in the state and for­mer home min­is­ter, an­nounced a 28-day yatra and tried to project him­self as a chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date. Ra­jasthan goes to the poll in De­cem­ber 2013, and the BJP is hop­ing to win. It is widely per­ceived that Va­sund­hara, the party’s most pop­u­lar face in the state and the chief min­is­ter who lost power nar­rowly in 2008, could lead it to vic­tory.

How­ever, a sec­tion of the lo­cal party — backed by two se­nior Sangh of­fi­cials in Ra­jasthan — has con­sis­tently tar­geted Va­sund­hara. In 2009, af­ter the Lok Sabha de­feat, this fac­tion sought to get her to re­sign from the post of leader of the Op­po­si­tion and, more or less, ex­ile her from the state. It found a will­ing ally in the then BJP pres­i­dent, Ra­j­nath Singh. Nitin Gad­kari re­built bridges be­tween Ashoka Road — the Delhi av­enue that houses the BJP’S na­tional head­quar­ters — and the for­mer princess of Gwalior, but some of her as­so­ciates blame him for not nix­ing the Kataria idea early enough.

Sub­se­quently, Gad­kari and Arun Jait­ley spoke to Va­sund­hara, as­sured her she would be the face for 2013 and that Kataria was barely a threat. They also told her the na­tional Sangh lead­er­ship would stand by her. Nev­er­the­less, the trust deficit was enor­mous. “There’s a 50-50 chance of a re­gional party be­ing cre­ated,” a Va­sund­hara as­so­ci­ate said in the early part of the week. Later, when the is­sue seemed to have blown over, this camp-fol­lower still wasn’t con­vinced: “Let’s see. They’ll hit back. They’re de­ter­mined.”

Va­sund­hara’s as­ser­tion of au­ton­omy is not with­out prece­dent. Naren­dra Modi has done pretty much the same thing in Gu­jarat. Modi hardly com­mu­ni­cates with Gad­kari, whom he blames for re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing San­jay Joshi, his one-time ri­val, and for not stand­ing up to Sangh pres­sure. In the state it­self, the chief min­is­ter has made the Sangh’s frontal or­gan­i­sa­tions ir­rel­e­vant, and neutered their nui­sance value.

Are Modi and Va­sund­hara aber­ra­tions or is their mood telling a story?

When po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts and the me­dia dis­cuss Sangh- BJP re­la­tions, they tend to place the is­sue in the con­text of big ide­o­log­i­cal de­bates: what should be the phi­los­o­phy of the party? Is Hin­dutva a con­tem­po­rary idea? Day-to-day re­al­ity in the states is very dif­fer­ent. In prov­inces where the BJP has a strong pres­ence or is in gov­ern­ment, Sangh of­fice-bear­ers in­creas­ingly see them­selves as power prac­ti­tion­ers, al­ter­na­tive ad­min­is­tra­tive au­thor­i­ties and deal-mak­ers.

The chief min­is­ters respond in dif­fer­ent ways. Modi has turned out those he con­sid­ers in­ter­lop­ers. Other chief min­is­ters try and buy peace by ca­jol­ing the so-called Sangh el­ders — Va­sund­hara at­tempted this as well — but they have come to re­alise the

State lead­ers feel let down by the party lead­er­ship for its in­abil­ity to back ‘po­lit­i­cals’ in their bat­tle against Sangh busy­bod­ies

beast’s belly will never be filled. In states like Mad­hya Pradesh, where the Sangh net­work is ro­bust, one-time RSS purists and moral mon­i­tors are down to play­ing fix­ers and money col­lec­tors.

WHILE OB­VI­OUSLY not a state within a state, the Sangh is the BJP’S ver­sion of a party within a party. As a BJP in­sider who is not from an RSS back­ground puts it, “The Sangh’s first loy­alty is to the Sangh. In a bat­tle be­tween an RSS man and a non- RSS man they will in­stinc­tively back the for­mer.”

While this sense of club loy­alty may seem com­mend­able, it ends up cre­at­ing a dis­torted world-view. It makes the Sangh sus­pi­cious, and wary, of mass lead­ers and pop­u­lar fig­ures, not be­cause it nec­es­sar­ily prides in­sti­tu­tion above in­di­vid­ual — though that suit­ably som­bre rea­son is of­ten cited — but be­cause self-willed, ro­bust and earthy politi­cians who can wave away its com­mands are not the types the RSS is com­fort­able with.

Years of in­ter­ac­tion only within a closed cir­cle — even if the cir­cle is ge­o­graph­i­cally spread across In­dia — also pro­motes a group­think men­tal­ity. There are ac­tu­ally peo­ple in the RSS fam­ily who be­lieve Modi and San­jay Joshi are mu­tu­ally in­ter­change­able and un­der­stand pol­i­tics equally, all this only be­cause sev­eral years ago they may have been pracharaks of sim­i­lar rank in the same or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The equa­tion of Va­sund­hara and Kataria be­trays the same fail­ure. In the case of the Gu­jarat chief min­is­ter, one sup­posed RSS ide­o­logue kept writ­ing thun­der­ing ar­ti­cles in a Sangh pub­li­ca­tion ac­cus­ing Modi of ide­o­log­i­cal heresy. In re­al­ity, he was seek­ing a po­lit­i­cal role for his son, whom he saw as a fu­ture chief min­is­ter, much like Modi.

When BJP func­tionar­ies bring up such con­tra­dic­tions, Sangh lead­ers ob­fus­cate or pre­tend to look the other way — or respond with a suit­able sanc­ti­mo­nious lec­ture. It is this hypocrisy and hum­bug that Va­sund­hara is re­fus­ing to suc­cumb to. Her MLAS, be­ing prac­ti­cal peo­ple, are sid­ing with her be­cause they re­alise her charisma and lead­er­ship skills can win them power — the Sangh’s mumbo-jumbo is of no con­se­quence when it comes to vot­ing de­ci­sions of nor­mal peo­ple.

IT’S NOT just the Sangh. Pop­u­lar state lead­ers feel even more let down by the party lead­er­ship in New Delhi, which seem­ingly un­able to back the ‘po­lit­i­cals’ in their bat­tle against Sangh busy­bod­ies. Both Gad­kari and his pre­de­ces­sor Ra­j­nath owed their jobs to Sangh nom­i­na­tion. Ra­j­nath had been a chief min­is­ter; Gad­kari was only a sec­ond-rank­ing Ma­ha­rash­tra politi­cian — but like the Sangh top brass, a Nag­pur boy — when he was cho­sen by Mo­han Bhag­wat, RSS gen­eral sec­re­tary, for the party pres­i­dency.

A leader ap­pointed in such cir­cum­stances owes more to his ap­point­ing au­thor­ity than to the party. Gad­kari did bet­ter than Ra­j­nath on this count but as the mur­murs of a sec­ond term have arisen — Gad­kari’s three-year stint closes at the end of the year — he has be­come care­ful and more anx­ious to please the Nag­pur brother­hood. This past week, his con­fi­dants in the party and in the Par­lia­ment were openly telling peo­ple the RSS had blessed him with a sec­ond term, hav­ing for­given his dis­as­ter in Ut­tar Pradesh as well as the An­shu­man Mishra episode in Jhark­hand.

There are many who de­spair that Gad­kari sim­ply doesn’t have the stature to be BJP pres­i­dent and that pop­u­lar opin­ion thinks of him as a joke. Yet, this only adds to his util­ity for the Sangh. They can ma­nip­u­late and ma­noeu­vre him with­out the fear of be­ing chal­lenged, and count on him to pre­tend he is “bal­anc­ing com­pet­ing in­ter­ests”, when all he is do­ing is re­fus­ing to back a stal­wart re­gional leader against an RSS- pro­moted non-en­tity.

This schem­ing process helps the Sangh. How does it help the BJP? Va­sund­hara is not the only one wait­ing for an an­swer.



•• Front-run­ners Gu­la­bc­hand Kataria (le) and Va­sund­hara Raje with her peo­ple

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