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Post-Indore, it’s advantage Gadkari

The crucial meeting of the BJP’s national council in Indore has set the agenda for the party both in terms of who will get positions of prominence in future and the core issues, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2010 23:23 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The crucial meeting of the BJP’s national council in Indore has set the agenda for the party both in terms of who will get positions of prominence in future and the core issues. A seemingly confident party president Nitin Gadkari sent out a message to the cadres that functioning will be more broad-based thereby implying that the days of coterie politics are over. However, time will tell whether he will be able to contain the all-powerful coterie owing allegiance to L.K. Advani.

The mega conclave acted as a unifier to an extent but, at the same time, the filmi touch provided by Gadkari’s rendering of a popular song of the 70s took away from its seriousness. At one level, the BJP looked like a party of stage performers. The party’s desire to get to the core issues was reflected in the president’s reference to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and also how the saffron brigade has to keep up with the changing times.

Significantly, Advani’s relevance to the party seemed to have diminished despite his attempts to assert his supremacy by repeatedly referring to his role over the years and making Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley leaders of the Opposition. He expressed a desire to take “leave” but at the same time said that he will continue to be a rath yatri, meaning that he was not going to retire from active politics.

Gadkari, of whom few people had any expectations, was unambiguous during the conclave in telling the workers that their appraisals would depend on their work in villages and that they should not waste time touching the feet of various leaders in Delhi. He made it clear that in his regime, positions of prominence will be based on performance and that this would also determine who gets tickets. The direct implication of this was that many Rajya Sabha leaders who had become important in party affairs in the past few years would have to connect with the masses. Second, the days of drawing room politics were over and it was time the party took to the streets to enlarge its vote share rather than play the politics of manipulation.

The agitational aspect highlighted by Gadkari seemed to send the right kind of signal to the workers who have been wondering why its leadership has not resorted to street protests on the price rise issue, Kashmir and internal security problems. The street protests have, at best, been token. This means the new chief may have to look at leadership in all states.

The Indore conclave also showed how much Rajnath Singh’s relevance has diminished. He seemed more a leader of the past than the present. The RSS imprint on the meeting was also evident from the fact that the Ayodhya matter came up and it was felt that it should be resolved through dialogue. It was also made clear that there would be a distinction between the ‘functional’ and ‘ornamental’ teams. Without naming anyone but admitting that there was a power struggle in the party, Gadkari sought to tell his colleagues they should contain their personal ambitions and not harm the overall interests of the outfit.

Many things will fall in place once the new president re-constitutes his national executive and other bodies like the parliamentary board and the election committee. In fact, nominations to these bodies will demonstrate whether the party is going in for a more broad-based strategy or will remain in the clutches of the old coterie. The Indore conclave will go down as an event that launched Nitin Gadkari, a man who was considered a nobody on the national stage. His success will depend on how he provides new direction to the party, which has lost its moorings. Round one to the new BJP chief. Between us.