As the successor to Rajnath Singh, whom former minister and journalist Arun Shourie famously dubbed 'Alice in Blunderland', BJP president Nitin Gadkari has not done too badly for himself. Up for a second term for which the party has amended its constitution, Gadkari has signalled that he has arrived despite the opposition of many to letting this largely unknown politician steer the BJP into the next general elections.
Gadkari is either very ambitious or very foolhardy to want a second bash at the job. He really has his work cut out for him. If he can make the BJP fighting fit by 2014 to take on the Congress, then I feel that he probably deserves a third term. At the moment, he has as much chance as a snowball in hell. I won't go into all that about the party with a difference transforming into a party with differences. That is a given today.
But a drop in seats from 138 in 2004 to 116 in the 2009 general elections would have called for greater concern than we see. It is not enough to assume that with the UPA tripping on its own feet, the next election will be a cakewalk for the BJP-led NDA. When I said that Gadkari has not done too badly for himself, I certainly did not mean that his good fortune has rubbed off on the party.
We are looking at a whole lot of serious housekeeping issues if the party wants to hit the ground running in 2014. The first will be to sort out BS Yeddyurappa, former Karnataka chief minister whose antics would be comical if it had not been for the fact that they seriously undermine the party leadership. And now, we find the CBI taking a heartwarming interest in Yeddyurappa's affairs while the party looks on helplessly.
So out goes the card that the BJP is less prone to corruption or that its leadership can crack the whip and get the faithful to fall into line. In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia did not nip around to the party headquarters in Delhi and quietly make her grievances known. No, she let it all hang loose. Again, apart from the occasional tsk, tsk, the party leadership did not have its hands on the steering wheel.
What is making the BJP look so flabby and inert? I think the answer is quite simple. It is suffering from some sort of political schizophrenia - should it brand itself as a Hindutva party or should it project a modern, inclusive image? If it is the former, who will lead the charge and similarly, if it is the latter, then who would be the credible face?
The surgically diminished Gadkari appears to have no answers. But this is, to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he has no choice but to go along with the diktats from Nagpur where the RSS, the party's ideological mentor is headquartered. And the man trying to fashion the BJP, a work in progress if there ever was one, is Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme RSS sarsanghchalak and veterinary doctor by profession.
So let's us look at the BJP's dilemma. It has got Goa under its belt in the assembly polls. If it pops up there with any notions of hard Hindutva, its chances will float down the Mandovi river. In Punjab where the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance pulled it off, there is no way that the familia Badal will allow Hindutva to dominate.
So does the party go all out to look sassy enough to appeal to the demographics of the country? The rival has a Rahul Gandhi as its face, whether this will pay electoral dividends in the Big Game in 2014 or not. Who will the BJP's face be? Not Varun Gandhi surely after his toxic remarks earlier. As for the leadership issue, Gadkari's not going to find this a cakewalk at all. There is the Gujarat chief minister who clearly has larger ambitions than just ruling a state. But he is not acceptable to many allies. Then there are the big two in Delhi - the suave and highly articulate Arun Jaitely, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and a mass leader like Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Both are capable and politically savvy, but over them hangs the shadow of former party president LK Advani who has not ruled himself out of the prime ministerial race yet.
The party leadership ought to use its executive meet later this month to hone in on one or two issues that it can run with. Reactive politics will only get you so far and no more. The idea of a collegiate leadership is fine, very democratic, but it simply won't work in the present political system where there are many generals and few foot soldiers.
This is Gadkari's second chance. He can fashion the BJP into a lean, mean fighting machine, much as he himself hopes to become. Or let the shadowy pracharaks from Nagpur pull the party in a direction which is bound to hobble it even before the race begins in 2014. The choice could not be clearer.