Differences within the BJP were out in the open yet again at the meeting of its national executive in the capital last week. Opposition leader LK Advani tried to shift the blame of the Uttar Pradesh poll debacle to party chief Rajnath Singh. In fact, the five questions Advani put to Singh about the defeat should have been addressed to himself, given his role in the party’s affairs. Advani made an attempt to create a false impression that he and his coterie had no role to play.
Advani also asked the party leadership to go in for course correction in preparation for the 2009 parliamentary poll. He wanted a special session to discuss the poll plan — perhaps a meet similar to the one in 1995 where the BJP had projected Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its prime ministerial candidate. The difference this time would be that instead of Vajpayee, the party should project Advani whose unrealised ambition to become the PM has contributed to the fierce power politics within the organisation.
Advani has always concentrated on the organisation. All BJP presidents other than Murli Manohar Joshi have been either his, or Vajpayee’s, proxy nominees. Rajnath too, has been close to Advani though his appointment as party chief was facilitated by the RSS, following its unhappiness over Advani’s pro-Jinnah remarks in Pakistan in 2005. It can be safely interpreted that Advani, with his strong posturing at the national executive, tried to either intimidate Rajnath or has indicated to the RSS that it must change the president before 2009.
In any case, Rajnath does not share Advani’s stature. Even if the RSS backs him, he inspires little or no confidence. Many of his colleagues have a very dim view of his abilities. His selection as party chief resulted from a desperate search by the RSS to find a replacement for Advani from among the second-generation leaders and also after sarsangchalak K.Sudarshan met with Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Therefore, when Advani asked why the BJP failed to project itself as an alternative to the Samajwadi Party in UP, he indirectly made a dig at Rajnath whose appointment followed the Mulayam-Sudarshan meeting. Even at the national executive’s last meeting in Lucknow before the UP polls, Mulayam had made several BJP leaders state guests and included many ineligible persons in this list. Then why would the people of UP see the BJP as an alternative to the SP when the impression was created that the two parties were hand-in-glove?
Advani himself had campaigned seriously in UP and his close associates — Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu and Gopinath Munde — were declared pointpersons for the campaign. They ignored important leaders and instead encouraged filmstars and TV personalities to campaign. Politics is not a soap opera even though some of the BJP leaders have great fondness for those who star in them.
The BJP, in fact, has been derailing at such a great pace that it is surprising that the RSS has failed to do anything to arrest this. The Hindutva vote shifted this time to the BSP as the BJP under Rajnath and Advani failed to appeal to the state’s Hindu votebank. In fact, the lack of ideological commitment and inability to return to the party’s basic agenda has weakened the organisation from within. By being a mute spectator, the RSS is contributing to this decline. The answer may yet lie with the RSS, which has lost its stranglehold over the BJP and is engaged in its own internal powerplay. Its concern for a Hindutva-based agenda has been diminishing and Sudarshan has, many believe, failed to click as the sarsangchalak.
Another reason is that the BJP has always been a bad loser. Its leaders always try to shift the blame on to each other. The 2004 poll verdict is still a matter of great agony for most BJP leaders. Their frustration is evident in their campaign against UPA presidential candidate Pratibha Patil. Even in that the party’s factionalism is on public display. For instance, when senior leaders want the UPA to change its nominee, even at this late stage, some of them are unhappy about the NDA backing Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Such a statement was a way of suggesting that both should change their nominees and agree on a consensual nominee.
When the BJP leaders insist on calling Patil tainted, they perhaps want the Congress to attack Shekhawat in the same manner and malign him. Many of them would be happy if someone raked up Shekhawat’s past and brought into the public domain why the NDA nominee was dismissed from the police in the early 1950s for alleged misconduct. The manner in which the campaign has been reduced to such a low level does not speak too well about a party, which took pride in being the one with a difference. The next few months may see more powerplay within the BJP and the fight could very well become one between the coterie-controlled organisation on the one hand and the RSS on the other. The results of the initial bickerings may start showing up shortly after the presidential polls. Between us.