The Rat Trap

Even while an obscenely ambitious Narendra Modi, backed by certain corporates, finds himself trapped in inner-party and self-made traps, the going might not be as easy as he projects through daily muscle-flexing and manufactured media hype

Akash Bisht Delhi 

On June 7, 2013, a day before the BJP’s crucial conclave in Goa, a source close to LK Advani confided that he was set to leave for the conclave and would only be back by Monday. However, that didn’t happen. It was later reported that Advani would miss out on the meet for health reasons.

The national executive meet progressed without the grand old man and Narendra Modi was elevated as the chief of the election campaign committee for the 2014 elections with much fanfare. Modi’s raj tilak was seen by many as a final stamp on his candidature as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the Lok Sabha elections. Advani felt left out within his own party which he has nurtured and nourished for years.

A day after the conclave, he dropped a bombshell. He announced his resignation from all party posts — the national executive, parliamentary board and election committee. In a letter to BJP president Rajnath Singh, he claimed that the BJP was no longer the “idealistic party” created by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Nanaji Deshmukh and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Taking sharp digs at the leadership, he said that most of them were concerned with their personal agendas.

Interestingly, the letter was circulated to all media houses that played it up to show the deep fissures within the BJP. Hardnews learnt that soon after Advani was made aware that the party and the RSS had made up their mind on Modi, and that his request of making Nitin Gadkari the chief of an election management committee for the five states going to the polls this year had been declined, the crafty leader decided to play his cards. A confidant disclosed that, after writing the letter, Advani couldn’t make up his mind on how to gain political mileage out of it. Significantly, it was his daughter, Pratibha Advani, who played a major role in devising the strategy to play up his resignation.

Well-known for his wily and divisive politics, Advani once again managed to upset Modi’s applecart with his master-stroke. The media, that had been gung-ho about Modi’s elevation, was now chasing Advani; insiders say that Modi was seething with rage. “It was obvious that he felt betrayed as the media had suddenly trained its guns on Modi. He was being held responsible for how the founding father was being marginalized and that the protégé brazenly betrayed his political mentor,” says an RSS functionary.

Soon after the letter was made public, senior BJP leaders rushed to 30, Prithiviraj Road, Advani’s residence in Delhi, to cajole the sulking patriarch. When they failed to convince him, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat intervened. He apparently conveyed to Advani that there would be “no compromise” on Modi’s candidature and that his grievances would be addressed by Rajnath himself. Advani retracted.  Many viewed this as a “loss of face”. However, this wasn’t the first time that Advani had withdrawn after resigning. In 2005 and 2009, he had pulled similar stunts. Besides, he was forced to quit as BJP president after the RSS and his party loyalists openly went against him following his Jinnah statement in Pakistan in June, 2005.

Insiders claim that Advani was resentful of the “micro management” of the BJP’s internal affairs by the RSS. He was severely critical of Suresh Soni and Ram Lal — the RSS’s point-men in the BJP. Soni, considered close to Rajnath, had been instrumental in making appointments that didn’t go down well with Advani. Soni and Lal, among other RSS functionaries, have been backing Modi. Advani was severely critical of the RSS calling the shots in the BJP’s affairs, including in the context of Modi’s elevation. To Advani’s chagrin, the RSS didn’t pay any heed to his rancour.

Party sources say that, soon after Gadkari’s resignation as BJP chief, Advani wanted his nominees — Ananth Kumar or Shanta Kumar — to be made president; but the RSS thought otherwise and gave Rajnath Singh another term as BJP president. Rajnath, too, ignored a sulking Advani when the latter requested him to let Gadkari play some role within the party. This led to the outburst that reflected in his resignation letter.

 Well-known for his divisive politics, Advani managed to upset Modi’s applecart with his master-stroke. The media, that had been gung-ho about Modi’s elevation, was now chasing Advani; insiders say that Modi was seething with rage

RSS hardliner Devendra Swarup, former editor of Panchjanya, official organ of the RSS, claims that Advani may have been used by Sushma Swaraj to create this division within the party over Modi. He told Hardnews: “Her statements before entering Advani’s residence have deep political meaning. Does she consider herself to be the most qualified candidate for the prime ministerial berth? Does she consider Modi as an obstacle to her ambitions? Did she make Advani a pawn in her opposition to Modi? Did she suggest Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s name as an alternative to Modi? Did she lay this trap of proposing Gadkari’s name as the chief of the election management committee for the assembly elections to sideline Modi? Is it because of Sushma that Advani didn’t go to Goa so that she could play up Advani’s absence as a way to stop Modi’s candidature?”

He claims that, after the announcement of Modi’s candidature, “Sushma’s face told the story” and she looked disappointed with his elevation. “Was that the reason for her leaving early from the conclave? Was she the inspiration behind this whole resignation saga? And when this didn’t work, she started plotting  Advani’s return to the party. It is ironical that while stories were being played up about the bitterness between Advani and the Sangh Parivar, it was after Mohan Bhagwat’s call that he decided to withdraw his resignation,” says Swarup.

Modi’s authoritarian manner of functioning has the RSS in jitters, but they believe that he is the only card they can play to get to power in 2014, and also to polarize society and consolidate their fading Hindutva base

Advani and other BJP leaders’ indignation towards Modi stems from the belief that he will not be able to get them the magic figure in 2014 as he has too many ‘bloody’ skeletons in his cupboard. They believe that projecting a polarizing figure like Modi could hamper the BJP’s march to the Centre and alienate potential allies that could form an anti-Congress coalition after the 2014 elections. The Janata Dal (U) has already severed ties with the BJP/NDA. Also, senior leaders believe that once Modi takes the centre-stage, they will be pushed to the margins and his men would rule the roost, as in the case of Amit Shah, Modi’s notorious buddy, who has been given charge of a crucial state like UP. They point to the ouster of key BJP/VHP leaders in Gujarat such as Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta, Kashiram Rana, Gordan Zadaphia, Pravin Togadia and others, and the near decimation of the RSS in Gujarat. Wary of his totalitarian and megalomaniac ways, a section of BJP leaders embraced Advani to save them from “early retirement” as much as from being effectively sidelined.

Modi’s authoritarian manner of functioning has the RSS in jitters, but they believe that he is the only card which they can play to get to power in 2014, and also to polarize society and consolidate their fading Hindutva base. “If he helps us cross the 180 mark then there is no stopping Modi; but if he falters, then we have to seduce other allies and look for a consensus candidate. Advani and his group can certainly take advantage of this possible scenario. Citing these compulsions, the RSS is not too keen on declaring a PM candidate before the elections,” explains anRSS swayamsewak.

Even Swarup concurs that Modi has alienated the RSS and VHP in Gujarat and there is nothing anyone can do. Swarup, in his column in Panchjanya, had earlier raised objections to the manner in which the ‘Sanjay Joshi episode’ had been played out by Modi. Prominent RSS leader and organizer par excellence, Sanjay Joshi has been a bete noire of Modi’s and he was forced to step aside because Modi hates him.  “No one is perfect and neither is Modi, but we need to understand the public mood and that is what matters in a democracy,” he says.

Other RSS functionaries discreetly agree that Modi needs to be handled with caution. A senior RSS leader says that they have proposed that Modi be given 10 names of top RSS functionaries and he can decide who can be his ‘margadarshak’ in the Lok Sabha elections. The RSS also sees Modi’s ‘model of development’ as a threat to its ideology of swadeshi. “Right now, the agenda is to get the BJP to power. If that happens, we can counter his Gujarat model of development with ours at the right time,” says a senior member of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch.

Many in the RSS believe that, over the years, like other political parties, the BJP has lost its character and is going the Congress way. Hence, the RSS is trying to put it back on track with the Hindutva hardline Modi gamble. In their scheme of things, there is no place for Advani and his band of supporters. However, to write the political obituary of an “obscenely ambitious and power-driven” Advani, as a columnist has dubbed him, would be too premature.

:Senior leaders believe that once Modi takes the centre-stage, they will be pushed to the margins and his men would rule the roost, as in the case of Amit Shah, Modi’s notorious buddy. They point to the ouster of key BJP/VHP leaders such as Keshubhai Patel, Suresh Mehta, Kashiram Rana, Gordan Zadaphia, Pravin Togadia and others, and the near decimation of the RSS in Gujarat

Indeed, even while an “obscenely ambitious and power-driven” Modi, backed by certain corporates and sections of media, finds himself trapped in inner-party, organisational and self-made rat traps, the going might not be as smooth for him as he projects through muscle-flexing and manufactured media hype. His PR-driven Rambo act in Uttarakhand has fallen terribly flat and so has he. Even as the State-sponsored Gujarat carnage of 2002 hangs like an eternal sword, his critics and enemies (and there are many!) argue that the series of fake encounters by his top cops under his regime, and the Zakia Jafri petition on the Gulberg Society massacre, among other cases, might eventually trap him in a suffocating and inevitable legal and political dead-end.

After all, in politics, it’s not only a question of perception. One thing, often, leads to another.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2013