Comment: BJP's bumpy entry into post-Advani phase

Last Updated 16 March 2013, 08:18 IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party's preparations for next year's general election have been hit by several snags - all of them predictable.

First, its reverses in the Karnataka local body elections could have been foreseen because of the internal tremors caused by former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's revolt. The party can, therefore, be said  to have lost the semifinals in the state, as the polls were called, before the assembly elections later this year.

Secondly, reports about L.K. Advani's exclusion from a core group at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) may signify a decision to emerge from the period when the party was dominated by Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the duo who took the BJP from the sidelines of politics to the centre stage.

At the same time, the RSS hasn't been an admirer of either of them because it felt that the BJP did not push too hard to implement the Hindutva agenda, especially the construction of the Ram temple, when it was in power. The RSS also orchestrated Advani's removal from the post of party chief after his praise of Mohammed Ali Jinnah during a visit to Pakistan.

Although BJP president Rajnath Singh has insisted that Advani remains the party's "guide", there is little doubt about the growing uneasiness in the BJP about Advani's contrarian views.

For instance, his belief that the next prime minister might not be from the Congress or the BJP did not amuse the latter. More recently, he has said that even as the country is unhappy with the Congress, it is disillusioned with the BJP as well.

Advani has been particularly critical of the party's handling of the corruption scandals which sullied its government's name in Karnataka - a criticism which has been seen as aimed at former party chief Nitin Gadkari, who is known to be a favourite of the RSS.

Advani has also been pushing for special efforts to win over the minorities, which confirm that, in his view, the gulf between these groups and the BJP remains as wide as ever.

While it is undeniable that Advani's position remains higher than that of the others, the reports about his marginalization are a sign that the BJP may be entering a new, post-Advani phase. In this context, the RSS is said to be backing Rajnath Singh, Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari.

But doubts about their political weight are caused by the fact that apart from being regarded as "provincials", both Rajnath Singh and Gadkari are seen as beholden to the RSS and are not foremost leaders in their own right. Besides, Gadkari continues to be under a cloud for having lost his post as party chief because of the allegations of corruption against his business empire.

Modi may be the most prominent among the five because of the larger-than-life image created - even via three-dimensional video presentations - by his own personal campaign to project himself as a prime ministerial candidate.

But the irony of his inclusion in the core group when he was pointedly kept out last year from the parliamentary board cannot be missed. If anything, his new importance shows how the Gujarat chief minister has bulldozed his way into the party's top rungs through relentless self-promotion based on his "achievements" on the development front in the state.

Of the others, Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley can be said to have merited automatic selection because of their position as leaders of the party in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, respectively. It is however no secret that the RSS purposefully kept out these two Delhi-based leaders from the BJP's president's post  because it apparently believed their long sojourn in the national capital might have made them less mindful of the highly conservative fetishes of the Nagpur patriarchs.

While such personal flaws and angularities may be part and parcel of politics, the chances of the new group functioning smoothly do not seem all that bright. It has to be remembered that till now, the BJP had the dominant personalities of, first, Vajpayee and, then,  Advani to iron out the internal wrinkles. Now, for the first time, the party is entering the post-Vajpayee, post-Advani period. Hence the uncertainties.

Arguably, the step was unavoidable in view of Advani's advanced age - he is 85. But its implications have been complicated by the belief that even as Advani is trying to don the mantle of an elder statesman who need not always tailor his views to those of the party, he may not have given up his prime ministerial ambitions. His contrariness, therefore, is probably meant to undercut the other contenders.

Besides, it is also felt that his primary target is Modi, which is why Advani goes out of his way to praise the oratory of Sushma Swaraj and the governance skills of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Whoever is finally chosen as the candidate, it is clear that the rath yatri of 1990 will not walk quietly into the sunset.

(Published 16 March 2013, 08:15 IST)

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