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Striking the wrong notes

At a time when the BJP is hoping to trip up the UPA, Nitin Gadkari should be giving it direction. Instead, he is fighting to save his career, writes Chanakya.

columns Updated: Nov 24, 2012 21:34 IST

The role of the president of a political party is like that of the conductor of an orchestra. He or she should know when to raise the tempo, whom to play solo, how to blend the whole musical ensemble together into a harmonious symphony. Now the BJP president Nitin Gadkari is no Zubin Mehta, but to preside over an orchestra which cannot even hold a tune does not say much for his conducting skills. From the time he got off the blocks, Gadkari has not been able to strike the right note within the party. Now as he seeks a second term, the orchestra seems to have packed up and gone home leaving him virtually alone on the podium.

The winter session of Parliament has begun and with it the opportunity for the Opposition to really haul the government over the coals on several issues, one of them being allegations of corruption. Instead what we find is that the UPA government, by hook or by crook, has given itself a lick of paint and seems to give the impression that it means business. The BJP, meanwhile, is fighting to save its image after at least two top leaders have attacked Gadkari openly over the allegations of corruption involving a company which alleged belongs to him.

The first shot was fired by maverick MP and lawyer Ram Jethmalani who quite openly said that Gadkari should resign and not seek a second term. And now along comes Yashwant Sinha, senior leader, saying the same thing. Of course, the party has said it stands by Gadkari but such shows of solidarity are beginning to show some serious cracks. The moot point, as I see it, is how on earth is the BJP going to corner the government on corruption when its own party president is under such a cloud?

In these cases, in true BJP tradition, the party's ideological mentor, the RSS usually rushes in with air cover. Gadkari is a dyed-in-the-wool RSS man. Pictures of him in less than sartorially flattering shorts at an RSS meet recently left us in no doubt where his heart lay. But, horror of all horrors, the RSS coolly said that this was a matter for the BJP to sort out and in a sort of wishy washy way said that it thought that Gadkari was a nice sort of bloke.

With such baggage, I wonder how Gadkari is going to orchestrate the party and get it to play in perfect harmony come the elections. If he ever harboured hopes that the party faithful would turn to him as a prime ministerial candidate, that seems pretty much to have gone out of the window. Which brings me to the other problem that continues to haunt the BJP. Who will the BJP project as a prime ministerial candidate?

Every now and again, the name of former president LK Advani surfaces and no one in the party seems to have the courage to conclusively rule him out. Gadkari has waffled on about how the party has several leaders, is not dependent on dynasties and so on. But, when it comes to actually naming names, he looks the other way.

To make matters worse, I notice that in recent times, poor Gadkari is not even being projected at BJP rallies. He is there, of course, but as one of the many leaders. There are, of course, charismatic leaders like Narendra Modi who, I am sure, thinks that he has a fair shot at the prime ministerial job. But his problem is not so much in that he is not acceptable to people at large as in that he is not acceptable to many within his own party. The RSS, too, is not comfortable with a person whom it feels it cannot control.

Gadkari has now sought to ask why the government is not pushing to hang Afzal Guru after the execution of Ajmal Kasab. Again, in doing so, he just does not have the gravitas that a party president should have. The Congress may have many faults but its president is clearly seen to hold the party together. At a time when the BJP is hoping to trip up the government, it should be Gadkari who should be giving it direction. Instead, he is fighting to save his career. The BJP is famous for its chintan baithaks. Let us be honest, it no longer has tall leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee whose writ could not be questioned, who could draw crowds with his mesmerising oratory. But, at least, it should be able to function as a cohesive unit instead of pulling in different directions. A chintan baithak should be summoned to iron out internal differences and come up with a proactive agenda. We have not heard a single positive suggestion from the BJP in recent times. Regional satraps like Karnataka's BS Yeddyurappa have openly revolted against the party.

I remember a time when the party's iron discipline was cause for envy among other parties. Nitin Gadkari, you need to reconstitute your orchestra and perhaps pass on the conductor's baton to someone with a little more musical acumen than yourself.