The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal axis in parivar tug of war

New Delhi, July 13: Atal Bihari Vajpayee has emerged as the pivot on which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s struggle for primacy versus the BJP’s fight for autonomy will revolve.

Sources in the Sangh and the BJP said L.K. Advani would step down as party president and leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha if the former Prime Minister says so. If he says Advani will stay, so be it.

A BJP functionary, who was involved in the talks with the RSS, said: “If it is a question of who will bell the cat (Advani), it can only be Vajpayee.”

The functionary admitted that the Sangh could not devise a plan on how to push Advani out because sources close to him asserted that he would serve his term which ends in 2007 and not 2006, as a section of the BJP earlier maintained.

When Advani took over as BJP chief last October, his tenure was deemed to have begun from the day of the takeover and not as a mid-course change. Since the BJP constitution was amended to extend the tenure of all party functionaries from two to three years, Advani is expected to remain president till 2007.

Sources close to Advani had given the impression that when the RSS troika of Mohanrao Bhagwat, Suresh Soni and Madan Das Devi met Vajpayee last Monday, he supported Advani to the hilt to maintain the BJP’s “supremacy and independence” vis-'-vis the RSS. But the objective view in the BJP is he remained “neutral”.

A BJP functionary, who met Vajpayee shortly after the meeting, said: “I did not get the impression he took sides. In fact, at a certain point, he even endorsed the norm of one-person-one-post.”

Sources said the RSS, which was unsparing on Vajpayee when he was Prime Minister, is coming round to the view that unlike Advani, when it comes to the crunch, he would not “betray” the “parent”.

“He is committed to the Sangh and will have no contradictions of choice,” said a source.

At critical moments when he was in power, Vajpayee, the sources said, kept the RSS’s “interests” in sight. For instance, they pointed out, in 1999, he agreed to have Yashwant Sinha (the RSS’s candidate) as finance minister instead of his own choice, Jaswant Singh. Or when he let Narendra Modi continue as Gujarat chief minister in 2002 despite the clamour for his removal from a section of the NDA and his own advisers.

“The whole edifice of the Sangh parivar is based on trust because, contrary to what is appearing in a section of the press, the RSS neither has a mandate for the BJP to fulfil nor will it enforce any punishment on those who defy its suggestions,” a BJP office-bearer said.

“I recall attending a meeting where a state sarsanghchalak said if I order you to stand and you continue sitting, I can do nothing. In the RSS’s scheme of discipline, there is nothing like disciplinary action because everything is based on trust. Advani has breached that trust, Vajpayee has never done this,” the office-bearer added.

The other reason why Vajpayee has regained his stature as the “tallest” leader is because of the scepticism with which the RSS sees the other BJP leaders.

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