The mutinous Lal Krishna Advani has retreated, leaving Narendra Modi’s supporters to rejoice and glory in their victory. Yet for all its popular appeal, the legend of the victor and the vanquished, one a disciple of the other, will not get past the serious analyst — for the simple reason that the plot and its ending were written and executed by a strategist technically outside the work area of the Bharatiya Janata Party but nonetheless accustomed to exercising control from behind the veil. If there is any breaking news in all this it is that the shadowy figure has come out into the open. For an entire week, BJP chief Rajnath Singh put up the act of heading an independent party, only to accept in the end — and in writing — that the closure to the Advani resignation episode was brought about by Mohan Bhagwat’s direct intervention. In other words, the conqueror in the Advani-Modi battle is not either of them but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s real ‘high command’, to borrow a phrase from the Congress party. For decades, the RSS has maintained that it is a cultural organisation without its own ambition; article 4(b) of the RSS constitution states that the “Sangh as such, has no politics.” In practice, though, every BJP leader of consequence, be he a Prime Minister or a party president, has had to pray at the Sangh totem pole in Nagpur or Jhandewalan. Today, with Mr. Rajnath Singh’s public admission, the myth of the non-political Sangh has entirely collapsed.

In 2005, the RSS extracted Mr. Advani’s resignation from the party chief’s post for daring to record a flattering view of Mohammad Ali Jinnah during a visit to his mausoleum in Karachi. The episode left Mr. Advani, once beloved of the Sangh, a bitter man, and in his resignation letter he lashed out at the supra body for not leaving the BJP alone. Originally an RSS pracharak, and a saffron hero for his alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim violence, Mr. Modi dumped the RSS en route to becoming shining Gujarat’s new, modern architect. Mr. Advani bristled at the RSS; Mr. Modi thought he had outgrown its control. But in truth both exist and have flourished at different times because of a higher authority to whom they remain tied, despite the delusion that this was not so. Mr. Modi’s popularity with the party cadre may have earned him the role of campaign committee chief but it is to the RSS that he will remain beholden for getting there. The next step, or getting the nomination to run for Prime Minister, will be more difficult for two reasons. The RSS has promised Mr. Advani a say in the decision. Secondly, the BJP’s allies will be more watchful than ever, knowing that what possibly awaits them is an RSS-Modi combination.

More In: Editorial | Opinion