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  RSS and the Iron Man
  BJP crisis exposes both  
DILIGENT reporters and analysts, following every detail of the drama in the Bharatiya Janata Party for nearly a fortnight now, have been rewarded with few revelations. The trials and tribulations of the BJP, which the entire country has been watching on the television with bated breath and bemused silence, have only brought to the fore again two of the worst-kept secrets of Indian politics.

The first of these is that the BJP is only the political front of the "parivar", or the far-right "family", with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sngh as its patriarch. The RSS has always made it clear who wears the pants -- or the khaki half-pants -- in the parivar, and it has asserted its authority over the party again. It has shed its cultural camouflage for the umpteenth time, and playing the mentor to the BJP in full public glare ever since the party's stormy but sterile "chintan baithak" (brainstorming session) in Shimla.

The selective disciplinary proceedings by the party have provided evidence enough of the extra-constitutional centre of authority in operation. Jawant Singh was expelled for writing a laudatory book on Muhmmad Ali Jinnah, while Lal Krishna Advani got away with his "humble homage" to the Qaid-e-Azam. Ardent RSS loyalist Arun Shourie can assail the party leadership with impunity, while non-RSS Yashwant Sinha is not supposed to take such liberties.

The shadowy organisation has, however, opted for more than suggestive role. Abandoning the pretence of being a benign outsider and observer, it has come up with public "advice", sounding like a stern order, to the party. The fig leaf of a formal distance was gone, with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat ticking off party fossils, including Advani and asking for a GenNext leadership in the age group of 55 to 60. And the RSS is now drawing up a "roadmap" for the BJP, with second-rung party leaders presenting a comical sight when they scoff indignantly at reports of the patriarch's interference in their internal affairs.

The second of the open secrets is about the extremely malleable metal, of which the Iron Man is made. The Lauha Purush, as Advani has been lionized, proved to be made of less stern stuff when he watched party and parivar vandals demolish the Babri mosque in his presence, despite his alleged disapproval. He did so again when the party pilloried him for his pro-Jinnah utterances. He has done so yet again now by joining inner-party detractors of Jaswant Singh on the same issue.

Louder than all the cacophony of the party in crisis has been the silence emanating from this most eminent of BJP leaders, even as ex-colleagues continue to spill beans about his role as the Union Home Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. If he has been caught in a politically compromising position on the Kandahar episode, the latest allegations about his part in the cash-for-votes scam in Parliament mark a new low in his standing in public life.

Bhagwat and his men may resolve the crisis by offering Advani a honourable retirement option, and finding a suitably pliant successor. That, however, will be no good news for the nation. A directly RSS-controlled opposition in Parliament cannot help the cause of democracy, even if the BJP wins some battles of the ballot.
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