Dance of the pygmies

Turmoil in BJP

After the second straight debacle in the Lok Sabha polls, the rollercoaster ride the Bharatiya Janata Party is going through was perhaps inevitable. The road to introspection is full of steep climbs, undulating curves, deep gorges and dark alleys. It will put the leadership and the followers to the sternest test and those who cannot stand up to the ordeal will fall by the wayside, unsung, and unlamented. But, the cathartic experience should do the party a world of good, if the leadership has the vision to draw the right lessons and march on.

That the top leaders of the BJP are caught in a time wrap is evident from the way they reacted to senior leader Jaswant Singh’s book, ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence.’ The release of the 650-odd-page book just two days before the party’s ‘chintan bhaitak’ at Shimla was obviously a co-incidence. Considering that it was no more than the author’s interpretation of history among many others already available, the party could have brushed it aside as an ‘individual’s perception,’ and carried on with its business of introspection.

But the BJP today, without the towering presence of Atal Behari Vajpayee, is such a divided and confused house with intense jostling among the top rung to assume ‘leadership’ that it reacted with unseemly haste to throw Jaswant Singh out of the party. It is all the more ironical that L K Advani, whose views on Jinnah were not dissimilar, actively endorsed Jaswant’s expulsion, unable to rise above the herd mentality.

Jaswant’s lament that he had been punished for merely writing a book and that too based on nuggets of information torn out of context and that the country would be poorer if it does not encourage reading, writing and publishing, is understandable. But although he has been unfairly treated by a party he had served with distinction, he need not despair, because the BJP has ensured that the book will now be more widely read and the revenue from the book will more than compensate Jaswant for the military pension he had foregone while joining the ‘national service.’

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who apparently took the lead in getting Jaswant expelled from the BJP and banned the book in his state, will probably live to regret that the Jinnah book will have as much clandestine sale and ‘poisoning’ of mind and body as the prohibited liquor in Gujarat.

However, not everything is lost for the BJP if the hard-hitting ‘internal report’ that tried to identify the causes for the party’s massive defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections, is any indication. Embarrassed at its untimely leak, the party vainly tried to deny the report’s existence, but it atleast raises hope that there are still powerful elements in the party who are ready to identify the malaise and find necessary remedies.

Report spares none

The report is remarkably candid and reflects the perception shared by many non-BJP commentators in their post-election analyses. It spares none, including the top leadership. It blames L K Advani, Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley among others for not showing ‘unity of purpose’; points to whisper campaigning and backroom manoeuvring within the party; the damage done by the negative campaign against the prime minister, Manmohan Singh; the confusion created by projecting Modi as a PM candidate midway through the elections; the Varun Gandhi hate speech fiasco and so on.

Though the report was credited to senior leader Bal Apte, it was perhaps a compilation of a number of feedbacks, which more or less accurately pinpoints what went wrong during the elections. The BJP can be proud of such incisive soul-searching as its principal opponent, the Congress in a similar situation would have roundly blamed everyone else except the ‘high command.’

So, where does the BJP go from here? There’s already a hint from the RSS that Advani will sooner than later have to make way for ‘young blood,’ the responsibility of identifying his successor being left to him and the others. Other major ‘culprits’ also need to make way for new talent, who can reorient the party towards the 21st century requirements.
In many ways, the 2009 election was a watershed election. The contours of change in voter aspirations visible in 2004 itself, became more pronounced and the 2009 verdict has irrevocably changed the electoral matrix of the country. The BJP can no longer remain cocooned in its moth-eaten ideologies, tired rhetorics of hindutva and so on and will have to come up with a forward-looking agenda which appeals to the broad spectrum of secular-minded citizens, including the youth.

The party has to take on the Congress on issues which affect the people: The unprecedented price rise which is hitting everyone, specially the vulnerable sections, very hard; its ‘scandalous’ agriculture policy over the last six years which has not only turned farmers into paupers, but is pushing the country towards food scarcity and dependent on imports; its one-dimensional foreign policy which has tried to cultivate the US at the cost of our traditional friends with disastrous consequences.

Leaders like Jaswant Singh may not have a mass base, but they can offer the intellectual quotient so urgently needed for the BJP to reivent itself. But alas, the party is turning them away for flimsy reasons.

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