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No end to leadership tussle

india Updated: Sep 27, 2007 01:57 IST
Hemendra Singh Bartwal
Hemendra Singh Bartwal
Hindustan Times
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For a political party, one of the unintended benefits of not being in power is that it has all the time in the world to work on the organizational structure and fix whatever is broke. The Bharatiya Janata Party is doing just that.

It heard the wake-up call in May when it was decimated in Uttar Pradesh, where it was expecting to continue its winning streak. The defeat came as a blessing in disguise as they say and the party went to work on itself.

And it’s ready now. The message out of Bhopal, where the party’s national executive met last week, was this: start preparing for elections, this government’s (UPA government’s) days are numbered.

Happily for the BJP, the UPA has provided on a platter some very exciting issues: the Ram Setu row — an affidavit saying Ram is not real and then a quick about-turn; and the Sachar panel’s recommendations for Muslims.

BJP leaders believe the elections — even if they are early, before time — will not be held until March or April next year, by which time the house cleaning would be over and the party would be fit for battle. Just what the doctor said, right?

Not quite, if you know the BJP. For one, the central leadership is in a bit of a flux with a power struggle going on between different factions as party patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee continues to be in failing health.

RSS-protégé Rajnath Singh is still trying to consolidate his position as party president and emerge from the shadow of LK. Advani, who looks in no mood to pass on the baton. He is pretty much in the ring.

There is then the vexing question of who will be projected as the BJP-led NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in the event of parliamentary elections being declared soon. It is being said in party circles that Vajpayee will probably not be interested in leading the party, given his advanced age and ill health. And Advani would expect to take over. But rivals like Murli Manohar Joshi are likely to put up resistance, regardless of the outcome.

There is then the RSS, whose organizational strengths the BJP welcomes but not its leaders, who are found meddlesome. The Sangh is said to have decided to loosen the reins a little. But will it pull back completely? Unlikely.

Infighting and dissidence in the party’s state units is also an area of concern, particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan where Narendra Modi and Vasundhara Raje head the BJP governments respectively. The central leadership has repeatedly failed to put out the fire and this may adversely affect the party’s poll prospects. In Gujarat, however, despite the rebel activity, the central leaders are very confident of a victory under Modi.

But anti-incumbency is likely to be harsher on the BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The party leaders are aware of this and will not be surprised if voters get nasty there.

There is trouble expected from its allies too. Chandrababu Naidu has already parted company. Even Mamata Banerjee is not going with the NDA. So, talks are on to cement other deals, with other regional parties.

The BJP is exploring the prospects of tying up with Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana, the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and Telengana Rashtra Samithi in Andhra Pradesh. And with Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu; Advani is planning to meet her shortly.

As for its existing allies, the BJP leadership is quite confident of its strong ties with the Janata Dal-United in Bihar, Biju Janata Dal in Orissa and Akali Dal in Punjab. The revival of ties with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has come as a major relief to the party.

Doesn’t this look like a party in election mode? Of course it does. For those not convinced, there is more. According to a senior BJP leader, the party has been setting up for the last three months permanent booth committees in all parliamentary constituencies instead of continuing with the old system of forming these five-six member teams only before the elections.

This would enable the party workers to begin their contact programme with the voters in their area much before the polls. Booth committees have been constituted in many states while in the rest, the work will be completed in the next two months, he said.

“Besides, during the last two months, in most of the prominent states where the BJP has a presence, we have prepared panels of likely candidates in each constituency. So the task of screening has already begun and we only have to finalise the names near election time,” the leader stated.

This time, sources said, tickets will go to the right candidates. Now, that’s going to be interesting.