The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Battle lines drawn, for fourth time
- Who will come up trumps in the tug-of-war between Vajpayee and Sudarshan'

New Delhi, April 12: When RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan described Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the 'worst' Prime Minister India has had and called his foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and his principal secretary-cum-national security adviser Brajesh Mishra names, it revived memories of another day in the minds of the rest of the parivar.

The pet pastime in the BJP headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road today was counting the number of spats Vajpayee and Sudarshan have had, how each of them played out and who won and who lost.

'The only difference between the last such episodes and this one is that for the first time the RSS sarsanghchalak spoke his mind out freely and that too on TV,' said a leader.

The first time when Vajpayee and Sudarshan slugged it out was when the former had just become the Prime Minister with a legitimate majority of his own in 1998. Vajpayee wanted to appoint Jaswant Singh finance minister and Ramakrishna Hegde his home minister.

Jaswant was Vajpayee's choice as he wanted to hammer home the point that contrary to the swadeshi line on economics his party espoused periodically, he was for continuing the pro-reforms legacy left behind by P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Jaswant's name figured on the list of ministers sent by Vajpayee to Rashtrapati Bhavan to be sworn in the following morning. However, the buzz in the BJP headquarters ' circulated by the swadeshi proponents ' was 'there was no way' Jaswant would become finance minister. They hedged their bet on Yashwant Sinha, who had then projected himself as a swadeshi advocate.

Sudarshan called on Vajpayee late in the night and insisted on deleting Jaswant's name. A miffed Vajpayee first threatened to resign, then gave in and agreed to have Sinha as finance minister.

But Sinha turned out to be more pro-reform in the RSS's eyes than Jaswant. When the UTI 'scam' dented the NDA government's image, Vajpayee had Sinha swap places with Jaswant. But this time Sudarshan was silent.

Round Two of the bout happened when in 2000, at a press briefing, the RSS chief attacked Brajesh Mishra, N.K. Singh (then special adviser in the PMO on economic matters) and Bhattacharya. The BJP did not come to his aid but the PMO issued a stiff rebuttal. The RSS was forced to issue a clarification that very evening, claiming that Sudarshan was 'quoted out of context'.

Vajpayee scored a double win when he managed to have the RSS chief 'banished' from Delhi's Jhandewalan (the RSS's base) to the Nagpur headquarters in Resham Bagh.

From then on, a more amenable Madan Das Devi dealt with the government and the BJP on behalf of the RSS. Sudarshan was rarely seen or heard but from time to time, he used his acolytes in the VHP, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch to throw barbs at Vajpayee and his regime. But they went down as the 'fulminations' of a disgruntled person.

In Round Three, Vajpayee had to give in to Sudarshan and the VHP when he agreed to make L.K. Advani the deputy Prime Minister. The bargain was the VHP would call off a long-drawn agitation it embarked on in Ayodhya to reclaim the 'disputed' land for the Ram temple. When Advani later waffled on Ayodhya, Sudarshan and the VHP could not swallow the 'betrayal' and found a second 'enemy' in the BJP to train their guns on.

Who will win Round Four is anybody's guess. The party may have rallied around Vajpayee if only to buttress Advani's dented position. But everybody acknowledges that Sudarshan or no Sudarshan, the RSS cadre is an invaluable element during elections.

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