Cleaning out the Augean Stables

With the BJP turning away from self-correction and factionalism spilling out into the open, the RSS has decided to rein in the BJP. Ajit Sahi reports

Taking Charge Mohan Bhagwat (centre) after being appointed chief of the RSS in March, 2009
Taking Charge Mohan Bhagwat (centre) after being appointed chief of the RSS in March, 2009
Photos: Monica Chaturvedi

THE TIMING couldn’t be worse for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation whose diktat was once binding on its political child, the BJP, on every issue from core ideology to its leadership. In a television interview broadcast on Tuesday on the news channel Times Now, Mohan Bhagwat, who was appointed RSS chief four months ago, chided the BJP for its infighting and disarray and warned its leadership to take charge … or else.
It turns out that the BJP has little time for such advice. On August 19, a day after the interview was broadcast, the party expelled Jaswant Singh, a party stalwart and a founder member, who had been in charge of the external affairs and finance ministries in BJP-led Central governments between 1998 and 2004.
Ignoring Bhagwat’s stern advisory to resolve issues internally, the BJP leadership also read out the riot act to former Rajasthan Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje during its three-day brainstorming meeting at Shimla this week. Raje has refused to quit as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly – a post she assumed after she was voted out of power in last November’s elections in the state.
Disgusted at the open infighting in the BJP, the Nagpur-based RSS blames the BJP’s top two leaders, Lal Krishna Advani and party president Rajnath Singh, for the party’s mess and says the duo have failed to bring the BJP back on the rails since its stunning loss to the Congressled coalition in last May’s Lok Sabha elections. “Advani will have to go,” an RSS functionary bluntly told TEHELKA in New Delhi, declining to be identified.“Yeh sab kachra saaf hoga (All this garbage will be cleaned up).”
The RSS has, in fact, been pushing for a change in the BJP’s top leadership since the Lok Sabha elections. Its top functionaries have been upset with Advani for continuing to be the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha after the defeat. Bhagwat claimed in his TV interview that Advani first told him he would step down from the position that he held in the outgoing Lok Sabha, but changed his mind a few days later, citing “pressure from within the party” to stay on.
Not that the RSS has had any love lost for Jaswant Singh, one of those rare BJP veteran who have never been RSS members. Deeply hurt at his expulsion from the party that he helped found, Singh was never particularly liked by the conservative RSS brigade, who found him too westernised for their liking.
An RSS leader recalls with irritation that Jaswant Singh disclosed in his previous book that he had opened a bottle of whiskey to drink up after completing one of his most trying assignments – ferrying top Islamic terrorists from an Indian prison to Afghanistan in exchange for the safe return of a planeload of Indian passengers who had been hijacked and held hostage for a week in December 1999. “The RSS prides itself on promoting Indian values and cultures,” the RSS leader said. “What message do we send out to our cadres by talking so openly about drinking alcohol?”
Another reason for the RSS’s anger with Jaswant Singh has been his meddling in the politics of his home state of Rajasthan in order to destabilise Vasundhara Raje. Two years ago, Jaswant Singh’s wife had filed a criminal case against Vasundhara Raje after posters had appeared in Rajasthan depicting the former chief minister as the Hindu goddess Durga.
A third and perhaps the biggest reason for their anger with Jaswant Singh was his decision to contest this year’s Lok Sabha election from the mountainous constituency of Darjeeling in West Bengal, a seat he won with the overt support of a clutch of political outfits that harbour separatist tendencies.