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India: RSS tightens grip over BJP

Reluctant seniors forced to accept Modi as their new boss

Gulf News

New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had to work overtime to ensure reluctant senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders report to the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi.

According to BJP insiders, its apex decision-making body parliamentary board was virtually forced by the RSS to toe the line. The BJP was supposed to announce the formation of various committees for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections after its meeting on Thursday.

A final announcement was deferred and was announced late Friday evening. Sources said that while there was no controversy over the heads of various committees, BJP seniors openly said that they would rather report to the party’s national president Rajnath Singh and not to Modi.

Modi has emerged as in a parallel position to Singh ever since his June appointment as chairman of the party’s central campaign committee. All central office bearers will now also be required to report to Modi besides Singh.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had to base himself in Delhi to ensure everything went as per his plan. Since the RSS dictate is considered final, those opposed to reporting to Modi were not left with much choice.

“We can say now that Nagpur [the RSS central office is located in the Maharashtra city] has tightened its grip over the BJP. The Vajpayee-Advani era has ended and now it’s not Vajpayee’s BJP but RSS’ BJP,” a central office bearer of the party, not happy with the developments, said.

The RSS was pushed to the margins when Atal Bihari Vajpayee ruled the roost in the party and the federal government that he headed for six years from 1998 to 2004. After Vajpayee faded out due to his indifferent health, his deputy Lal Krishna Advani was pushed around by the RSS, first forcing him to quit as the BJP president and then stepping down as the leader of opposition.

Advani rebelled briefly after Modi’s June appointment as chairman of the campaign committee, but had to take back his resignation under RSS pressure. On its part, RSS has asked Modi to keep seniors in the loop and give them due respect.

“It’s hard to believe that now Advani will be required to report to Modi. It’s a complete role reversal,” said the BJP leader.

Advani is considered Modi’s mentor and was responsible for his appointment as Gujarat chief minister in 2001. The two, however, have fallen out over the years.

The RSS handpicked Singh as a replacement for its close confidant Nitin Gadkari as the BJP president. Singh obliged the RSS by anointing Modi to the post, which in all likelihood will culminate with Modi being named as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, despite opposition by Advani and his close associates.

While the Advani faction continues to be part of the 20 committees announced on Friday, it is clear that besides Modi, Singh, Gadkari, Murli Manohar Joshi and Arun Jaitley, all considered close to Modi have been given prominent roles in the new set-up, although officially the BJP claims it’s an exercise towards collective leadership.