The BJP appears to be afflicted by procrastination. It had an opportunity to go into the causes of its Lok Sabha defeat and chalk the way ahead at its so-called Chintan Baithak in Shimla but has chosen to finalise its future strategy only in October when the National Executive meets. Maybe the party has postponed things because it apprehends a change of leadership in light of the poor impression the Sangh has of its present leaders, as was evident in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent interview.
The BJP’s fortunes are at their lowest today and the manner in which Jaswant Singh was expelled, for portraying Mohammad Ali Jinnah in a contrary light, made many wonder why was similar treatment not meted out to L.K. Advani when he praised the Pakistani leader in Pakistan four years ago. Advani is yet to retract his remarks about Jinnah when he visited his mausoleum. Till date, no other Indian leader has visited the mausoleum. Advani clearly felt insecure after Bhagwat’s recent interview and feared that the Jinnah controversy may again erupt to his disadvantage following Jaswant Singh’s controversial book. There were also apprehensions that some key players in his coterie might also come under fire at Shimla.
Simultaneously, another section of the leadership thought that the best way to rake up the Jinnah issue would be to attack Jaswant Singh in order to finally get at Advani. Thus Jaswant Singh was made the fall guy. The Advani camp was confident that Jaswant’s expulsion would serve as a good diversionary tactic. Once Jaswant went, his supporters would be able to distinguish between Singh’s view and Advani’s, and shield Advani (something which Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad are doing). The other faction is satisfied that Advani is also now under fire.
The Jaswant episode had shades of Julius Caesar since many of those who conspired to pull him down were once beneficiaries of his patronage. It is difficult to say who was Brutus or Cassius but the plot was as diabolical. And there is no Antony to speak up for him. The only difference is that this Caesar has decided to hit back. He has already started embarrassing Advani by stating how he had covered up for “his lies” during the 1999 Kandahar IC-814 hijacking and how the then Home Minister was on board when the Cabinet decided to release the prisoners. He said that had the plane not been allowed to take off (by the Home Ministry) from Amritsar, there would have been no need for Kandahar.
For those who have followed the BJP (Jan Sangh) politics, there is nothing surprising about what has happened to Jaswant Singh. Similar discourtesy has been shown in the past to three of the Jan Sangh’s presidents — Moily Chander Sharma, Pitamber Dass and Balraj Madhok, who were expelled or suspended. If Madhok is to be believed even Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, killed while travelling in a train, was victim of a conspiracy.
The party is in the habit of invoking ideology when it suits it. Ram Jethmalani paid the price for taking up professional cases that did not adhere to its basic beliefs. But no one has been able to explain how the party leadership has got away by downplaying its core issues — Article 370, the uniform civil code and the Ram Mandir.
The trouble with the BJP is that its problems are self-created because of the reluctance on the part of Advani and his coterie to move aside and allow others to run the party. Bhagwat has more or less indicated that the party has to look beyond the four or five names which keep on coming up as second-rung leaders to succeed today’s leadership. There has to be a strong leader whose commitment to ideology is complete and who has the ability to carry the cadres. The BJP is at a crossroads. It has to look at politics after Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani. Its problems have more to do with its leadership and less with the RSS. Between us.