Chennai, Sept. 18: Lal Krishna Advani’s announcement today to step down as party president proves the point once again that the Sangh is still the boss for the BJP.
It could also mean an end to the era of Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But, possibly, even more than any of these, Advani’s defeat leaves the party poised tantalisingly at the ideological crossroads.
In the last few months, Advani had pursued an agenda of turning the party into an inclusive entity that embraces all Indians, cutting across communities and religions.
His comments in Pakistan, about Jinnah having begun his political career as a secular leader and reconciling to the reality of Pakistan, were an exercise with this end in mind.
It was these comments that got him in trouble with the Sangh, though the attack had begun before that. And, as the knives came out, Advani found himself jettisoned by the group he considered his trusted lieutenants.
That was as clear a signal as any that in a head-to-head conflict with the Sangh, Advani could count on few.
Vajpayee backed him in the battle. The former Prime Minister publicly supported Advani’s comments on Jinnah in the presence of the Sangh leadership.
With Advani being forced to leave under Sangh pressure, there were questions if Vajpayee had withdrawn support.
At the executive today, while Advani criticised the Sangh, Vajpayee praised it. Jaswant Singh quoted Vajpayee as describing the Sangh as an “exceptional organisation which he held unequalled in the world”.
“It is very important that we always preserve our uniqueness and do not get distracted by fear or the apprehensions of getting lost in a crowd,” Vajpayee reportedly said.
Does it mean Vajpayee is calling for a return to hardline Hindutva' That is where the BJP’s “uniqueness” lay and it was from that position that he, more than anyone else, had stood distant.
Vajpayee often appears to be full of contradictions ' and this statement could also go down as one such as it comes into conflict with his known moderate position.
Already semi-retired, this apparent conflict may not matter much to him, but the BJP has to look it in the face in the days after Advani.
Which path will it choose ' the politics that appeals to religion or the politics that goes beyond religion'
It would appear difficult to return to the days of the Ram temple movement and political isolation, given that the BJP has acquired many allies, some of whom are already restive.
But then with Advani disappearing into the sunset and Vajpayee on the sidelines, few are left in the BJP with either the stature or the will to fight an ideological battle with the Sangh.
Besides, in clashes with the Sangh, the BJP has yet to get on the scoresheet.