The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dinner at PM’s fails to bridge parivar rift

New Delhi, Oct. 26: The last has not been heard on the war of nerves between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the RSS and its affiliates.

Little headway appeared to have been made in resolving the differences between the government and the RSS in the much-hyped dinner meeting last Thursday at 7, Race Course Road. BJP sources said sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan made it clear that none in the RSS could be counted on to mediate between the government and the Sangh’s allied outfits, like the VHP, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

If the government or the BJP so desired, they would have to directly interact with the leaders of these organisations. Vajpayee is believed to have given no assurance that he or deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani would do so.

Sudarshan apparently also told Vajpayee that the concept of the “parivar (family)” was a myth and each of the RSS offshoots was an autonomous entity with a mind and soul of its own.

Sangh sources interpreted his reported statements by suggesting that individuals like VHP leader Ashok Singhal and BMS ideologue Dattopant Thengadi were senior to Sudarshan and, therefore, it was often a “delicate” mission for him to hold a brief on the BJP’s behalf with them. As a “logical” corollary, Vajpayee, who is their peer, should have “no problem” dealing with Singhal and Thengadi.

The positive gloss on the outcome of Thursday’s dinner meeting is only a matter of interpretation. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu had indicated to the press after the meeting that in crunch situations, the party would speak to the VHP, the SJM and the BMS.

That this was only a spin was evident a day later. If Vajpayee and the RSS brass had bought peace, both sides would not have iterated their original positions within 24 hours of the meeting.

At the NDA rally, Vajpayee spoke out strongly against what happened in Gujarat and the VHP’s propensity of launching verbal assaults — of course, without naming anyone. On his part, the VHP’s irrepressible Praveen Togadia was also back to Sonia-bashing. The VHP general secretary was quoted as saying in a function at Nagpur on Friday that Sonia had a “pathological hatred for pagan Hindus” and was running a “hate campaign” against the community.

In Mumbai, again on Friday, swadeshi proponent S. Gurumurthy was quoted as saying a national disinvestment panel should be set up to sell PSUs. He also raised the argument of national security in the context of the sale of oil PSUs and spoke in favour of offloading shares to the public to generate funds.

The only thing positive to emerge from the dinner was that because of practical considerations, both sides agreed to show restraint till the Gujarat elections. The BJP would like to win the polls and retain its last fortress. The RSS, too, would like to prove that its brand of Hindutva could be legitimised through a democratic process. After all, Singhal has declared that the Gujarat “experiment” would be repeated across the country.

More important, it would seem that a kind of paralysis has gripped the government after three years in office. Political observers say no party likes policies required for good governance once elections are on the horizon. Reform is bound to hurt some people and parties become extra-sensitive to them. They claim that the tension between the BJP and the Sangh parivar is best understood in the context of the built-in conflict between reforms and winning elections.

There is also the imperative of the various Sangh organisations to maintain their own identities. The VHP needed Ayodhya for its survival and sustenance and the SJM and the BMS, their anti-liberalisation and calibrated disinvestment planks. And the BJP’s Lok Sabha MPs, both. A VHP office-bearer said: “We don’t understand anything about disinvestment. This much we know that on Pakistan and having a war, we cannot influence the government. These issues are global. But Ayodhya is our baby, and we will go to any length to fight for it. What else are we here for'”

The BMS — which claims to be the largest trade union — argued that it could not afford to let its “ideological space” be reclaimed by the Left unions by keeping quiet on labour reforms.

Other political observers claim that the differences between the two also boil down to a question of pandering to egos. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav put it tactfully when he said: “It is not as if the VHP or the RSS wishes to displace the government or influence its policies. But if feelings of the leaders are heard, they will have a sense of belonging. If, for example, on the Ramjanmabhoomi issue, the government explains its position to Singhal, he would feel better. So far, the government has only interacted with the RSS but not the other organisations.”

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