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Spring sign in autumn
- Sudarshan sting puts Atal back in limelight

New Delhi, April 12: Atal Bihari Vajpayee had virtually announced his retirement from politics and the BJP had confirmed this, saying the patriarch would always be available for 'marg darshan' (guidance).

But the sagacious refused to take the announcement seriously and predicted 'something unexpected' would happen to pull Vajpayee out of seclusion and plunge him into the heart of party politics.

The 'unexpected' came in the form of a TV interview on Sunday by RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, who stunned the BJP with his personal remarks about the 'Big Two' ' Vajpayee and president L.K. Advani. Sudarshan said the duo should take note of their age and step aside, to make way for younger leaders.

Under attack by the paterfamilias, Advani discovered the BJP was not enough to ward off the threat. He had to bring Vajpayee on board.

Vajpayee has not uttered a word to the BJP leaders who spoke to him after Sudarshan's outburst on his record as Prime Minister, his foster son-in-law and his principal secretary.

Vajpayee's only comment, according to a source who met him, was: 'He has already said these things earlier, so what's new' As for Sudarshan's demand that he should 'demit office', a surprised Vajpayee asked: 'But what office do I hold now'

When Vajpayee was reminded that he was the NDA chairperson, he laughed out aloud.

In the BJP, Vajpayee's silence was being construed as 'eloquent', given the former Prime Minister's penchant for retaliating against those unkind to him in the most unexpected way and in the most unexpected place.

Everybody is waiting to see what Vajpayee will say in Pune on April 14 when he presides over a function to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Geet Ramayana, a Marathi rendition of the epic in song. Twenty-five years ago, he graced the silver jubilee as external affairs minister' in the Janata Party government ' in the company of Sharad Pawar, who was Maharashtra chief minister. Pawar will be with Vajpayee again.

Admitting that the RSS-BJP equation will never be the same after the latest controversy, a senior BJP functionary said the party would henceforth have nothing to do with Sudarshan but will only deal with Mohanrao Bhagwat, the number two in the RSS.

Bhagwat bailed the BJP out of a potentially explosive situation by distancing the Sangh from Sudarshan's remarks through a written statement. He conveyed to Advani, who is now expected to complete his term as party president, that whatever the sarsanghchalak said was not the RSS's 'considered opinion'.

The BJP functionary said the incident had 'isolated' the leader even in the RSS. But, if Sudarshan continues as the sarsanghchalak, it is only to 'preserve' an 80-year-old institution. 'If he is removed because he has given a wrong interview, the RSS will collapse. The king can do no wrong, his word is final. The position commands that kind of authority,' he explained.

The Advani-led BJP, which had appeared unmoved when Vajpayee decided to call it a day at the national council last week, was forced to rally behind the former Prime Minister after the RSS chief's comments. Once the party expressed its 'solidarity' with Vajpayee, the RSS figured out that as long as the 'Big Two' are together ' if only out of expediency ' the BJP is virtually unassailable.

The game plan of Sudarshan, who feels that the BJP should go back to the Sangh's brand of Hindutva, was to use 'age' as a ruse to pressure Advani to step down. Sudarshan's agenda, sources said, was to 'detoxify' the BJP of Advani and those close to him, such as Naidu, Ananth Kumar and Sudheendra Kulkarni.

The RSS chief, it is believed, even set deadlines ' the first in November was put off because of the Assembly polls. The second ' March 31 ' was ignored.

Sudarshan had two persons in mind for the BJP chief's post: Murli Manohar Joshi or Rajnath Singh. BJP sources questioned the choice, claiming that Joshi was 'unacceptable' to the rank and file and 'lacked charisma' and that Singh was unknown outside the cow belt.

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