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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014
Old whine in old bottles
Chanakya, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 09, 2013
First Published: 00:33 IST(9/6/2013)
Last Updated: 00:37 IST(9/6/2013)

It should have been a magnificently synchronised show of strength. The sort of show which the BJP was once famous for. But at its crucial executive meeting in Goa, it would seem that personalities have derailed the whole show. The wrangle over who should be projected as the party's face in the next elections, who should lead the charge, has now descended into an ugly slugfest.

For a start, many of the top leaders have stayed away from the party meet. And perhaps the most crushing blow to the whole exercise, as I see it, is the fact that the party's patriarch LK Advani did not show up. In the past, internal differences would have been papered over by the 'party with a difference'. But today, in almost American style, the party seems to be letting it all hang out.

The confusion in Goa seems compounded by the unseemly protests by the supporters of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in front of Advani's house. Honestly, this is a really poor bit of political planning if I have ever seen one. The voices of the more astute and sagacious leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are not being heard. The whole thing has evolved into the rivalries between different leaders and factions within the party.

What the party should have done, in my opinion, is to have showcased the achievements of all its chief ministers, the majority of whom have performed quite splendidly. The leadership issue has seriously hampered its efforts to project itself as a viable alternative to the Congress. It was just six months ago that the BJP was left reeling after allegations of impropriety on the part of its then president Nitin Gadkari.

Rajnath Singh, known for his command over Hindi heartland politics, was expected to set the house in order. His main task was to create a ferocious fighting machine for Elections 2014. But in Goa we see that he cannot even rein in the party's leaders, leave alone come up with an agenda other than find fault with the UPA's performance. What I cannot understand is the BJP allowing itself to be mired by the issue of the prime ministerial candidate even before it has settled other more pressing ones like its blueprint for economic recovery, its plans for social sector schemes, its foreign policy, its internal security plans and so on. It seems that nothing is going well for the BJP which had perhaps hoped that it would come out of Goa with a comprehensive plan to take on the Congress and also show its potential and present allies who is the boss.

The party should have made it clear that this executive was not to choose a new leader but to show how different the party is in its functioning and also the impressive track record of its chief ministers of which undoubtedly Modi is a pre-eminent person. All we have got now is a Tower of Babel with nothing to suggest that the electorate has a real choice.

As for Advani, it is a pity that he seems to feel slighted by the very party that he helped create. Had it not been for his rath yatra, the party could never have hoped to have emerged onto the national scene in such a big way. Given his vast experience and stature, perhaps he should have settled his differences with the party leadership on the issue of Modi behind the scene and projected a united face. This would have been in keeping with the role he once played to build up this party.

Of course, in the background is the RSS, the ideological mentor of the party which seems to have reluctantly agreed to Modi being assigned the role of campaigning extensively across the country, with a special focus on Uttar Pradesh. His confidant, Amit Shah, has already been made in-charge of UP which poses a big challenge for the BJP. With 80 Lok Sabha seats at stake, any hope for the BJP's ability to capture power in Delhi rests on how well it does in UP. In this background, Advani's bid is seen as an attempt to check Modi's stature and suggests that he is only one of the party's top leaders, rather than its tallest.

Advani seems to want the BJP to leave it to him to decide on the leadership - just as he had done in 1995 when he announced AB Vajpayee's name unilaterally for the top slot. Advani has been telling BJP leaders that the party since its Jana Sangh days had left the last word to its senior-most leader. Most BJP leaders say they would not have a problem with Advani's decisions 'if he had not reduced himself to projecting a faction'. Advani would prefer that the issue is kept open till the Lok Sabha polls. Alternatively, he would like either his name to be considered or that of Sushma Swaraj, his protégé and leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha.

There is nothing in the Goa conclave that could attract younger voters or even older ones for that matter. The leadership may be an important issue, but the BJP could have shown itself to be in tune with today's India. As of now, it seems just old whine in old bottles.


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