Chennai, Sept. 18: The Sangh defeated a fledgling effort in the BJP to take the party out of its original ideological confines with Lal Krishna Advani today announcing he would step down as president in December.
Advani conceded defeat after a struggle that began six months ago when Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan said in an interview Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee should stand aside for younger people to take charge.
While taking his bow, the BJP president clearly spelt out in his statement at the national executive what the battle was all about. He said the BJP has to “expand itself to reach the large sections of the people outside the layers of all ideology”.
In defeat, he launched an open attack on the RSS, telling it to lay off meddling in the running of the BJP.
The announcement of the departure, which the Sangh has been insisting on since his comments in Pakistan describing Jinnah as a politician who started as a secular leader and saying that the creation of Pakistan was a part of history which could not be changed, came midway through his concluding remarks at the executive.
Unlike in June, when party functionaries urged him to reconsider his resignation after the Jinnah controversy, there was silence. “It is a sad day but events happened so fast that none of us reacted,” said an executive member.
As he left Chennai this evening with the faithful M. Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar for company, Advani’s only solace was that before surrendering, he summoned up the courage to speak his mind.
He attacked the Sangh for denying the BJP the space and autonomy it required to act as a mainstream party. Advani reminded it of its original task of “character-building of millions” and inculcating in them the “spirit of patriotism, idealism and selfless service of the motherland”, saying that its role in doing these had been “incomparable”.
The BJP chief said that from time to time and depending on the issues at hand, the party leadership unhesitatingly consulted the Sangh and took its decisions. Sometimes these decisions differed from the stated position of the Sangh.
Advani went on to say that lately an impression had gained currency that “no political or organisational decision can be taken without the consent of the RSS functionaries” and stressed that this perception would “do no good either to the party or to the RSS”.
“The RSS, too, must be concerned that such a perception will dwarf its greater mission of man-making and nation-building,” he said and called on the Sangh and the BJP to dispel this impression.
Sangh spokesman Ram Madhav sounded cautious and said Advani’s observations would be discussed. Sangh sources were not exactly crowing over their victory, claiming that the understanding with Advani was that he would leave after the Chennai executive.
The sources said that before the meeting, Sudarshan had conveyed this to Advani. Lately suspicious of every Advani move, the Sangh is wary that he and his acolytes would use the interregnum to manoeuvre themselves to a position of strength, courtesy the coming Bihar election where the party expects its alliance to win.
Sources said a campaign drumming up support for Advani would then start. According to this script, when December comes and it is time for the BJP’s silver anniversary celebrations to end in Mumbai, Advani will have “secured a renewed mandate” to complete his term until 2007.
When Jaswant Singh was asked if Advani would reconsider, he said: “All decisions were taken after consideration.”
Sources close to Advani said he was clear in his mind for the last 10 days that he would demit office in three months and would make it known in Chennai. Some had felt the public announcement might impact prospects in the Bihar elections and unsettle the key ally in that state, Janata Dal (United).
However, the Sangh wanted Advani to set a deadline “on record” so that it would be difficult for him to backtrack later. When such a diktat came, Advani was determined to place his own views on the Sangh on record, too.
A vice-president and a general secretary, close to the Sangh, wanted Advani to delete the portions on the RSS but were over-ruled.
Neutral voices in the BJP claimed Advani would not have relented had Vajpayee’s support for him in the battle against the Sangh not been shaken by the conflict over Madan Lal Khurana’s expulsion.
Advani’s followers said he had consulted Vajpayee last night over dinner and showed him the concluding remarks. But senior leaders said Vajpayee saw the statement when the executive began this morning.