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Advani left with Jaswant for company

New Delhi, July 17: It will probably end the way it began.

When the saga of L.K. Advani started a month-and-a-half ago after he landed from Pakistan and decided to go on the front foot as the RSS turned on him, almost the entire BJP distanced itself from him. His known acolytes and proteges like M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh were not around to issue statements and proffer sound bites in his defence.

Advani’s lone flag bearer was former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma.

It was only when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared to support him that leaders like Jaswant Singh and Pramod Mahajan rallied around Advani.

Today, as the RSS looked like succeeding in its “oust-Advani” mission, he was left only with Jaswant and Naidu for company.

None of the other functionaries were around. Sushma, who tried to put up a brief on Advani’s behalf, reportedly fell foul of the RSS for “misrepresenting” the “facts” relating to a series of meetings Sangh leaders had with the BJP’s representatives last Monday.

Sushma had said the Sangh did not raise the issue of Advani’s resignation or the one-person-one-post norm to buttress the case for him relinquishing one of the two posts he presently holds. That, Sangh sources later said, was not the case.

RSS veteran and former spokesperson M.G. Vaidya, in his weekly column in a Marathi daily, Tarun Bharat, which appeared today, contradicted Sushma and maintained that RSS general secretary Mohanrao Bhagwat had conveyed the “sentiments” of the provincial “pracharaks” who had met earlier in Surat when he spoke to the VHP leaders and Vajpayee.

“It is up to Advani to decide whether he should resign or not but it was necessary to convey the feelings to him,” said Vaidya. He denied that “simply conveying the message of the meeting in clear terms” amounted to exerting pressure. “It is for the BJP to decide whether the leader with a tarnished image will be an asset or a liability,” he added.

The Sangh, which banked on Vajpayee to “bell the cat” ' as a source put it ' had reasons not to be disappointed or overly elated when the former Prime Minister broke his silence in Gwalior where he attended a family function today. Characteristically elliptical, he said the BJP was bound by the one-person-one-post norm and there were no two views on it.

“It was an arrangement and can be changed. It will be changed, it is up to Advani to decide which post he wants to hold,” said Vajpayee.

In a sense, Vajpayee left both Advani and the Sangh to their resources to find a way out of the impasse.

Rajnath stayed away from a meeting of the general secretaries at Advani’s residence, citing a function in Mirzapur. Jaitley is still in hospital after a heart surgery. The others showed up.

But sources said barring Jaswant and Naidu, the others were “neutral”.

“For one, we wanted to stay away from the mess created by both sides. Many of us owe our careers to our president but we cannot sunder our links with the RSS....” said a senior functionary.

Naidu and Jaswant’s presence by Advani’s side was explained away as “ambition” of the former to reinstate himself as the party chief and “keenness” from Jaswant’s side to prevent an RSS “takeover” of the BJP. If that happened, sources said, he feared he would find himself out in the cold.

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