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Virender Kapoor | July 21, 2004
Post-defeat, equations within the Sangh Parivar have undergone drastic changes.
In power, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishenchand Advani used to be in command, with leaders of the RSS and other allied outfits playing second fiddle.
Though the RSS as the mother organisation is supposed to be the guiding spirit behind the BJP, Vajpayee and Advani had come to enjoy a status higher than that of any RSS office-bearer, simply because of their stature and seniority of service. RSS chief K Sudarshan did not enjoy the same elevated status in the Parivar as his predecessors, the late Balasaheb Deoras and the late Professor Rajendra Singh.
But now that the BJP has lost power, the RSS has regained its upper hand.
The reasons for this are twofold. One, the sharp schism in the BJP at the top has made the role of the RSS critical. Whether Vajpayee will have his way or the larger group owing allegiance to Advani, which also includes BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu, will emerge as the dominant faction depends on the RSS.
Without doubt, Advani and Company are far more sensitive to the concerns of the RSS than Vajpayee. That would explain the recent Vajpayee flip-flop on Narendra Modi. The RSS disapproved of Vajpayee's call for Modi's removal as chief minister of Gujarat.
Two, having lost the Lok Sabha election, the BJP leaders now realise they can no longer take the support of the RSS for granted. They will have to keep RSS officials in good humour for them to do well in the next round of elections as and when due. Without the active support of the RSS cadre, the BJP reckons it cannot do well in elections. Hence the attempt by the BJP leadership to rebuild bridges of understanding and cooperation with Nagpur.
But the rub is that a section of the RSS leadership seems to be in no mood to condone the hoity-toity behaviour of the BJP brass while in power. Sudarshan, no less, is credited with the view that 'the mission of the RSS' does not depend on whether the BJP regains power.
As the BJP had not given a 'good account' of itself while it was in power for six years at the Centre, and had done precious little to advance the RSS agenda, Sudarshan is said to have argued at a closed-door meeting of senior RSS apparatchiks that the organisation should not be overly concerned to ensure its return to power.
But Madan Das Devi, joint general secretary of the RSS and the man who was the interface between the Sangh Parivar and the Vajpayee government, is the proponent of a softer approach. Devi wants the BJP to be given a second chance. Despite all its failings and its various acts of omission and commission, Devi is believed to have said, the BJP remains the party closest to the ideals and aspirations of the RSS.
It may be that the RSS chief was only giving vent to the dissatisfaction and annoyance of senior colleagues who were given short shrift by senior BJP ministers. Even people like Murli Manohar Joshi, who is generally perceived to be most sympathetic to the RSS, had become so arrogant as ministers that they had treated senior RSS officials with scant respect.
The truth, however, is that regardless of its unhappiness with the BJP, the RSS cannot sever the umbilical cord that binds the BJP to it. Indeed, for the BJP to give a better account of itself in the future, there is a move to draft Devi into the BJP, though a final decision in this regard has been left to Sudarshan.
An innocent at Home
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil clearly does not have the political savvy and experience that the job demands. What's worse, he seems unwilling to learn.
So, when a senior Intelligence Bureau officer briefed him about the terrorist problem in Jammu and Kashmir and, among other things, referred to Pakistan's role in fanning it, Patil could not -- or would not -- comprehend that the ISI is more or less an autonomous agency unaccountable for its actions to even the Pakistani army, forget its political masters in Islamabad.
On the issue of the dismissal of four NDA-appointed governors, Patil came up with the novel theory of compatibility with the central government. He was hard put to defend that argument when the Lok Sabha debated the issue on a motion moved by Leader of the Opposition L K Advani.
Shifting ground, Patil said the governors should owe allegiance to the preamble of the Constitution. An Opposition member interjected to point out that the four dismissed governors had sworn by the Constitution, including its Preamble. Patil, of course, had no answer.
But clinching evidence that the country's home minister is a hopeless innocent came when the opposition in the Rajya Sabha raised the issue of Coal Minister Shibu Soren.
Referring to reports that Soren had been declared a proclaimed offender by a Jharkhand court in a case pertaining to the killing of 10 people 30 years ago, Patil in all innocence wondered how he could have been declared so when he had just contested and won the Lok Sabha election!
Poor Patil! He was all at sea when the BJP's Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley quoted the relevant clause in the Criminal Procedure Code which empowers even a civilian to 'arrest' a person declared a 'proclaimed offender' and hand him over to the nearest police station.
'Here Soren is sitting in the House being shielded by senior ministers. And the home minister of the country refuses to do his duty by the law,' they jibed.
After the House was adjourned on the subject, Patil was heard making inquiries of some members whether the CrPC does indeed arm civilians to help the authorities get custody of a proclaimed offender.
Byte brigade starves!
Have you noticed? Ministers of the Manmohan Singh government are hardly seen or heard on the small screen. Nor are they quoted routinely in the daily newspapers. Not even the normally loquacious K Natwar Singh!
After the initial burst of verbal energy, even the opinionated external affairs minister has been obliged to keep away from the media, thanks to a circular issued by the prime minister asking all his ministerial colleagues, junior and senior, to shun the byte brigade.
Various television channels, which had thrived merely by thrusting microphones in the faces of the earlier NDA ministers, are thus starved of their daily dose of ministerial wisdom, and the resultant controversies. The NDA's government leaked like the proverbial sieve. In contrast, the UPA's lips seem to be tightly shut.
The NDA brigade, of course, is still gamely offering its bytes to the television channels, but editors do not find much percentage in airing them anymore. After all, what do they have to offer but vacuous criticism?
Unlike the NDA ministers, the UPA lot are also far less accessible to the print media.
Of course, it may be that these are early days yet, and some of them may be still getting to grips with their jobs. But the Congress veterans certainly do not want to be seen defying Singh's circular for fear of incurring the disapproval of their joint boss, Sonia Gandhi.
The soup is back in the china
This column a few weeks ago noted how after Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's edict, even chicken soup was being served in kulhads (earthern cups) to MPs and others in the Central Hall of Parliament and how some members suspected that they were being recycled (read: washed and reused).
One is happy to report that though kulhads are still very much in use for drinking water in the Indian Railway-run canteen that services the Parliament House complex, including Central Hall, they have reverted to china cups to serve chicken and other soups.
But the doubts about the reuse of the kulhads persist because the users cannot break them as that would result in littering the entire complex with pieces of mudcake.
As per current practice, a bearer collects the used cups in a bucket and carries them back to the canteen. What happens to them there is anyone's guess. But one thing is for sure: the kulhads offered to patrons of the canteen do not in the least have that earthy, freshly baked aroma.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh