BJP rules out leadership change; RSS evolving consensus

Despite the BJP stoutly denying a leadership change, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has been summoning BJP leaders at different levels for one-on-one discussion on a change of guard -- virtually taking charge of the crisis-ridden party.

Updated: Aug 30, 2009, 22:42 PM IST

New Delhi: Despite the Bharatiya Janata Party stoutly denying a leadership change, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has been summoning BJP leaders at different levels for one-on-one discussion on a change of guard -- virtually taking charge of the crisis-ridden party.

A day after stating at a press conference that the RSS did not interfere with party matters, Bhagwat on Sunday held talks with at least two BJP vice-presidents - Bal Apte, who was tasked to travel across the country and gather intelligence about the party`s poll debacle, and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a strategist who lately finds himself sidelined from the BJP`s decision-making process.

"Bhagwatji is basically trying to assess whom the partymen find the most acceptable and a general opinion about the party affairs. He has already met about a dozen leaders at various levels of the (BJP) hierarchy," a BJP functionary, who too was summoned by the RSS chief, said requesting anonymity as these meetings are an internal affair of the party.

"Bhagwatji is trying to find suitable candidates to replace Rajnath Singh and Advaniji and he is involved in this process to ensure consensual decision," another leader, who also met Bhagwat, said.

While BJP chief Rajnath Singh`s term ends in December this year, the RSS has called for a younger leader to take charge of the party affairs, tacitly suggesting veteran leader LK Advani, 82, too should step down and allow someone younger to succeed him as leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. Though Rajnath Singh is the party chief, it is known that Advani calls the shots in the organisation.

However, officially both the BJP and the RSS maintained Sunday that there was no change of guard in the offing, that the party would take its own decisions, and the Sangh has nothing to do with it.

The RSS is the ideological forbear of the BJP.

Refuting media reports that the party would effect a leadership change at the behest of the RSS, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters here: "He (veteran leader LK Advani) is leader of opposition (in the Lok Sabha), Rajnath Singh is our president; no one is resigning."

Speculations have been rife that at the instance of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, the BJP would usher in a younger leadership with general secretary Arun Jaitley tipped to be the party president in place of Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj to replace Advani as the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.

The RSS reiterated that the party would take its own decisions and hoped that its leadership would stand united, putting an end to infighting.

"The BJP has a mass base. And with such a party, problems are bound to occur... but the party will emerge stronger from the crisis," senior RSS leader Madandas Devi told reporters here.

"The party will decide its own course of action," he said, after he, Bhagwat and Suresh Soni held a breakfast meeting with BJP veteran Advani Sunday.

"The RSS is assured that the BJP leadership, as a team, will stand united and face the present situation; and will overcome all the problems and emerge stronger," he further said.

Adding to this, party spokesperson Javadekar said: "Let me clarify what the Sangh has said today and what has happened in the last three days. The deliberations point to the strength of BJP and Sangh Parivar that we can sort out our own matters."

Several BJP leaders met Bhagwat and other senior RSS leaders over the last few days.

The commotion in the nation`s main opposition party began with the expulsion of senior leader and former central minister Jaswant Singh for his remarks on Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his recently released book.

After that, MP and former cabinet minister Arun Shourie lashed out at the party leadership and dubbed the BJP as a "kati patang" (a kite adrift).

The crisis in the BJP led the RSS to call for an end to infighting, with Bhagwat expressing his hopes at a press conference Friday that it would "rise from the ashes".