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Scramble to be PM

Rajnath is learning the art of survival ? evident in his act of touching the Big Two?s feet in public, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2007 02:45 IST

Power politics within the top echelons of the Sangh parivar have overshadowed the otherwise meaningful discussions held during the BJP’s Lucknow session. The message that emanated from the UP state capital — described as the route for the party to recapture power in New Delhi — was more about the presence of three prime ministerial candidates in the top ranks than about the resolve to return to Hindutva roots.

After Advani pitched himself for the top post, in an interview a few weeks ago, it was the turn of both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Rajnath Singh to drive home the point that they too were available. Vajpayee made it known that he had not retired from active politics, as he had proclaimed in Mumbai last year. Rajnath compared himself to a bridegroom whose procession party was about to begin, making no secret of his ambitions.

In fact, Rajnath has clearly emerged as the first among equals of the BJP’s Generation Next. But he still has a long way to go because the seniors will never allow him to breathe on his own, for a long time to come, and he will always have to be on assisted breathing apparatus that will be provided by Vajpayee, Advani and company. He must have realised that mere support from the RSS is not enough and, in the BJP, only Vajpayee and Advani are the survivors. Anybody with a mind of his own, like Murli Manohar Joshi, tends to get sidelined time and again.

Rajnath is fast learning the art of survival — evident in his public display of touching the Big Two’s feet even though his speech reflected that he was eager to come up to their level. Although, the PM’s position is not anywhere in the offing, in politics, positioning can play an important role. In this case, Rajnath told his younger colleagues that he was their boss and they will have to grant him due respect, despite their proximity to either of the Big Two.

Also, Rajnath’s move seems to have been well calculated and aimed at the Rajput community, signalling to them that he would take over in due course so they should stick by him and the party. This reassurance was also politically important since, in his home state, the party had rightly decided to project Kalyan Singh as chief ministerial candidate. Without this, the Rajputs may have become restive. But in the process, the Brahmins do not seem to be very happy, as both Joshi and Kalraj Mishra were not given adequate respect.

The Lucknow meet also was significant in many ways. The party cadres were enthusiastic after a long time. The public meeting was well attended and a lot of effort had gone into the preparations. The return to Hindutva, reaffirmation of faith in the Ayodhya movement and making it clear that core issues like the abrogation of Article 370 and uniform civil code were still on the agenda, were, in the BJP’s viewpoint, steps in the right direction.

However, the call by Vajpayee to end factionalism was public admission of the acute differences in the organisation. This factionalism was also on display when Advani, the party’s architect in many ways, did not figure in the posters prominently. Instead Vajpayee, Rajnath Singh and even Kalyan Singh overshadowed the saffron party’s favourite poster boy.

It took last-minute intervention to ensure that Advani got his due place and did not end up being humiliated. The entire poster politics was also in contravention of the RSS’s desire that the BJP should stop promoting personality cults and should refrain from projecting individuals at the cost of the party. This is what seemed to mar the function. The eagerness of the three top leaders to offer their candidature for the Prime Minister’s position, also showed that the party’s top leadership was dying to get back to power, the absence of immediate elections to make this possible notwithstanding. The spirit of sacrifice of the Big Two was missing. It appeared to political onlookers that two father figures and the son were all ready to become ‘bridegrooms’.

Projecting Kalyan Singh for the CM’s post will help the BJP in the state. Kalyan has a considerable following among Lodh Rajputs and may also attract votes of other OBCs. His projection will also counter Uma Bharti’s appeal among Lodhs, in case she decides to spoil the BJP’s party in UP. In any case, no political party is expected to get a majority in UP. Things could change subsequently but the turf will be tricky for one and all.

Finally, all eyes will be on Rajnath who is expected to announce his new team around the time of Makar Sankranti. The RSS general secretary, Mohan Bhagwat, is expected to be consulted during his visit to the capital next week. But the final selection will indicate whether Rajnath has had his way or has been saddled with office-bearers who owe allegiance to the Big Two and not to him directly. What the BJP needs perhaps is people who are ideologically committed to the organisation, rather than to individuals. Between us.

Email Pankaj Vohra: pvohra@hindustantimes.com