Rudderless ship

The BJP’s ‘chintan baithak’ in Shimla, which was expected to be a brain-storming session, ended up as a muscle-flexing exercise directed at dissenters and dissidents. The Jaswant Singh issue dominated the session, though it was meant for the leaders to look critically at the recent past and set directions for the future. The message of strong action against indiscipline, which party chief Rajnath Singh sought to convey, actually conveyed the message of intolerance. A leader who voiced a different view was summarily expelled, two others who asked uncomfortable questions were not invited for the session. The party has taken dissent and difference for indiscipline and this has put a question mark on its democratic credentials.

Rajnath Singh said the session reiterated the party’s commitment to Hindutva and decided to expand its social base. The contradiction in the proposal is clear to all except the BJP leaders. If the party has to appeal to wider sections of people, it has to go beyond its narrow and exclusivist ideology. But retaining an identity without paying obeisance to a fundamentalist  ideology is a challenge and the party has to face it if it wants to survive. There is no sign that the issues that came up in the party after the Lok Sabha elections were addressed in the conclave. The report of the Bal Apte committee which went into the election debacle was presented at the meeting. Owning up of the tactical and strategic mistakes made by the party and the leaders, including L K Advani, which the report detailed, could have been a first step in a course correction. But a good three months after the election, the party is shying away from that.

In the week preceding the Shimla session the party was roiled by the revolt of Vasundhara Raje Scindia in Rajasthan and the admonition and advice of the RSS, which continues to have a decisive say in the party’s organisational and ideological affairs.

Raje’s defiance exposed the weakness of the leadership and a compromise would further underline it. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s disapproval of Advani’s leadership could create a more difficult situation, especially when Advani has made known his plan to continue till the next elections. His leadership is questioned inside the party and outside. Rajnath Singh’s writ does not run in most places. Many leaders are on their own. Without unity of credible purpose, the party is now like a ship without a captain and direction.

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