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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 16:46 GMT
Internal pressure worries Vajpayee
Vajpayee with Fernandes and Advani
Vajpayee: Feeling the heat from all sides
By Ajoy Bose in Delhi

In his battle to survive the Tehelka expose, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's main worry does not stem from either the opposition or his myriad allies.

Instead, it is a betrayal by the influential Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with which Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) has a very close relationship.

The RSS has not just refused to defend the prime minister.

It has actually gone out of its way to attack the prime minister's office and his family.

This has not only caused major embarrassment to the Vajpayee regime, but also made it difficult to rubbish the Tehelka tapes, since the RSS itself has expressed shock and outrage at the revelations.

Sharp attack

Within hours of the video footage showing BJP President Bangaru Laxman accepting wads of currency notes, the RSS leadership swiftly distanced itself from the government and the party.

Former BJP president Bangaru Laxman
Bangaru Laxman: "A failed student"
Admonishing the compromised party president as a "failed student of the RSS", the organisation also lambasted the government for "failing to contain political corruption".

Ashok Singhal, leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - an affiliate of the RSS - went even further.

He described the BJP-led coalition as the worst government India had ever had.

The most damaging indictment has come from the RSS chief K Sudarshan.

Speaking to correspondents two days after the revelations, Mr Sudarshan declared that he had warned Mr Vajpayee about incompetent officials in the prime minister's office (PMO), and blamed them for the scandal.

Prime Minister's Office, Delhi
The scandal has cast a shadow on the PMO
The RSS chief also said there should be no place for an "extra-constitutional authority" in government - seen as a reference to the alleged misdeeds of Mr Vajpayee's son-in-law.

Stung by the criticism, the PMO vehemently denied the charges.

This in turn led to a clarification by the RSS, that its chief's remarks were not aimed at specific individuals but were a general comment.

Strained relationship

The damage, however, had been done and the already troubled relationship between the prime minister and the RSS plunged to a new low.

The RSS has been expressing its disquiet for the past few years at what it regards as a drift by the Vajpayee government from the organisation's traditional agenda.

A Hindu nationalist body, RSS leaders have been appalled at several moves by the government including:

  • its peace initiative in Kashmir
  • its refusal to build a temple on the site of a demolished mosque at Ayodhya
  • its economic reform programme.

All these positions are quite the opposite of the RSS's own ideological tenets.

The RSS has also openly lobbied against certain officials in the PMO and Mr Vajpayee's foster son-in-law, who accompanies him everywhere.

None of them are members of the RSS, which has often in the past expressed grave anxiety about their proximity to Vajpayee.

RSS activists
RSS cadres spearhead the BJP's election campaign
There is also genuine anxiety that the scandal will not only taint the government and BJP, but the RSS itself.

The prime minister may be annoyed at the RSS's betrayal but he can hardly choose to ignore it.

It is the vast RSS cadre which spearheads the BJP campaign at each election, and without its support the party would be orphaned.

Not only could this strange and paradoxical relationship cause serious strains in the present government, it may also have a major impact on the phenomenal rise of Hindu nationalism in India over the past decade.

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See also:

16 Mar 01 | South Asia
India orders arms scandal inquiry
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal threatens Indian coalition
20 Mar 01 | South Asia
India opposition keeps up pressure
24 Feb 00 | South Asia
Analysis: RSS aims for a Hindu nation
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