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Since 1st March, 1999
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Sangh sends old-age jitters down BJP spine

New Delhi, April 10: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief gave the BJP brass some moments of intense anxiety today when he asked Atal Bihari Vajpayee and party president L.K. Advani to make way for younger leaders.

The statement came days after Advani reached out to the Sangh and iterated that the BJP could do nothing without its help and blessings.

RSS sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan's statement, in a television interview, reportedly sent Advani and his deputy, M. Venkaiah Naidu, into a tizzy. Vajpayee did not react, BJP sources said.

The former Prime Minister, who is 80, had indicated at the BJP national council on Wednesday that he would retire from active politics. The party virtually confirmed his retirement and said he would always be available with his 'valuable guidance'.

The Sangh issued a 'clarification' in the evening,after Advani and Naidu made frantic calls to the RSS chief at his Nagpur headquarters.

The statement said the remarks on the BJP's ageing leadership were a 'generalised observation', that there was no related discussion within the RSS, and that it was an internal issue of the BJP, with whose functions the Sangh never 'interfered'.

Sudarshan, who is younger than both, said in the interview that Vajpayee and Advani, 78, should 'take note' of their age and remove themselves from the BJP's 'active command'. 'Both should step aside and see younger leaders emerge in front of them,' he said.

When the interviewer referred to how Vajpayee often said he was 'tired', Sudarshan said: 'I have been saying that he should go and let new faces emerge. He should stay as a senior adviser only.'

Asked if the time had come for some 'other persons' to go as well, the RSS chief said: 'Absolutely, age is a factor for all.'

Asked specifically about Advani, he said: 'Yes, both should step aside and see a younger leadership emerge in front of them.'

Sangh sources said Sudarshan's assertions arose as much from the impulse to assert himself and the RSS vis-a-vis its political progeny, as the 'long-term' vision to address the BJP's leadership issue, keeping the next general elections in view.

Sudarshan was marginalised by Vajpayee when the NDA was in power. There was a feeling in the RSS that even Advani, on becoming BJP president, was not 'attentive' enough to him.

Both Vajpayee and Advani banked on RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi to handle Sudarshan and company for them.

But their strategy went for a toss when Devi fell ill and Suresh Soni, a handpicked choice of Sudarshan and Mohan Bhagwat, the general secretary, widely tipped to take over as sarsanghchalak, was asked to act as the RSS-BJP interface.

Soni, sources said, was reportedly not as 'amenable' as Devi.

Sources said the RSS' choice for BJP chief was either Murli Manohar Joshi or Rajnath Singh but Advani would pitch for either Jaswant Singh or Yashwant Sinha.

Neither is a favourite of the Sangh because of their 'pro-reforms' line. But, at the national council, Singh was virtually projected as the number three ' an honour earlier reserved for Joshi.

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