It was a sign of the Bharatiya Janata Party's confused ways that after two days of Muslim-bashing at its national executive meeting in Lucknow, the party asked the Muslims to vote for it in the Uttar Pradesh elections in order to oust the Mulayam Singh Yadav government.
True, it wasn't the party so much which asked for Muslim support as Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But since the former prime minister was called a 'rashtriya purush' (statesman) by the party chief Rajnath Singh at the conclave, his call to the Muslims can hardly be ignored.
However, the fact that no other leader took this line was evidence of the anti-minority mindset which again has the party in its grip. And, as before, the dichotomy between this attitude, reflected in the national executive's deliberations, and the ground reality seen in Vajpayee's speech, is now more visible than before.
As a result, the BJP's mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is bound to have mixed feelings about the Lucknow conclave. For a start, it will be pleased that its nominee for the party president's post, Rajnath Singh, performed according to the script preferred by the paterfamilias.
Little wonder that his hawkish stance was welcomed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the most militant of the RSS-sponsored outfits. "I congratulate Rajnath Singh for the decision taken to revive the Ram temple issue," VHP's fiery leader Pravin Togadiya said.
At the same time, he warned against lending "support to the Jinnah bhakts (devotees of Mohammed Ali Jinnah)", a not too veiled an allusion to Rajnath Singh's predecessor, L.K. Advani, who had praised the founder of Pakistan during a visit to that country.
But if Togadiya's dig at Advani underlined the old fault lines in the Sangh parivar, his criticism of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi revealed how new cracks are developing in the Hindutva brotherhood.
The VHP leader's ire against Modi has evidently been provoked by the police crackdown on the saffron activists involved in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Although Modi's government has few options in this matter since it has to carry out the Supreme Court's orders to reopen the criminal cases, which were hurriedly closed after the riots, Togadiya is not amused.
The VHP may have been further angered by Modi's decision to disallow the hardline Hindutva outfits from observing the RSS's revered guru, Golwalkar's birth centenary on December 25 lest it should disturb the Christians. Tight security was maintained in the Dangs area where churches had been attacked in 2001-02. Not surprisingly, the All India Christian Council thanked the chief minister for his actions.
None of this will please the RSS, which also cannot but have noted that Modi's speech at the Lucknow conclave focused mainly on Gujarat's development, steering clear of the virulent anti-minority views for which he was once famous - or notorious.
But these are the not only developments which highlight the gulf between the belligerent rhetoric of the national executive and the BJP's internal politics. Although the RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan has long made it clear - even before Advani's Jinnah misadventure - that he would like both Advani and Vajpayee to retire gracefully, there was no sign in Lucknow that they had taken the hint.
As a result, the number of aspirants for the prime minister's post has increased as never before. Rajnath Singh may have anointed himself as a possible "bridegroom" who will take the party's barat (wedding procession) to power in Delhi, it was Advani who received Vajpayee's formal imprimatur in this respect while former human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi advanced his own case by saying that the BJP did not lack in leaders.
The rashtriya purush, of course, could afford to be generous because he had already been hailed as an "undisputed leader" by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. It is clear that without Vajpayee, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will fall apart.
Yet, for the RSS to acquiesce in such sentiments will mean beating an ignominious retreat.
What these cross currents show is that the BJP is nowhere near resolving its dilemma of keeping the hardliners in good humor while claming to be a party of governance. Even as it was reiterating its determination to build the Ayodhya temple, the Janata Dal (United) - one of the few major parties in the NDA - was rejecting the proposal.
The anti-minority rhetoric in Lucknow may have enthused the cadres, but those in the BJP who have tasted power know that such bellicosity will not take them far in forming a government in this age of coalitions.
So, whatever the BJP may say about building the temple, the fact remains that it will have to continue to adhere to its 1996 promise to keep issues like the temple, the uniform civil code and Article 370 in cold storage.
For the RSS, nothing can be more disheartening. For the outside observer, the BJP's continued preoccupation with the temple may recall the old days when a gramophone needle got stuck in a scratchy record.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at