At an age when most politicians would be contemplating writing their memoirs, BJP veteran and Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani seems to be on the comeback trail. With the party’s tallest leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee stricken by ill-health, Mr Advani will be the star attraction at the party’s national executive now underway in Bhopal. After being totally sidelined following the Jinnah controversy, Mr Advani appears to have bounced back with the Ram Setu issue. He has now taken issue with octogenarian DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, who has questioned the legend of Ram, an issue tailormade for the BJP to get its teeth into.
The resurgence of Mr Advani is of considerable significance for the BJP, which has been in tatters for some time now. Its opposition to the nuclear deal did not find much resonance among the people and it was floundering for a worthwhile issue to take the government on. It has found that in the Ram controversy now. The present BJP President, Rajnath Singh, has conclusively failed to make a mark, so much so that the RSS leadership was forced to clip his wings. He has not been able to come up with any worthwhile agenda that could generate a buzz about the party again. He has not hit it off with leaders like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. His style of functioning has been criticised within the party as he operates through a coterie of largely unknown party functionaries. With the death of Pramod Mahajan, the party has not been able to project any credible face that will lead it into the next elections. It is now clear that Mr Vajpayee is out of the reckoning, though his endorsement is vital for his successor. So far, the bhishma pitamah has remained silent on this. No one in the second-rung enjoys either Mr Advani’s political skills or has Mr Vajpayee’s charisma. The dice is then loaded in favour of Mr Advani, all the more so with the party’s poster-boy, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, throwing his weight behind him. Modi, who has no love lost for Mr Singh, is likely to galvanise the RSS rank and file to work for Mr Advani should elections be called shortly. It may be recalled that the RSS was livid with Mr Advani on the Jinnah issue.
While it is too early to predict the BJP’s prospects in the next poll, it is now clear that it will go into it on the strength of its core competence, Hindutva. Its best bet would be to drag out the Ram Setu controversy even though it now finds that, thanks to the Congress’s deft political footwork, it will have to train its guns more on parties like the DMK. Of course, it will also have to take up the price rise and farmers’ suicides issues, but again these are not likely to generate the kind of response the party will need to remain at the centrestage of national politics. The best-case scenario would be for the party to announce in unequivocal terms who will lead it and who its prime ministerial candidate would be. This would make it far easier for people to make their electoral choices.