The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George & ‘friend’ try to heal rift
- Fernandes bid to broker BJP-Sangh peace

New Delhi, June 29: With relations between RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan and the BJP’s “big two” ' L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee ' at an all-time low, George Fernandes has emerged as the prime mediator between the party and its estranged parent.

The NDA convener met Sudarshan at the Sangh’s Nagpur headquarters for three hours yesterday. Today, he briefed Vajpayee and Advani on the meeting.

Although there was no official word on the discussions, sources in the BJP and the RSS said the leadership crisis figured in the talks.

PTI, however, quoted Fernandes as saying: “I had revolution-oriented talks (with Sudarshan)... I feel the tension (between the RSS and the BJP) should end.” He also said Sudarshan did not utter a single word against the BJP.

Fernandes had sought the meeting with his “friend” Sudarshan once it appeared that the crisis at the top in the BJP, in the wake of Advani’s Pakistan visit, was spinning out of control. The sources said he sought to impress on the sarsanghchalak that the NDA must not be “disturbed” before the Bihar elections and that the “attack” on Advani was weakening the coalition.

Fernandes, they said, also made it clear to Sudarshan that none of the names being floated as possible replacements for Advani ' Murli Manohar Joshi, Rajnath Singh and M. Venkaiah Naidu ' were acceptable to the NDA because they either had an “image problem” or a “narrow, casteist appeal”.

The former defence minister told Sudarshan that the Bihar polls were a “make-or-mar” exercise for the NDA and the “advantage” the BJP-Janata Dal (United) had “gained” in the last elections should not be frittered away because of the Advani crisis.

RSS sources maintained that while Sudarshan “kept his counsel” before Fernandes, he was of the view that bringing the BJP on the “right” ideological track was of prime importance and that Bihar could come later. “The RSS’s view is that Advani is not the issue in Bihar. If the NDA wins, it will not be because of him, and if it loses, it will not be because of him either,” said a source.

The sources said whether Advani’s “last-ditch” effort to remain party chief and leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and outmanoeuvre the RSS pays off or not will be known in the next two weeks.

In a related development, sacked BJP spokesperson Yashwant Sinha asserted that he would raise issues of “ideology and the people” by remaining in the party.

Sinha, who arrived in the capital today, said: “There is speculation that I am planning to quit the party. I am not leaving the party. I will keep raising the issues that have to do with the ideology of the party and the problems of the people.”

Sinha claimed his criticism of Advani for his remarks on Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not “personal” but related to “ideology”.

“It is obvious that the party has not taken it in the right spirit. Otherwise, it would not have relieved me of my responsibility,” he said.

While the BJP officially refused to react to Sinha’s statements, in private sources did not deny the possibility that the RSS had put him up to it. “He is possibly looking at a post-Advani scenario,” said a source.

The RSS sources said an added grouse against Advani was he took no “action” against his secretary, Sudheendra Kulkarni, for his attempt to “reform” the BJP and alienate the party chief from the Sangh’s ideology. The Sangh had hoped that after cracking the whip on Sinha, he would do something to “discipline” Kulkarni.

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