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Noises before the polls

india Updated: Aug 17, 2008 22:12 IST
Between us | Pankaj Vohra

Manmohan Singh’s projection as the UPA’s prime ministerial candidate for the general elections had become a certainty when the government won the trust vote in Parliament on July 22. UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s comment on Independence Day that he would "certainly" be there to unfurl the national flag next year was merely a re-affirmation of that reality.

It is common sense that the sitting PM is projected for the same position in the polls as he has not retired and since the UPA will contest the polls on the strength of the achievements of his government. However, the significance of Sonia Gandhi’s comment is that she has conveyed a strong message to the constituents of the UPA as well as the Opposition that so far as she is concerned, Singh is her nominee and, therefore, political ambitions by any other leader should be put on hold.

Another significant development is that while the UPA has firmed up its choice on its prime ministerial nominee, a strong segment within the Sangh parivar appears to be having reservations on whether L.K.Advani, earlier projected for the post by the BJP, can deliver. There is a view in the Sangh that Advani is no longer the Hindutva icon that he was. So there should have been no hurry in projecting a prime ministerial nominee.

While it is for the Sangh parivar to decide on what to do about the issue of PMship, it is again very significant that the RSS has taken great care to ensure that issues such as the Amarnath Shrine and the Sethusamundram do not go into the hands of any BJP leaders but remained with local leaders or the VHP. This decision was taken keeping in view that there had been a tendency of some BJP leaders to ride on issues close to Hindus and there can be benefits from associating with them. This had happened in the Ayodhya case and the failure of the NDA government to deliver on its promise of constructing the Ram temple has left many Hindus disillusioned.

Thus, the thinking within the RSS appears to be that no one leader should be allowed to hijack any issue that is of importance and concern to the majority of Hindus. In fact, no one should be allowed to monopolise issues that concern the Hindu majority of this country.

The decision to project Advani for PMship was cleared by the RSS after a small section within its top organisational set-up insisted on giving the BJP leader a second chance following his "unacceptable views" on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who is regarded by the Sangh as the real villain and architect of the 'Two-nation theory'. Those familiar with the Sangh’s functioning know that decisions in the RSS are taken unanimously, and though there were strong reservations amongst the majority of top functionaries, a collective decision to accommodate the minority view was taken.

Subsequently, there have been deliberations on the subject within the Sangh. The indications are that not everyone among the top leadership is happy about what was done several months ago. In fact, Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Sarkaryavah (General Secretary) and some others may be coming to Delhi during the week to assess the situation.

There is a section in the Sangh that insists that promoting issues related to Hindutva and keeping the country together and strong are far more important than helping someone become PM. Supporters of this thesis have so concluded after their experience with the NDA government and thereafter on how the BJP is being run. The possibility, however, does exist that the earlier decision to project Advani may not be overturned because of several factors. But the enthusiasm to help the BJP in the next elections may be diluted.

The recent actions of the BJP in opposing the nuclear deal have also not found favour within all sections of the Sangh. The cash scam scandal has similarly been viewed with lot of scepticism. There is evidence to suggest that many Sangh leaders are not happy with any activity aimed at lowering the dignity of Parliament.

A significant observation made in the Independence Day issue of the RSS publication, <Panchajanya>, by former BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi may also indicate the thinking in sections within the party close to the RSS. In the interview, Joshi insists that the politics of building up individuals should give way to the politics of building up the nation. And in the process of ‘nation-building’ if some leaders are thrown up, such a leadership would emerge naturally and unchallenged. The dig at the ‘individual-building’ exercise is obviously directed at leaders like Advani and new aspirants for PMship like Mayawati. But then, Joshi’s view is not the accepted view of the BJP at this stage, unless the RSS has prompted its favourite BJP leader to express himself freely on the subject.

While it is for the BJP -- and the RSS -- and the NDA to clear the pre-poll air, it is becoming increasingly evident that the UPA may not wait for the parliamentary elections to be held in April-May next year. The PM’s August 15 speech and the way the achievements of the UPA are being projected (besides the activity within the Congress), virtually confirm that a plan to hold general elections in November-December this year is very much under consideration. If a decision is taken on an early poll, an announcement for dissolving Parliament could be taken even as early as the Monsoon session. The Indpendence Day speech indicated that the PM and Sonia will lead the campaign in tandem. Everyone will wait for the timing of the polls. That will determine the complexion of the future government. Between us.