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A Tribune Exclusive
When Advani said he won’t contest
Swati Chaturvedi

New Delhi, September 1
Before the BJP’s flip-flop on opposition to the nuclear deal, BJP leader L.K. Advani told the RSS top brass that he would be quite content not to contest the next election.

A somewhat surprised RSS representative Mohan Bhagwat is then learnt to have told him that the perception that the RSS was favouring selected BJP leaders was wrong.

Sources say Bhagwat assured Advani that the RSS did not want to be perceived as being the “BJP’s remote control”.

Bhagwat, who met Advani recently to formally invite him to the Sangh’s “samanvaya baithak” (coordination meeting) to be held in Mumbai from September 6 to 8, is learnt to have said the BJP needed to work under Atal Behari Vajpayee’s guidance.

Then came Advani’s seeming change of heart over the party’s stand on the nuclear deal and the cat was truly among the pigeons. His statement that the BJP, unlike the Left, was not guided by a reflexive anti-Americanism and amendments to Indian laws should allow the signing of the 123 agreement is being attributed to the influence of NRI friends of the Sangh Parivar in the US.

The overseas Indians who have been lobbying for the nuclear deal and who support the BJP in large numbers have been upset with what they perceive as unnecessary anti-Americanism displayed by the party in tandem with the Left.

The view reportedly among the Parivar’s NRI friends was that the BJP was losing support of the middle-class because of its blind opposition to the nuclear deal.

Earlier, seen as a votary of opening up a strategic relationship with the United States, the BJP was now in danger of just being clubbed with the Left. After this Advani gave the interview to The Indian Express in Hyderabad and tried to nuance the BJP’s opposition.

When asked by The Tribune about the party’s changing its position, Ram Madhav of the RSS said: “There were some wrong reports that Bhagwat had telephoned Advani. No such call was made. We have always maintained that some changes need to be made to the deal and even Anil Kakodkar has said that this will need to be conveyed to the IAEA.”

On reports that the RSS would stop interfering with the affairs of the BJP, he said: “When did we interfere? All we said that perception that we support some leaders and factions is wrong.”

Factionalism that has riven the BJP lately is an open secret, but different groups claim that they enjoy the support of the RSS. Hence, the belated clarification of the BJP’s position on the N-deal.

On issues such as the nuclear deal or the earlier high-decibel campaign against Pratibha Patil’s presidential campaign various leaders, including Vajpayee and Rajnath Singh, have maintained a telling silence. The entire anti-Pratibha Patil campaign was run by the Advani camp and coordinated by his former aide Sudeehendra Kulkarni.

In the anti-nuclear deal campaign, Arun Jaitley and former foreign minister Jaswant Singh have been conspicuously quiet. BJP leaders unsure of the party’s position say that some clarity on the issue is a must as the BJP is now in danger of being perceived as the Left’s “B” team.

Advani’s efforts with seeming RSS blessing and the BJP’s recantation are a pointer to the confusion in the party. Says a senior BJP leader: “All that this has achieved is putting a question mark over Rajnath Singh’s presidency, but we are a party that has always believed in the trinity. At this point Atalji is our Bramha, and Advani and Rajnath our Vishnu and Mahesh.”

Coming in the wake of Vajpayee famously anointing Advani and the late Pramod Mahajan as Ram and Laxman, the analogy says a lot, metaphorically.

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