BJP gripped by rebirth pangs

Saffron in transition

BJP gripped by rebirth pangs


While (the past) 25 years have been a matter of pride, the past 25 weeks have been very painful. We have been passing through a bad patch,” said L K Advani. The comments which may well fit the current scenario in the BJP were made by the BJP veteran at the silver jubilee function of the party in Mumbai on December 29, 2005.

“The past 25 weeks” was a reference to the bitter struggle among the BJP leaders to wrest the baton of party President from him, revolt of senior leader Uma Bharti and her expulsion, and the controversy surrounding a sex-CD allegedly involving BJP General Secretary (Organisation) Sanjay Joshi. The party was, for long, treating the symptoms and not the disease itself which has  become full blown now. 

Little did Advani realise then that the party was set to experience “much more pain” than he ever imagined. And this time round, medicinal treatment is  not a palliative but would require a full-fledged operation. The charge by the challengers of the current Advani-Rajnath leadership is that they are shirking a full-fledged diagnosis of the ailment and escaping the responsibility of  the recent Lok Sabha debacle.

The saffron can of worms was placed centre stage first by Advani’s media aide Sudheendra Kulkarni. He took on the BJP’s second-rung leaders and the RSS, blaming them for making Advani ‘look weak, helpless and not fully in command’. The lid of the can was half-opened by “colonel” Jaswant Singh by raising his baritone in the core committee meeting. The target was the party’s Chief Poll Strategist Arun Jaitley, appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha by “a lame-duck Advani.” The editor-turned-saffron leader Arun Shourie contributed to the dissident chorus with his diatribe against corruption.

But it was “the confessions of a Swadeshi Reformer” a la BJP Vice-President Yashwant Sinha that fully took the lid off the BJP can of worms. He put in his papers saying, “I have a sinking feeling that there is a conspiracy of silence” and demanded to know why the party leadership has put a “premium on failure”. He  pointed to “the rat race for party posts.”

Read between the lines that Sinha’s demand for the resignation of all office bearers of the party and parliamentary party, owning “collective responsibility” for the poll defeat, is aimed at nullifying the recent appointments of Jaitley and of Sushma Swaraj (as Advani’s deputy in Lok Sabha) and keeping the door  open for “succession”.   

The references for a structured debate and discussions from the anti-Advani faction are essentially meant to show the door to those “accountable” for the  poll defeat, including Advani. In the first low key attack on Advani soon after the poll results, his arch political foe Murli Manohar Joshi “welcomed” the former’s resignation and sought him to become “Bhishma Pitamah” like Atal Behari Vajpayee. That was, however, not to be with Advani being “persuaded” to continue, to be used as a buffer against the growing number of dissidents.

Amidst the rising demand for a root and branch change in the party following the second successive Lok Sabha poll reverses, party President Rajnath Singh, taking “a distant view” of the scenario, does not want to change “his horses  midstream.” 

Singh, viewed as an “indecisive leader” even by his camp followers, is watching the shape of things to emerge in the run-up to the organisational elections which may be completed by the year-end when he too would be demitting his office. Singh is not too displeased with the banner of revolt against Jaitley but would wait for the full curve of the saffron tide.

Differences

The differences between Jaitley and Singh surfaced much before the Lok Sabha polls on the appointment of Sudhanshu Mittal as the party in-charge of the North-East. Jaitley demanded revocation of the appointment of Mittal, a former aide of the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, and did not attend the crucial Central Election Commission’s meetings.

The party president is now warning of disciplinary action against those airing views in public, although he is not averse to  issues being raised withinparty fora. But none seem to be listening. A day after Singh’s gag order, Swaraj described the  situation in the party as “volcanic” and Joshi termed it “unnecessary”. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, temporarily handicapped by the SIT probe into Gujarat riots, is known to have good equations with Jaitley. Modi, who recently met Joshi, is keeping his options open in anticipation that Advani may make his exit as the Leader of the Opposition before year-end. 

The rejection of accountability factor by the current leadership is exemplified by the continuation of Maj Gen (retd) B C Khanduri as the Chief Minister of  Uttarakhand, where BJP lost all five LS seats to the Congress. Leading the dissident camp, former state chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari resigned from his Rajya Sabha membership but later withdrew it on the advise of Rajnath Singh.

When the Centre becomes weak, “satraps” emerge on the periphery and declare their independence. There is virtually no central leadership in the party with each leader working to his and her individual agenda. The leaders are eyeing the posts of party president, leader of opposition and that of general secretary and vice-president vacated by Jaitley and Sinha. The struggle for top slots may escalate in the coming months with state leaders aligning with “the winning faction”.

Identity crisis

The larger question, however, is that of BJP’s identity as a structured, right wing party run on an ideology with dominant “Hindu theme”. Should it go “modern” as has been suggested by some of its leaders? There is no clarity on this moot point.

Would the Mother Organisation, the RSS, help the situation?  The Nagpur outfit has been blamed by many BJP leaders for introducing ambiguity in the party’s political agenda.

Forcing Advani to quit as party president in 2005 for his pro-Jinnah remarks and then reposing faith in him as prime ministerial candidate is cited as an example of its weak-kneed approach to the BJP. “The RSS lacks clarity and is often manipulated by city-bred, articulate BJP leaders,” commented a former president . The party is currently in drift but may find its anchor with the current churning. It is, perhaps, experiencing birth pangs of a new leadership in a post-Vajpayee-Advani era.

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