New Delhi: Even as the crisis in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worsened, its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), distanced itself from the controversy, yet signalled the need for a leadership change in the party.
Addressing a rare press conference in the Capital, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said, “Fifty to sixty years is the average age for the sangh leadership and it’s for the political party to decide what should be the right age for it.”
Bhagwat’s statement is expected to put greater pressure on BJP president L.K. Advani, the 81-year-old who had led the party in the 15th Lok Sabha election, to step down.
On Friday, former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra jumped into the fray and echoed two other party insiders in accusing Advani, leader of Opposition, of making misleading statements on the 1999 Kandahar hijack, where India had to agree to free three terrorists to get the aircraft released. Advani, the-then home minister, has said he was not consulted about whether Jaswant Singh should fly to Kandahar in Afghanistan to swap the terrorists for the 164 passengers who were hijacked on IC-814.
In two television interviews aired on Friday, Mishra said Advani was part of the National Democratic Alliance government’s decision to release the three terrorists and to send Singh to Kandahar to secure the release of the hostages.
Analysts concur with the interpretation that Bhagwat was indeed signalling a change in leadership.
Parental pressure? RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at a conference in New Delhi on Friday. He said the sangh is ready to help and advise the BJP. Manpreet Romana / AFP
Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor at the department of political science in Delhi university, said, “The RSS chief is indicating that there should be a leadership change. The future of BJP is not with Advani, but with a relatively younger leaders such as Arun Shourie, Arun Jaitley or Yashwant Sinha. Bhagwat’s press conference indicates the bankruptcy of thoughts in the RSS. He is still talking about ideological pursuits and loyalties... It is a ploy to cover up the hidden agenda, which is to take care of the intra-party fighting in the party.”
Questions about the party’s leadership have been raised by at least three senior BJP leaders and former cabinet ministers, Singh, Sinha and Shourie, in the last few days. The BJP has been facing a major ideological and organizational crisis since its unexpected defeat in the May Lok Sabha elections—its second successive defeat in the general election.
Shourie had earlier this week demanded the RSS to take charge of the beleaguered party.
Bhagwat rejected the suggestion. “The sangh has its own tasks that will be done by the sangh. If the party wants help and advice, we will give it,” he said, adding, “Whatever more has to be done will be done by the party... If they (BJP) ask for our advice, we always say yes to them as they are better equipped to take political decisions.”
He admitted that the infighting in the BJP was not good. “Whatever is happening in BJP is not good and it should stop. Whatever has to be done by the party to put in place a system and corrective measures, it is for them to do,” he added.
Bhagwat also said that BJP president Rajnath Singh met him on Thursday evening and had discussed the developments in the party. “I told him that he had to function on a consensus. He also agreed. There is a road ahead.”
However, he was optimistic about the BJP’s future. “I do not think it (BJP) is weakening. It can survive the crisis.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress party on Friday demanded an explanation from Advani why was he “economical with truth” regarding the hijacking issue. “Advani must inform the nation as to why he chose to be economical with the truth,” party spokesman Manish Tewari said, adding that the explanation has to precede an apology on the issue.
However, the BJP rejected the argument.
PTI contributed to this story.