BJP's power vacuum

BJP's power vacuum

The bane of most political parties is that there is hardly an honest post-mortem of electoral defeats or a discussion on course correction.

Transition pangs, afflicting the Bharatiya Janata Party ever since the second successive Lok Sabha election defeat in 2009, have affected almost every other party in the country. The Left parties are an exception to it. BJP’s own transition pangs started in 2004 itself but the fact that it did not address the issues was reflected in the 2009 electoral drubbing. Ironically, it took an open expression of admiration for Mohammed Ali Jinnah, by L K Advani during his Pakistan tour as BJP president in 2005, for the party to address the problems plaguing it.

As pressure mounted on Advani, he gave up the post of the party president but chose to hang on to that of Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, a position which is under threat now. Advani may have to eventually step down from the position, possibly before the beginning of the winter session of Parliament in November.

The bane of most political parties is that there is hardly an honest post-mortem of electoral defeats or a discussion on what needs to be done to set the house in order. As for the BJP, as in 2004, after the 2009 electoral defeat too, there was no sign of stocktaking. When the party finally – under pressure from dissidents – decided to sit down and thrash out matters, Jaswant Singh exploded the Jinnah bomb.

The recent ‘Chintan Bhaitak’ at Shimla was overshadowed by Jaswant book controversy and the summary expulsion of the senior leader. However, with RSS (some call it the villain of the piece and the cause for BJP’s present state) back again in the thick of things to set the BJP house in order, it is expected that some sort of a generation switch in the party may be resorted to.

All in the family

But then, the transition glitch has affected not just the BJP. For some time in the 1990s, even the Congress suffered from the malaise. The Shiv Sena, TDP and AIADMK have also suffered from it. To be fair to the BJP, the transition or succession struggle in the other parties have been worse with the respective party patriarchs having had to contend with family coups and intra-family feuds.

The death of Tamil icon M G Ramachandran as chief minister led to a near war of succession between his wife Janaki and friend J Jayalalitha. Following the matinee idol’s death in 1987, Janaki became chief minister for a few months but Jayalalitha proved that she is his true successor.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the TDP saw a controversial changeover in 1995 when Chandrababu Naidu wrested power from his own father-in-law and chief minister N T Rama Rao as he saw Lakshmi Parvati, NTR’s wife, growing powerful. He rode to power as the TDP MLAs switched allegiance from NTR, even as Naidu’s detractors called it “back-stabbing”. However, Naidu went on to emerge victorious in the 1996, 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections as well as the 1999 Assembly polls.

Shiv Sena’s blow

In Maharashtra, the generation shift in the Shiv Sena had been to the great disadvantage of its founder Bal Thackeray, who spent nearly a decade in deciding who should succeed him - his son Uddhav or nephew Raj. Finally, when he chose Uddhav, Raj rebelled and formed his own party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Raj dealt a heavy blow to Bal’s Shiv Sena as he helped the Congress - NCP win a majority of seats in the state in the 2009 LS elections.

The votes polled by MNS not only helped the Congress-NCP combine capture the state but also delivered the Sena-BJP alliance a complete drubbing in the Sena stronghold of Mumbai city. The Congress-NCP won all the eight seats.
Even the Congress party faced changeover pangs, albeit for a brief period. After the poll defeat of 1996, Congress was passing through its worst phase as P V Narasimha Rao, who held twin posts of prime minister and party president, was forced to give up the party post.

This led to Sitaram Kesri becoming president. During this time, the party saw some of its leaders quitting and joining the rival BJP. As the clamour to bring in
Sonia Gandhi as party chief grew, Kesri was stripped of his post in March, 1998.
Sonia, however, has not looked back since then.

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