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Wilting lotus, ageing stem

But the BJP’s future is neither in the hands of Vajpayee nor Advani. The party has to grow up and stand on its own two feet, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Sep 24, 2007 14:10 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The issue of leadership in the BJP remains unresolved with former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee making it clear to his detractors that he is very much around and in no mood to pave the way for L.K. Advani, or anyone else for the matter, to be his successor. In fact, the release of Vajpayee’s letter coincided with the attempts by Advani’s coterie to project him as the party’s prime-ministerial candidate during the mid-term poll.

Reports based on selective briefings appeared proclaiming Advani to be the natural successor and that the Bhopal meet would endorse his candidacy. One daily even wrote that the RSS-BJP baithak had given its go-ahead to Advani. The truth is that no such thing took place. The news was either a result of the reporter’s imagination or inspired by the Goebbelsian tactics of those close to the leader of the Opposition.

Significantly, no major newspaper or TV channel reported what happened in the RSS-BJP conclave where senior leader Mohan Bhagwat rebuked some associates for creating this false impression and for pursuing an agenda that was in the interest of an individual and not in the interest of the Sangh parivar. Some in the BJP were busy projecting Advani as the saviour of Hindus and encouraged him to take up the Ram Setu issue, despite the RSS making it clear that the BJP should avoid the subject and allow the VHP to agitate along with those who still had full faith in the hindutva ideology. It was a public snub to drive home the point that the RSS had not forgiven the ‘iron man’ for his pro-Jinnah remarks.

Advani took on Karunanidhi on his controversial remarks on Ram only to impress upon people that he was in command. But he did not realise then that Vajpayee had another ace up his sleeve and was not willing to give in, especially after the RSS at its meet had virtually decided that a Brahmin should lead the BJP in the next parliamentary poll. Whether Vajpayee was the one who was in its mind while debating the issue will always remain a matter of speculation.

One will recall that RSS chief K. Sudarshan had in April 2005 told Shekhar Gupta on a TV show that both Vajpayee and Advani should retire from active politics, something both of them have been reluctant to do. For Sangh watchers, Sudarshan’s views at the time made a lot of sense since the BJP’s future did not lie with either of them. The BJP, in its April 2002 Goa conclave, had decided to encourage the second-generation leaders who continue to languish, waiting for an opportunity to succeed on their own. Rajnath Singh has been made the BJP chief but has never been allowed a free hand. Vajpayee and Advani continue to hold sway.

The RSS now feels that the second-generation leaders can wait for some more time and someone like M.M. Joshi could step into the vacuum that may be created once Vajpayee and Advani are out of the picture. But that is a decision which needs to be taken collectively by the Sangh parivar. Advani has been aggressively positioning himself. His recent statement that the only thing which could be said with certainty was that general elections would be held before May 2009 is perhaps as true as the possibility of him never becoming the Prime Minister.

There is a lot of speculation that in the event of a mid-term poll, Advani may explore the possibility of contesting either from Madhya Pradesh or Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, instead of seeking a re-election from Gandhinagar where the dissident movement could pose a major problem for him. If he changes his constituency, he will certainly not send the correct message down the line.

There has been lot of speculation regarding Vajpayee’s letter too. Some of his detractors believe that the former PM was in no position to write such a letter given his poor health and somebody else had written it on his behalf using the same idiom and style. This uncharitable suggestion discounts Vajpayee’s ability to strike back. But the BJP’s future is neither in the hands of Vajpayee nor Advani. The party has to grow up and stand on its own two feet. The patriarchs have done enough and cannot carry the burden for too long.

The BJP conclave in Bhopal is over without the party taking any long-term decision. The intra-party feud is out in the open. It may get worse in the coming days when a changeover in the RSS is slated to take place. But Advani is not one to give up easily — Vajpayee or no Vajpayee. The BJP may be headed for a split if Advani does not have his way. The metamorphosis in the Sangh politics is on.