With friends like the Shiv Sena's Balasaheb Thackeray, the BJP really does not need any enemies. Here it was pushing the government on to the ropes over the Coalgate scam, albeit in a somewhat destructive manner by stalling Parliament, when along comes the Shiv Sena supremo with his considered opinion on who should be the NDA's prime ministerial candidate. His choice - the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj. There is nothing wrong in Mr Thackeray's description of Ms Swaraj as brilliant and intelligent, she is all that and a mass leader to boot. But, this premature endorsement has set a cat among the pigeons within the BJP ranks when a fragile peace had prevailed and the party seemed united on tripping up the government.
At a time when the BJP had threatened to start a nationwide stir against the government, it finds itself having to clarify its position on the leadership issue. In the first place, as a key ally of the party, Mr Thackeray should have known better than to propose the name of any one leader. While he can say this is his personal opinion, it is bound to raise the hackles of other aspirants and alliance partners. It was not so long ago that party president Nitin Gadkari seemingly endorsed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as a good prime ministerial candidate only to back off when there was criticism all around within the party and from the allies. To make matters worse, we then had former president and eminence grise LK Advani raising the prospect of a non-UPA, non-NDA government with the support of either of the main parties. This, many felt, was Mr Advani's way of getting back at his detractors within the party who were unwilling to consider him as a potential prime ministerial candidate.
The BJP is right when it says that it has many within its ranks who are prime ministerial material. But perhaps, this should be discussed in private with the allies and only when a consensus is reached should the name be made public. This would ensure that all this public angst could be avoided. It makes sense to keep one's powder dry on potentially contentious issues like the leadership one at a time when the Opposition should be utilising its time to hold the government accountable. Its tactics of paralysing Parliament have not gone down well with the public. And now, instead of trying to come up with a constructive agenda, it finds that it is scrambling for cover on the leadership issue. Mr Thackeray sees Ms Swaraj as a 'dashing PM'. It is a pity that her party has not been able to cut a dash on several counts in recent times.