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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

RSS Circus

A Change of heart or strategy

By Mohd Zeyaul Haque

The Milli Gazette Online

At the end of a month-long unedifying spectacle of a family feud in the Sangh, the audience is treated to a bizarre statement of mock-regret over Gujarat killings. And "you ain’t seen nothin", as the Americans say. 

Let us begin by asking the question: "Whom do you trust, the tweedledee or the tweedledum?" Put another way, it would be: "Who is more trustworthy, the RSS or its myriad offspring, including the BJP?" Of course, this implies that you have a choice, which you don’t.

To begin it at the beginning, last month the RSS patriarch KS Sudarshan provided some interesting sound bites on Shekhar Gupta’s Walk the Talk show for NDTV. What Sudarshan said was highly amusing, except for three people (and their cohorts). From the remarks it turned out that dad was not too highly impressed with the performance of his children.

The most cutting remarks were reserved for the somnolent Atal Behari Vajpayee. This former PM was rated to be inferior to Congress PMs Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. Interestingly, even Vajpayee (a bitter critic of the Nehru family) had praised Indira Gandhi as the goddess Chandi (Kali) for leading India in a war which broke Pakistan into two.

But, that was three and a half decades ago. Naturally, Vajpayee was not amused. Being rated below Narasimha Rao, too, must have come as shock to him. This rating also reveals the Sangh mindset: If Indira Gandhi broke a Muslim country, she must be regarded as a goddess. (Before 1971 she was publicly reviled and called names by Sangh workers and leaders; after the declaration of Emergency this practice was resumed; her silent blessings to the Ekatmata Yatra made her a goddess once again.)

Rao brought in economic liberalisation, and in its wake, foreign investment. This was against the grain of Sangh’s Swadeshi Jagran policies. However, by allowing demolition of the Babri Masjid he too became an icon in the Sangh pantheon. From this reckoning even George W. Bush is an associate member of that pantheon because he is seen to be a fellow Muslim-baiter. Sangh leaders like Togadia and Modi have been great admirers of Mr Bush till recently. They may once again become Bush fans, because "now you see, now you don’t" is a game they love to play.

Sudarshan ran down Vajpayee in his Walk the Talk show on several counts. One of these was Vajpayee’s adopted daughter’s husband and his alleged manipulation of the PM’s office. What Sudarshan said was no revelation to the Indian citizenry, which had already been listening to similar talk The only difference was that the apprehensions of misuse of power were being expressed by the patriarch himself. Sudarshan said he had raised th issue with Vajpayee, without much success. This, of course, was quite typical of Mr Vajpayee. Did he raise even a finger to stop the Gujarat killings?

Vajpayee was described as a prime minister who had done nothing worth while. His former deputy Lal Krishna Advani got off a little lightly. However, Sudarshan said (albeit differently) that it was time for BJP’s gerenetocracy to give way to a set of younger leaders. This was the unkindest cut of them all. Just imagine the humiliation of leaders being publicly asked to take to sanyas. While Sudarshan was suggesting that the BJP gerenetocracy should seriously consider political retirement, Walk the Talk viewers had a parallel thought flashing through their minds: "But, why can’t Sudarshan lead the way by retiring first. Does he think he is still wet behind the ears?"

After that there was a terrible outbreak of rinderpest (foot-in-the-mouth disease) in the Sangh. When somebody asked Vajpayee what did he think of Sudarshan’s remarks about BJP leadership, the ever-yawning, supremely bored Vajpayee shot back casually that the question should be addressed to Advani, who was the party chief. Again a spate of denials and explanations followed. Who said that? The media must have distorted the statement. Soon Vajpayee praised the RSS publicly and the RSS chief praised Advani and Vajpayee in a similar manner. Even if Advani supporters felt that Vajpayee had taken a potshot at their leader, they did not press the issue too hard. Sudarshan also declared that Walk the Talk had wrongly reported him. At this rate we can soon expect former BJP MP from Bihar, Anwarul Haque, to come up with a declaration that his pornographic antics on India TV had nothing to do with him.

In the meanwhile, Gen-Next (Pramod Mahajan, Shushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Venkiah Naidu etc.) was busy firefighting, each one hoping that he or she would succeed the Advani-Vajpayee duo. The hardline Advani and the softline Vajjpayee, who are "different" only in their public image (like Sharon and Peres of Israel) are a good model for the next generation of BJP leaders (all of them in their mid-50s) for garnering both liberal and illiberal vote for the Sangh cause. But, where do we put in the sulking Sadhvi? Of course, on the margins? Where else?

In his interview Sudarshan had made a few references to Sadhvi Uma Bharati’s personal life. He talked about the high point in the affair of the Brahmchari Govindacharya and Sadhvi Uma Bharati, who were going to marry. However, the two were advised to refrain from it. Bharati was asked to declare that she would live with Govnindacharya as "brother and sister", which she has been doing since the advice was proffered.

Sudarshan also praised the Sadvi’s qualities, only to take away with his left hand what he had given with the right. He observed that she was a nice lady otherwise, the only problem being that she came from an uncultured background. Again, the viewers did not have to be told what they already knew. Bharati had her meteoric rise as a side-show artist in the Somnath-to-Ayodhya motorised rath yatra. At certain points along the route, she was turning out to be more popular than Advani as her ill-mannered antics were more in tune with the mass hysteria generated by the yatra. Bharati is not happy to discover that she is being sidelined after her ill-mannered antics are milked completely. An uncultured background is fine with the Sangh as long as it pays dividend, but not after it stops doing so.

Bharati, who was unceremoniously kicked out of Madhya Pradesh’s chief ministerial chair even before the Sudarshan faux pas, was furious with the BJP’s leadership. After a ruckus with party chief Advani she stomped out of a BJP meeting, fuming and fretting. True to the Sangh style, she tried to sweet-talk the party bosses into a patch-up. Failing that, she got angry again and went into a heavily-publicised sanyas in the comfort of a well-provided spot in the forest, along with a lot of hangers on. The regular bhandaras (religious feasts) being organised there are attended by dissident BJP MLAs in substantial numbers, and reported regularly in the media. So much for sanyas. Possibly as an afterthought, she has invited Vajpayee to join her (she calls herself Vajpayee’s beti) in the comfy sanyas. And, where is Govindacharya? Where he belongs, of course.

Finally, we saw another turn in the Sangh drama in the Indian Express of May 9. The newspaper reproduced an article by Pramod Mahajan published in BJP Today, in which Mahajan, a staunch supporter of Narendra Modi during Gujarat killings, has "regretted" the killings as a blot on civilised society. But he has regretted not building the Ayodhya temple also. Incidentally, the Godhra attack itself was part of Ayodhya-related hooliganism. So, what does this regret mean? Nothing. It also means that Mahajan could be the next soft face of the Sangh to step into Vajpayee’s shoes, while Modi’s feet would get a snug fit in the shoes Advani would discard. So, whom would you root for? The tweedledee or tweedledum? Do you think there really is a choice here?
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