The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal fate hangs in Sangh meet

New Delhi, March 19: On the face of it, it is just another meeting between the Prime Minister and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh top brass. But tomorrow’s post-Holi conclave is expected to give an indication of how the RSS views Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s role in the next parliamentary elections and, by extension, his future in politics.

“It is not that the entire matter will be resolved tomorrow, but the message will be loud and clear,” said a Vajpayee supporter.

Though the RSS is not part of the government, it wields enormous clout on the BJP. Officially, the Prime Minister’s aides say that since last year, these meetings between senior party members and the RSS have become routine affairs to bridge the communication gap between the government and the swayamsevaks. Without these indefatigable workers of the Sangh parivar, it would be difficult to mobilise votes for the BJP.

BJP leaders, too, are aware that they need the well-oiled machinery of the RSS to fight the next elections. This is why the meeting between Vajpayee, his deputy L.K. Advani and the RSS delegation assumes significance. The timing of the polls as well as election strategy will be discussed, sources said.

With little to show by way of governance, the BJP has no option but to fall back on Hindutva, which worked well in Gujarat. But whether this can be replicated nationwide is one of the key issues that will be discussed, the sources added.

One vital question uppermost in the minds of Vajpayee loyalists is whether he would once again be the mascot for the BJP or will Advani lead the party and be projected as the next Prime Minister' It has been a long wait for Advani and many believe that with the RSS and the VHP openly attacking Vajpayee, the deputy Prime Minister’s time has come.

But since early this year, there appears to have been a swing in mood. The government’s decision to ask the Supreme Court to vacate its stay on religious activity on the “undisputed” land in Ayodhya has mollified many of the hardliners in the party. For several months, there has been no public attack on Vajpayee.

His supporters believe that with coalition politics here to stay, he is the only man capable of leading an alliance at the Centre. “Naturally, this means Vajpayee must lead the BJP election campaign,” a supporter said.

But then, much would depend on what the RSS thinks. “Without the backing of the RSS, he is unlikely to be at the forefront,” said a loyalist ruefully, indicating the importance of tomorrow’s meeting. Some Vajpayee loyalists, however, feel that the media has overrated the Sangh’s influence.

There are also others who claim that Vajpayee is in no mood to let the RSS dictate his political future. But those close to him know that the Prime Minister, who has completed five years in office, will not push too hard if the RSS opposes him.

Tomorrow, the RSS leaders will give their verdict on the timing of the elections. According to party sources, finance minister Jaswant Singh’s budget was an obvious indicator that polls are near.

“There is no way that the government can afford another budget like this. So the polls have to be held either by the end of this year or early 2004,” said a source. “But before the die is cast, certain issues have to be resolved.”

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