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RSS, L K Advani agree on BJP transition plan

There were signs of the prolonged crisis in BJP moving towards a resolution with RSS brass wrapping up discussions on the party’s future course of action over a breakfast meeting with L K Advani on Sunday with the veteran leader expected to “operationalise” the roadmap.

The decision of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and two senior Sangh figures to call on Advani and the brief statement issued thereafter saying that the Sangh was assured that BJP would resolve its problems is seen as significant. It marks the end of a massive RSS intervention to get BJP to settle leadership issues and put its house in order.

“The BJP leadership as a party will stand united, face the situation and emerge stronger… we feel they will resolve their problems,” said Madandas Devi, a senior RSS figure who alongwith Suresh Soni had met Advani. The sight of the RSS team driving into Advani’s residence behind foggy windows on a rainy Sunday immediately set BJP circles buzzing.

Party sources said it was now clear that the much-talked of generational change would not be put off much longer. The RSS bosses were clear that the public feuding had to end and that Advani would be the key element in ensuring a smooth exchange of baton in the party with Rajnath Singh’s term as president drawing to a close. BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said as much, noting “only one term can be given”.

There was some speculation over high-profile names cancelling out one another or not finding favour with the Sangh. But the key remained the need to settle on a leader seen as most acceptable and with a good organisational grounding. From the RSS, Devi is seen as the key intermediary in dealing with BJP affairs. Earlier, Suresh Soni who handled the task was considered a strong Rajnath-backer.

In this respect, Advani will take a decision on when he steps aside for a younger colleague as leader of Opposition after changes in the party organisation had been agreed upon. Party colleagues who met Advani on Sunday said he was in a relaxed frame of mind and was likely to initiate discussions on the next party chief soon. The RSS recognises that the stalwart’s stature makes him critical in changes being planned.

The name of the next party chief would now emerge as part of a wide consensus in BJP and RSS keeping in mind the parameters laid down by the Sangh including an age band of 55-60 years. Names doing the rounds include Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, M Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar. The possibility of a state leader being drafted in is being talked of but this seems remote at present.

BJP insiders see RSS’s efforts being linked to a major decision over the next party chief and they feel that the Sangh is not likely to cap its extensive deliberations with an experiment, stop-gap or an anonymous compromise as party chief. As BJP sources dwescribed it, the decision amounts to a “major investment” for the RSS given the party’s big Lok Sabha defeat.

It would appear that more dissident activity would now run the danger of running afoul with the RSS diktat. The signal to prominent dissidents is that while their viewpoints would be debated, sinking knives into rivals in public was off limits. Though peremptory sackings were frowned on, high octane dissidence could singe those who ignore the Sangh’s stern injunctions.

The RSS-BJP discussions while seeing Advani playing a role as mentor, also point to an honourable place in the party hierarchy for Rajnath. Apart from fostering party unity, BJP is mindful that an impression that the Thakur leader was being diminished was not poltically useful. The next steps in settling in-house matters could now see consultations among senior leaders.

The decision of Naidu, Jaitley, Swaraj and Kumar to meet the RSS chief and his key aides on Friday displayed a preparedness of the leaders to forge a common front in the face of unceasing efforts of the official faction to undercut them. With the RSS now setting the ball rolling, speculation over a timeframe remained unanswered. One view was that the decision on the new party chief would be taken before the Maharashtra polls while the other school of thought felt that it might take longer.

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