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Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times
February 15, 2009
The BJP’s inability collectively to identify issues that could give it a leg up in  the forthcoming Parliamentary elections is likely to affect its overall chances. The much-hyped slogan on building the Ram Temple has come from Nagpur where the BJP held its important conclave last week. But by all indications, it is evident that Rajnath Singh does not have much support for his temple agenda even within his own party.

 In the faction-ridden saffron brigade, the two top leaders — its president, Rajnath Singh, and its prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani have different perspectives on the Ram temple which will figure in a major way in the elections. It is another thing that people who had backed the BJP when it had made its promise to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya prior to its coming to power are totally disillusioned with its intentions. The majority is of the view that the BJP’s promise now lacks credibility since it did nothing towards the construction of the Ram Temple during its six-and-half years in power. In fact, the instructions were to keep this under wraps as the party did not want the allies within the NDA to get upset.

In the latest instance, Rajnath Singh who has often found himself cornered by  Advani and his coterie apparently raked up the issue knowing full well that it would be inconvenient for the allies to digest this. His intention was also perhaps to please the RSS and other elements within the Sangh Parivar and convince them that his commitment to Hindutva and issues connected with it was not in doubt.

The BJP Chief feels that time was on his side and it was important to stick with core issues since a realistic assessment suggests that the chances of the BJP or the NDA coming to power seem a little remote at present. And this despite the fact that the UPA itself does not seem well-placed to retain power. He also seems to be of the view that with Kalyan Singh out of the way finally, he could become the flag-bearer of this issue within UP and the rest of the country.

For Advani, this temple slogan, if the party adopts it vocally, will be the last nail in the coffin as far as his ambitions of high office go. The JD (U), which is the main supporter of the BJP, has already made it clear that it is not going to give up on its secular platform to accommodate some ``lunatic demand’’ from the BJP. Its other allies could also have second thoughts. It is, therefore, no wonder that Advani’s main supporters have not taken up this issue after the Nagpur meeting. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has made it clear that he has virtually rejected Rajnath Singh’s idea. He has stated that the main plank for the party in the polls in his state will be development.

The RSS, which has blown hot and cold on disciplining the BJP for many years, is now obviously going to watch things, albeit somewhat helplessly from the sidelines. Even many of Advani’s supporters have now started thinking that he should, on his own accord, step down and allow a younger leader to lead from the front. The names of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi who continues to court controversy and Arun Jaitley who is yet to contest a single Lok Sabha election are being mentioned as possible choices. This, of course, has not gone down well with many in the party. But it is the RSS writ that will finally prevail. This will happen when all seems lost as has been the case in the past.

The BJP is in the most unsettling position it has been in for a long time. For instance, it does not even have suitable candidates from among its cadres for the seven seats in Delhi, once its bastion. Even Vijay Goel who was the only certainty in this list seems to want shift to New Delhi from Chandni Chowk if party insiders are to be believed. Vijay Malhotra, the man who defeated Manmohan Singh and lone party MP in 2004 and Madan Lal Khurana are not among the possible contenders.

There are indications that after an IFS officer correctly reviewed his decision to contest on the BJP ticket, there are senior leaders who want celebrities like Kiran Bedi and Navjot Sidhu to stand from here. But one does not know yet what the rank and file feels about this. Many also believe that Arun Jaitley should make his Lok Sabha debut from here so that he can subsequently stake his claim for the top BJP position.

And if things are this bad in Delhi, they cannot be very much better elsewhere. That means there is a very big question mark over Advani’s future. Unless a miracle takes place, the party seems to be on a slippery slope as things stand now.  Between us.