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Hand it to Sonia Gandhi

Her resignation has once again rejuvenated Congress and even RSS has praised it, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 11:18 IST

Sonia Gandhi’s firm resolve in Rae Bareli to take on her opponents and the BJP’s virtual isolation in respect of the twin yatras its leaders L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh propose to begin during this week are strong indicators of the way politics is going to move forward in the months ahead.

In fact, the Congress president was in a combative mood when she addressed the large gathering in her constituency and made it known that the more her rivals tried to beat her down, the more determined she was to fight it out. She also made it abundantly clear that both Rahul and Priyanka were with her and it was a joint family decision they took to face the same forces which had ganged up against her husband Rajiv Gandhi and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi in the past.

The political interpretation of what happened in Rae Bareli was that Sonia had got into  election mode and her speech spelt out the preparedness of her party to face anyone anywhere. Significantly, sensing the political importance of the UPA chairperson’s visit, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and BSP supremo Mayawati also reached Lucknow to separately attack the SP and Mulayam Singh Yadav for the poor law and order situation in the wake of Meher Bhargava’s murder that has shaken up the city. Lucknow is also Vajpayee’s Lok Sabha constituency and he wanted to associate himself with the anger in the people and thus went there. For Mayawati, it was also an opportunity to make a political point against Mulayam Yadav.

Many political observers, however, feel that the visit of so many leaders to the state was indicative of the fact that elections may be held sooner than later in UP and that could also precipitate the beginning of a political churning even at the national level. But this time round, even when most people believe that Mayawati was the  favourite, Sonia Gandhi, by her sheer aggression, has sought to make the Congress a major player as well. The Congress feels that like in Bihar, where people were fed up with Lalu Yadav and opted for a change, the people  in UP want to get rid of regional parties for the sake of stability. But in order to actually realise its objective, the Congress will have to recreate its organisational base to take on the might of Mulayam Yadav who is no pushover and can never be written off.

Vajpayee’s visit was also an attempt to reassure the Brahmins that his party would protect their interests despite electing Rajnath Singh as the president and that they should not go by his (Vajpayee’s)  proclamation in Mumbai about retiring from active politics as he proposed to be around for some more time. His visit also meant that he was very much in the fray and was in fact the most acceptable face of the BJP despite being in his early 80s. Rajnath and Advani came much after him.

Vajpayee has the unique sense of timing and he timed his visit ahead of the controversial yatra by his colleagues, which somehow does not seem to have the support of the RSS and other NDA allies who seem to have realised that despite the name change from ‘Bharat Ekta Yatra’ to ‘Bharat Suraksha Yatra’, the BJP may be trying to cash in on the Hindu sentiments following the attack on the Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi. The fact is that the objective of the yatras has lost its focus in the name change.

The allies were earlier given the erroneous impression that the RSS was backing the yatras and now, despite knowing that it is not supporting them, they have got suspicious about the motives of the journey which may make Advani eligible for the ‘frequent traveller’ golden pass so far as yatras are concerned.

Knowing fully well that local BJP units may not be able to ensure the success of the yatras, the BJP leadership is busy trying to make the security and safety of its leaders as the prime issue so that they can remain in limelight. Of course, the government must provide full security to the two leaders. But it seems that in the end, the security may prove to be more for the sake of keeping at bay the VHP and other Hindu activists who have been accusing the BJP of letting down the Hindutva cause — particularly when Advani praised Mohammad Ali Jinnah and described Partition as a irreversible process in Pakistan last year.

The BJP is also worried that Uma Bharati is making great inroads in its constituency. Its major challenge to keep itself politically potent would be from her party, given that the BJP numbers in the Lok Sabha are on the decline due to disqualification of its members in the cash-for-questions scam. In Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, represented earlier by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the party may have to take on Uma on one hand and the Congress on the other.

Sonia Gandhi’s resignation has once again rejuvenated the Congress and even the RSS has apparently praised it in order to send a message to BJP leaders that they, too, can consider resigning for the sake of principles and not stick to their positions. Not that Sonia needs any certificate from the RSS, but the controlling authority of the BJP had even suggested to Vajpayee and Advani last year to give up active politics and make way for the new leaders. Although Rajnath Singh has been made the BJP chief, he continues to play second fiddle to Advani, whose stranglehold over some of his coterie members may have loosened but has not altogether disappeared as yet.

The BJP has failed to realise that its strength can be augmented only if it remains close to the RSS and the distancing is not good for its future. RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan has been of the view that the party must strengthen itself through its commitment to Hindutva. It is only a strong BJP which can lead to a strong NDA — rather than the other way round, as many in the party may have started believing while they were in power.

If the BJP is out of power it is because its strength in 2004 came down from 182 members to 138. Had its strength been the same, it would have never lost power. And the strength came down because the BJP abandoned its core issues and compromised on its basic ideology. People did not vote for it because of these aberrations.

On the other hand, the Congress under Sonia Gandhi has been making rapid progress because it has continued to believe in the sanctity of secularism. The BJP and other parties need to discover that if they have to dislodge the Congress, it can only be through hard work and by winning the confidence of the people and not by rejoicing over petty politics which led Sonia Gandhi to sacrifice her seat or by using technical grounds in realpolitik.

It is Sonia and the Congress which has gained in the latest instance and anyone can see that the BJP’s claim is totally misplaced. Between us.