"The party needs a young leader to restore its organisational health"
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has chosen to focus on the deep divisions in the central leadership of its affiliate and political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party, even as there are indications here that some leaders, smarting under a perceived insult and humiliation heaped on them by the parent body, are getting ready to hit back.
Agency reports quoting Mr. Bhagwat, who was speaking in Pune on Saturday, said he described the BJP as a “divided house” and suggested it needed a “young leader” to restore its organisational health. He did not confirm or deny whether that “young leader” was current Maharashtra State president Nitin Gadkari, whose name has been doing the rounds in the BJP circle as Rajnath Singh’s likely successor as party president. Mr. Singh’s tenure comes to an end in January 2010.
The key task before the new party president would be to “restore its organisational set-up,” Mr. Bhagwat said, indicating that party discipline and the principle of party interests overriding any leader’s personal ambitions would be the new ‘mantra’ in the BJP, or, at least, that is the way the RSS would like the BJP to function.
Although in Delhi, BJP sources declined to say anything on record on the subject of Mr. Gadkari as the “selected” new president who would be later duly “elected,” privately party leaders agreed on one count — Mr. Gadkari was the RSS choice and not the consensus candidate of the party.
However, Mr. Bhagwat continued to maintain that the RSS never makes a suggestion and that it had only “conveyed our expectations of the new leader.” If the BJP were to approach the RSS with a name, “we will okay it.”
The buzz in the BJP is that the four leaders — Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar — whom Mr. Bhagwat virtually ruled out for the top job (although he said it was the BJP which had ruled them out and indicated it would be someone from outside Delhi’s central leadership) were smarting under the humiliation heaped on them with the RSS almost suggesting they were not fit for the task ahead.
It is being suggested that the four together may open a front against the new party president, whoever that may ultimately be. A party functionary said that he expected matters to get much worse in the party before they got any better and that the new party chief would have to face tough times.
An indication of the “resolve” of the four leaders came from Ms. Swaraj, who a few days ago said the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani would continue in that post for the full five-year term for which he was elected, that is, till the next Lok Sabha election in 2014. Now, this is being seen as a direct contradiction of what two successive Sarsanghchalaks — K.S. Sudarshan and Mohan Bhagwat — have said about the need for a generational change in the party’s leadership.
There are other indications of the brewing revolt, although at the moment it is difficult to say what form it will take. Some columnists known to be close to one leader or another are openly writing against the open interference by the RSS in party affairs and have gone to the extent of suggesting that the BJP should cut the umbilical cord that ties it to its mother organisation.
On the face of it, Mr. Bhagwat on Saturday said no deadline was given to Mr. Advani to put in his papers as Leader of the Opposition. But privately, no one in the BJP denies that the RSS wants that resignation. “It is a replay of what happened in 2005 when after delaying the inevitable, Mr. Advani was forced to resign as party president after the Jinnah episode in Pakistan,” a party leader pointed out.