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In BJP, time for a change of guard

delhi Updated: May 16, 2009 22:41 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times
Verdict 2009

If Verdict 2009 has been totally decisive about who should be prime minister, it is also equally decisive that the BJP, as the principal opposition party, must look for a new leader in the Lok Sabha.

The results of the polls have given ample indication that the people of this country, while rejecting the BJP, have clearly spelt out that L.K. Advani (81) was not acceptable to them even as leader of the opposition.

Evidence of this electoral rebuff is that the number of BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha has gone down considerably as compared to its count (138) in 2004.

Significantly, the BJP numbers had come down to 138 from 182 during the India Shining campaign, when the electorate had assigned it the role of the opposition party. Sources in the Sangh Parivar said that even though the BJP parliamentary board did not accept Advani’s offer to step down, he will be under tremendous pressure to quit as the head of the parliamentary party.

This position could go to one of his senior colleagues who have returned to the Lok Sabha. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) appears to be exceptionally keen that MurliManoharJoshi— who is the senior-most BJP leader after Advani and whohasbeen elected to the Lok Sabha from Varanasi — should replace him, givenhis commitment to the Hindutva ideology.

However, a section close to Advani may not give in easily and may argue that either Jaswant Singh (Darjeeling) or Sushma Swaraj (Videesha) should hold that position.

One thing is certain. The level of debate in the Lok Sabha will improve since some of its top performers from the Rajya Sabha like Jaswant, Sushma, Joshi and Yashwant Sinha will be in the lower house.

Therefore, the question that will simultaneously arise is who will be the next leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, since Jaswant will now be in the Lok Sabha. Ordinarily speaking, if Advani would have had his way, it could have been Arun Jaitley or Arun Shourie.Under the changed circumstances, the BJP will now have to think hard for a suitable person for that position.

NajmaHepatullahcould be one such name, unless the partysettlesforeither Venkaiah Naidu or Shanta Kumar, former Himachal Pradesh chief minister who is close to the RSS. The election results are likely to lead to a complete overhaul within the party too.

So far, BJP affairs were being handled by a coterie close to Advani whose approach was more exclusive than inclusive.

With Mohan Bhagwat’s elevation as RSS sarsanghchalak, the BJP will be compelled to reiterate its commitment to ideology.

The RSS view has been contrary to the view of Advani’s coterie that only a strong BJP can lead a stable coalition. Therefore, a rebuilding exercise for the BJP will begin probably without the faces viewers had got accustomed to seeing on their television sets.