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Old whine in a new bottle

This will be Advani’s last shot at the office that has eluded him. But then he has to compete for the job with several others both within and outside the BJP, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:59 IST
Between Us | Pankaj Vohra

The three-day meeting of the BJP’s national executive ended as expected, without much headway. Several issues were raised but no solutions were offered. Neither the party’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani nor party chief Rajnath Singh gave any new direction to the party.
In fact, on some issues, they differed on their approaches. The BJP spoke about terrorism, but did not say how it should be tackled. The NDA’s track record on the issue was not very flattering — the attack on Parliament and some temples as well as the shameful Kandahar episode, all happened during its tenure.

In fact, some resolutions passed at this meet were similar to some earlier ones. No new ideas emerged from the meeting where everyone was busy praising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi — more out of the fear that he could be the next icon of the party — rather than for bringing back a BJP government to power after serving a full term. There were some off-the-record remarks that tried to convey the impression that Modi was a strong administrator and would be one of the campaigners in the next parliamentary polls since the “prime ministerial nominee” has already been decided and the next polls will be held under Advani and Rajnath’s leadership.

Though the party discussed the plight of farmers and the weaker sections of society, there did not seem to be any representation from these sections at these discussions. Most of those who talked about these issues were from the middle-class, the BJP’s traditional votebank. Rajnath spoke about ‘Shining India’ when A.B. Vajpayee was the PM. This, however, is in variance with Advani’s earlier comment that the emergence of shining India had begun during the NDA regime.

The executive meet was marked by Vajpayee’s absence and the fact that he did not send any written message did become the talk in the political circles. Rajnath tried to cover up the matter by claiming that an oral message had been sent by the former PM. The meeting also saw a verbal duel between Rajnath who was trying to portray himself as a leader of the farmers’ community and Vinay Katiyar, former Bajrang Dal chief who was in the forefront of the Ayodhya movement. It was obvious that beneath the façade of unity, there were serious differences between individuals and issues.

After a long gap, an attempt was made to include Murli Manohar Joshi in the scheme of things. His inclusion could be a part of the undertaking given to the RSS by senior leaders that the core groups and decision-making processes would be made broadbased. There was also a feeble reference to his ‘Ekta Yatra’ and his unfurling of the Tricolour at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day in 1992. But that was made in reference to the unfurling of the flag at the same spot this year when conditions are more relaxed and not as dangerous as they were 16 years ago.

The national executive also discussed plans to include 33 per cent women in the hierarchy. One wonders how this will be achieved when there are only two women — Karuna Shukla and Kiran Ghai — among the party’s office-bearers. Sushma Swaraj is the spokesperson of the BJP parliamentary party and Kiran Maheshwari is the chief of the mahila wing. There are no women state presidents. Only Chandigarh, a Union Territory, recently got its first woman president. Like many other parties, the inclusion of 33 per cent women in the political process is a distant dream for the BJP because it has always found it difficult to find women candidates to contest polls. The party failed to offer any concrete plan or policies for women and mere lip service to the cause will not go down well with the voters.

There was also a call to rejuvenate the NDA ahead of the next polls so that it can win at least 360 seats. Realistically speaking, the NDA, which Vajpayee led in 1998 and 1999, has become fragmented down the years due to the policies pursued by the BJP-led government. First it was Ramvilas Paswan (Lok Jan Shakti Party) who parted company with the NDA, followed by Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), M. Karunanidhi (DMK), Om Prakash Chautala (Indian National Lok Dal) and some of the outfits from the North-east. As things stand today, Mamata Banerjee (Trinamul Congress) is also doing a flip-flop. Chandrababu Naidu (Telugu Desam Party), who supported the NDA from outside, has distanced himself and it is unlikely that Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) or Sharad Pawar (NCP) would ever accept Advani as their leader. Bal Thackeray (Shiv Sena) has an agenda and so have many others. The socialist component within the NDA cannot be at all taken for granted and Advani knows this only too well.

The BJP — the core of the alliance — has to grow. Under Vajpayee — who was more acceptable than Advani — the BJP could never get past the 182-seat mark. Now when anti-incumbency threatens its governments in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, how will it replicate its earlier performance? The party can improve its position only if it comes up with concrete ideas and plans and not depend on rath yatras. Advani may be embarking on yet another yatra but he will have to offer something new and original to the voters, the majority of whom are below 35.

An ageing Advani, who is almost under a contract from the RSS, has a very tall order to accomplish. On the one hand, he has to put the BJP back on its Hindutva rails and on the other, carry the allies with him. His criticism regarding the Kremlinisation of politics needs to be seen in the light of the BJP’s own flirtations directly or indirectly with the Left parties in 1967, 1977 and 1989.

Undoubtedly, he is one of the most astute leaders of our times, but one has to realise that his best years are behind him. He has no Govindacharya to assist him any longer and Modi is getting ready to become the new face of the BJP. This will be Advani’s last shot at the office that has eluded him. But then he has to compete for the job with several others both within and outside the BJP. Between us.