With Narendra Modi in no mood to retire, how will Shah, Yogi and Bhagwat react? Will they fall in line?

A RSS leader says enigmatically that even the Ganapati is worshipped for 10 days before being immersed, before adding that the RSS did dump LK Advani once his utility got over

PM Modi
PM Modi

Sujata Anandan

I do not know whether to gloat and say,”I told you so,” or dissolve into tears and cry for my beloved country as Narendra Modi hints that he would be seeking a third term for himself as prime minister of this country.

I always knew that his prescription for a retirement age for seniors in his party was a fraud perpetrated on them so that he would have a free run in the party without having to kowtow to those who would know better. It was a great tactic to get rid in a bloodless manner of those who might have tripped him up. But now I am almost excited and interested to see how those are equally ambitious within the BJP - like Yogi Adityanath or Amit Shah - are going to deal with him trying for a third term.

All said and done, it is only Modi who can win the BJP an election (though sometimes like in West Bengal or Maharashtra he fails). Shah has been labelled as a Chanakya but he simply does not enjoy the same appeal among the masses that Modi does. And Yogi might find his way around in Uttar Pradesh but it is no secret that wherever he campaigned elsewhere in the country, he made no impact and BJP candidates largely lost their elections. His acceptability outside Uttar Pradesh remains suspect.

The Modi-Shah duo is like the Vajpayee-Advani pair of yore, though far more sinister in their ambitions. Lal Krishna Advani always knew nobody would vote for him or ally with his party because of his hard-core Hindutvawadi image. So, much against his inclination, after getting embroiled in a havala scam that additionally lost him any leg to stand on, he stepped back for Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take precedence. But after allowing Vajpayee a shot at the top job Advani was quite ready to step into his shoes, albeit by using Vajpayee to the fullest capacity even when it was obvious that the latter was suffering from dementia.

The plan obviously was to use Vajpayee to win the maximum number of seats possible, and then force him to retire on grounds of ill-health while Advani would take over as prime minister from being the deputy prime minister.

I still cannot forget the trauma Advani found himself in when the BJP lost the 2004 elections and saw all his dreams driven to dust – he could not even speak for days after that. The 2009 election was an easy win for the UPA because Advani was still no challenge, good as a deputy to Vajpayee, he was simply nothing on his own.

I guess, Shah is in a similar position. For a time, I believe, he thought he could get the upper hand over Modi and it almost seemed as though he was the more important person in the government and the BJP. But then Modi reasserted himself and Shah is nowhere and nothing if not a shadow of Modi.

Now, Yogi Adityanath might think he is the second Modi in the making but, frankly, except for his extreme Hindutva which might work around the area of the Ram Mandir, he has even less going for him than Shah. Not for nothing did the BJP run a ‘double engine’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh so that they could obliterate who was the more effective, Modi or Yogi. At least Modi somehow found his feet among world leaders after Gujarat 2002. Can anyone imagine Yogi, who advised digging up the bodies of Muslim women and committing necrophilia on them, sitting at the same table as the Saudi prince or any other world leader of consequence?

But having said that it would be also interesting to see how other BJP leaders and the RSS react to Modi's intention to stay on. During the course of my many conversations with RSS ideologues, one of them had told me in the context of Modi that as a Hindu, I should know that Lord Ganpati was worshipped for only ten days. “Gyarhaven din Ganpati ka visarjan hi kiyan jaata hai.”

At my shock he said “What did we do with Advani when he refused to step back? He had outlived his utility and he never understood that.”

So probably Modi's forceful retirement of Advani had RSS support. But he is unlikely to retire himself and thereby there is likely to be an interesting tussle- between him and the RSS, between him and Shah and other ambitious leaders in the party. Modi, as I see it, can neither afford to retire nor lose the next elections for fear of the consequences of being out of power. All his chickens, from within the party, the government and outside, will surely come home to roost and he will have no protectors even within the party as he had in Advani during the Gujarat riots, considering how he has humiliated others over the years.

However, there is another interesting factor here and perhaps a bargaining chip for Modi. Even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat turns 75 the same year as Modi. Usually sarsanghchalaks stay on for life but the tradition was broken by Balasaheb Deoras who was too ill to continue in that office. Those who followed stepped back for similar reasons. But Bhagwat was a younger, abler sarsanghchalak. So will he uphold the RSS tradition of staying on for life or follow Modi's new tradition of retiring at 75? It is a Catch-22 situation that is likely to render both of them unhappy if forced to retire and Modi having to face opprobrium of critics for not practising what he preaches in case he doesn’t.

The next battle then is likely to be an interesting one between the RSS parivar and its various leaders as we watch from the sidelines if the idol worship continues or they all end up immersing each other in the deep waters of age and outlived utility.

( Sujata Anandan is Consulting Editor, National Herald, in Mumbai)

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