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Modi and Sangh test waters for give & take

Narendra Modi

New Delhi, Dec. 21: Narendra Modi is set to buy “lasting peace” with the RSS to foster his national ambitions.

Modi’s entente cordiale — after years of choppy equations with the RSS and its affiliates — is expected to impact the election of the next BJP president in early January, sources said.

Modi had put the Sangh’s state unit, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh out of business. But in the process, he virtually lost connect with Nagpur, the Sangh headquarters, until he was jolted by Keshubhai Patel’s exit from the BJP a few months before the Assembly elections.

A section of the Gujarat RSS, fired up by the zeal to give Modi his comeuppance, had vowed to work for Keshubhai’s outfit.

Sangh chief Mohanrao Bhagwat is keen on giving Nitin Gadkari a second term as BJP chief, although many in the party are against the idea as he faces charges of financial irregularities. But if Bhagwat gets Modi on board, the sources said his endorsement would facilitate Gadkari’s “re-election”.

Sources said Modi’s personal equation with Gadkari was not exactly cordial. He had suspected the BJP president of instigating a “plot” to rehabilitate rival Sanjay Joshi and hand him an “important” assignment. It is believed Gadkari explained to Modi that the RSS had served the diktat on Joshi and he could do nothing.

Modi’s “me-or-Joshi” drama, enacted at the BJP’s Mumbai national executive in May, forced the Sangh to clinch the dispute in the Gujarat chief minister’s favour. He then revived relations with Gadkari.

This time, a nod for Gadkari’s second term could fetch Modi the Sangh’s backing as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate at an “appropriate” time, the sources said.

A leader summed up the RSS-Modi ties thus: “In the Congress, any leader worth his Gandhi cap will try and inveigle himself with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and not waste his time and wiles on intermediaries. Same with Modi. He figured out that in the post-Vajpayee-Advani phase, the Sangh has regained control over the BJP and the veto lies with Bhagwat and his presidium. So he has invested his time and energy in rebuilding bridges with Nagpur.”

Sources said Modi was “grateful” to Bhagwat for “containing” Keshubhai. In September, he met the Sangh chief in Nagpur and urged him to ensure the Gujarat RSS did not “work against” him.

A little later, Bhagwat visited a former RSS prabhari (minder) of Saurashtra to condole his son’s death. The prabhari — so senior he had worked with Bhagwat’s father in the 1950s — brought up the Modi issue and his “unilateral” style of functioning. He implored Bhagwat to bring in another person.

Bhagwat politely said such matters should not be raked up before a “critical” election. “The message was the RSS stood firmly behind Modi,” a Sangh source said.

But despite Nagpur’s message to “co-operate” with Modi, individual swayamsevaks (volunteers) and VHP functionaries reportedly defied Bhagwat and sabotaged the BJP’s prospects in “at least 10” seats by helping Keshubhai. In the process, the Congress won eight of the seats.

These included Palitana, Amreli, Rajkot East (all in Saurashtra) and Vyara, Dangs, Bansda and Dharampur in south Gujarat. In Amreli, a Modi aide, Dilip Sanghani, was routed. “Our intention was not to make the Congress win,” said Saurashtra swayamsevak Yashodhar Bhat.

Before Modi, former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje tasted the RSS’s anger in the last state polls, and to a greater degree than the Gujarat leader.

Unlike Modi, who staved off the Sangh pressure, Vasundhara had to contend with RSS-inspired dissidence within the BJP for all the five years she ruled.

Former BJP president Rajnath Singh, allegedly pressured by the RSS, had at one point even asked Vasundhara to step down but she held out.

The Sangh retaliated by damaging the BJP in several constituencies. BJP sources later said Vasundhara might have returned to power had it not been for the RSS’s “destruction” because the Congress, which beat her to the post, fell short of majority. The Congress later shored up support with Independents and others.

Even now, the RSS blows hot and cold towards Vasundhara. It has refused to anoint her nominee, Mahesh Chandra Sharma, as state BJP chief and installed its own candidate, Arun Chaturvedi.

But a source explained the difference between Modi and Vasundhara in the way they deal with the Sangh. Modi, the source said, had an advantage because he worked for years as a pracharak (propagandist) and was familiar with the Sangh’s functioning. “He can anticipate their (Sangh leaders) moves better and fashion his reflexes accordingly,” the source said.


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