Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Vir Bhumi on Rajiv Gandhi’s 19th death anniversary may have come as a surprise to many. However, it is evident that the new leader of the Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha (LS) is driven by a conscious desire to enhance the status that she already has.
Swaraj is among the few second-generation BJP politicians who have been members of the LS several times. If the BJP were to ever come to power again, she would be a front-runner for the position of PM. After all, the LoP in the Lok Sabha is the shadow pm in our parliamentary system. And no one aspiring to the top slot can ever be seen as someone who pursues a hard line in politics.
L.K. Advani lost out because of the perception that he was a hardliner. His Jinnah remarks did not convince anyone of his desire for an image makeover. Swaraj had her political apprenticeship under top leaders like former PM Chandrashekhar and former defence minister George Fernandes. She grew within the BJP because of her proximity to both Advani and former RSS chief, K.S. Sudershan. But since both Advani and Sudershan have been marginalised, she has to chart her own future course.
She has retained some of the political genes acquired during her formative years. She knows how to distinguish between inclusive politics as practised in her own party by former PM A.B. Vajpayee as well as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi brand of politics, which is the model for some of her contemporaries.
Though time will tell how she evolves, the first indication of her image makeover is available from her visit to the samadhi of a leader whose politics her party vehemently opposed. In the process, she has deliberately decided to pursue the Vajpayee brand of politics and mould herself after the only PM from the parivar stable.
Vajpayee commands the respect of his detractors even now. It is no secret that he was greatly influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru and drew inspiration from the country’s first PM. Vajpayee’s pro-Nehruvian stance often got him in trouble with the Jana Sangh and RSS leaders. Even in Parliament, he was initially treated as “Nehru’s chamcha’’. But that did not deter him and he built his image as someone who believed in inclusive politics. His efforts were rewarded when the coalition partners accepted him as their leader and candidate for PM.
Swaraj has a wealth of experience. Apart from her stints in Parliament, she has held important party posts and was a minister in the Vajpayee government. For a short period, she was also Delhi’s chief minister. She was made the LoP in the LS with Advani’s blessings and despite resistance from some of her own colleagues. But in order to be a top player in Parliament, she knows that she has to shed some of her baggage and evolve from being a politician to a stateswoman. The visit is one small step in this direction.
Swaraj is also aware that her party cannot come to power on its own and will need allies. Her stateswoman-like approach will obviously make her more acceptable among possible allies even if some in her party feel that she was alienating herself. For the BJP, the choice will finally be between the Vajpayee brand of politics and the Narendra Modi school of thought. If the Modi line has to be followed, then the Gujarat CM will be the best choice, given the backing he has received in his state and from the corporate world. Otherwise, it will be Sushma who will be the clear winner. Between us.