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August 18, 1999


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The Rediff Specials/ Vir Sanghvi

Sangh's Own

At about the same time, a leader from the Hindutva movement -- and there were many at the time -- remarked in another interview that in the "fifties and sixties, you would be hard put to find Vajpayee in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh office. His favourite haunts used to be the Communist Party office and he enjoyed the company of comrades!"

These interviews and remarks of that era show what an uphill task it has been for him. Vajpayee has had to fight for space as a moderate in a party which is, only now, coming to be seen as moderate.

This struggle in the Hindu mainstream party goes back to 1965, the only time the RSS was seriously angered at Vajpayee's independent thinking. At the Vijayawada session of the BJS, the RSS decided to change the leadership of the Jana Sangh. In the past, presidents of the Jana Sangh had always been popular public figures, members, but not cadres of the Sangh -- like Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Maulichandra Sharma, Dr Dharmaveera and Premnath Dogra.

However, it was decided in 1965 that the president of the Jana Sangh would be a younger man from the RSS, Bachchraj Vyas. This was not a decision welcomed among the younger elements in the BJS, at that time Balraj Madhok and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both boycotted the session, seriously angering the RSS.

Later, while Madhok was thrown out of the Sangh, Vajpayee reconciled himself to the Sangh's decision.

The second time he took on the Sangh publicly was on an issue once again raised by Govindacharya. Party general secretary at the time, Govindacharya's dismissive remark that the party was quite different from the likes of Vajpayee who was just a ' mukhauta ' (mask) of the party, was taken up by Vajpayee seriously. As the remarks were reported by party journal Panchajanya, Vajpayee cross-checked with the author of the article in which they were quoted, and then lashed out at the 'hard-liners' who prided themselves on their line.

The occasion he chose was the release of a biography of Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia by party leader Mridula Sinha. When he was asked to release the book, he remarked that he couldn't understand why he was invited to such important functions because people in the party only considered him a 'mukhauta.' His anger was so palpable that the RSS was furious with Govindacharya. On this occasion, he had the full and unqualified support of the Sangh.

Since then, his relationship with the Sangh has improved. The Sangh now has been able to accept Vajpayee's way of respecting and spreading Hinduism: the incremental growth and spread of ideology. It was this approach which led Sadhvi Ritambara to denounce Vajpayee as "half-a-Congressman". But there is clear evidence, judging by the applause Vajpayee has got on his handling of the Kargil issue, that the RSS is keen to adopt and protect him.

This is not the first time Vajpayee has been summoned back to the fold. In 1987, when the RSS had a huge convention in Nagpur and older RSS workers were also invited, Vajpayee also participated and his approach of winning the world won wide applause. During the Ram Janambhoomi agitation, the RSS sought frequent consultations but Vajpayee avoided them, leading to the emergence of L K Advani as the supreme leader of the party. Vajpayee was largely marginalised.

Gradually, beginning with his second term as PM, Vajpayee has made his peace with the RSS. He now talks to the Sangh leadership. (Professor Rajendra Singh 'Rajju Bhaiyya' says Vajpayee must be the son of Goddess Saraswati, he has so much power in his voice). Take the recent release of the stamp of the RSS founder, Dr Hedgewar. Not only did Vajpayee agree to the stamp, he was also present at the function for its release.

The thing about Vajpayee is, he knows the psychology of the ordinary Sangh workers and their training in the shakhas. So he uses metaphors and words and phrases which fulfil a dual purpose -- while this puts across in moderation to the non-BJP forces what the RSS is saying, it conveys the association between his ideas and the Sangh.

Take the attack on the Christians. During a visit to riot-hit areas in Gujarat, Vajpayee remarked cautiously on the need for a debate on conversion. Uncaring of the criticism of the secularists, he agreed with the RSS that Dalits and tribals should not be allowed to be converted by mercenaries. This helped in keeping a dialogue open between the secularists and the RSS.

The important thing about Vajpayee is his capacity to be a bridge between issue of rationalism in politics and issues of spiritualism. That is as it should be. Why should spiritualism continue to be denied? Why should religious moderation be an anathema in modern India?

The Sangh, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is a benign Hindu entity. The danger is that unless they are given something to do, the Hindu extremists might try to stage a resurgence. What India will do then is hard to predict.

The Kargil war was won by the Indian jawans and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. What do they have in common? Both are soldiers, seeking peace and tranquillity.

Kind Courtesy: Sunday

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