The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wanted, a father figure for bickering BJP

New Delhi, Oct. 19: Wanted, a “Bhishma pitamah” for the BJP.

With infighting plaguing virtually all state units, the party is on the lookout for a father figure whose word will carry the “moral authority” to rein in faction leaders before the next round of Assembly elections and the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

BJP sources admitted that no one — not even party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu — has the kind of influence that can prevail over one and all. The Big Two, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, are considered ultimate “saviours” during a crisis, but given the frequency with which they arise, the sources said it was neither “practical nor fair” to go running to them.

These sources said Madan Das Devi, the RSS joint general secretary in charge of its political wing, has emerged as the BJP’s main firefighter. “He alone has proved effective whenever ranks had to be closed,” they pointed out citing Rajasthan, where a large section of the BJP was reportedly against Vasundhara Raje’s appointment as state unit chief. Devi managed to convince them of the importance of having a “new and young face” in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

Devi’s services may also be sought to contain the dissidence in Uttar Pradesh, where a large group of MLAs is up in arms after being denied ministerial berths. Sources said Naidu is not being able to wield the authority some of his predecessors did because of the “suspect” circumstances in which he took over by allegedly contravening the party constitution. He then got embroiled in a land scam. There is a feeling that Naidu “survived” because of the “blessings” of certain senior leaders.

In the past, S.S. Bhandari and Kushabhau Thakre, who were handpicked by the RSS to “serve” the BJP, could put the fear of god in party functionaries because of their “seniority, objectivity and the fact that they were not aligned to a faction”. Bhandari is now Governor of Gujarat. Thakre has lost his aura after he reportedly got too close to the Sunderlal Patwa faction in Madhya Pradesh.

Veterans like Pyarelal Khandelwal and Kailashpati Mishra have just about survived. The former because of Murli Manohar Joshi and Mishra because there was no other Central leader to look after Bihar and Jharkhand.

All eyes are now on BJP vice-president Bal Apte, also an RSS nominee. Sources say he is “sufficiently senior” and has the organisational experience after being in the Sangh’s students’ wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, for years. The RSS hopes Apte will fill the vacuum created by K.N. Govindacharya’s exit — “someone who will combine a commitment to Hindutva ideology with organisational pragmatism”.

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