Atal, Advani keep Ayodhya in focus
The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have cleverly outwitted its opponents in Parliament and outside by keeping the Ayodhya issue alive. Repeated references to Ayodhya in Parliament and outside have forced the opposition to get drawn into a debate on the subject relegating developmental and governance issues into the background.
The regular frequency with which Ayodhya gets raked up from time to time provides an opportunity for the BJP and the NDA to escape from serious issues confronting the country. Simultaneously, the BJP is also able to send a signal to the Sangh Parivar and its cadres that the issue had not been given up by the party.
Much was expected from the Congress after the Shimla conclave where party chief Sonia Gandhi had virtually grabbed the initiative and set the political agenda. But the inability of the party to come out with a concrete action plan as a follow-up measure to Shimla has led to a situation where the BJP has once again managed to dictate the course of political events. There is nothing unusual in the ruling party setting the political agenda but a lot of hopes were raised when the Congress seemed like turning the perception of its coming back to power into reality.
The Congress can still do it if its leaders work towards a collective strategy instead of either walking into traps laid out by the Sangh Parivar or airing individual views on subjects of national importance. But for that the recipe given by the Congress chief in Shimla needs to be fully complied with. Ms Gandhi's approach during the conclave was both positive and forward looking but her efforts need to be fully supported at all levels. The whole party should adopt her positive approach and accordingly keep clear of baits the BJP has been forcing them to swallow.
Both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K.Advani have somehow managed to keep Ayodhya in focus. Last Friday, Vajpayee propped up the issue of Ram temple construction during the funeral of Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans in Ayodhya in an atmosphere surcharged with emotions. Significantly, the remarks were made in the presence of top leaders of the Sangh Parivar who had gathered there to pay their homage to the pioneer of the Ram Janambhoomi movement.
The opposition parties were quick to criticise the PM and his deputy for needlessly raking up the controversial issue. They felt that there was no need at all for the Prime Minister to have talked in such great length about the commitment to remove hurdles in the construction of the Ram temple when the matter was already in the court of law. Vajpayee was accused of showing his true colours of being a swayamsewak.
The Prime Minister is an astute politician and knows fully well the importance of making controversial statements especially when Parliament is in session. On the pretext of defusing the controversy, Vajpayee on last Sunday tried to qualify his temple statement and declared that there was no change in the government's stand. In fact, the clarification seemed out of place and the Delhi BJP leaders who had met him to thank him for approving the guidelines for Delhi's next Master Plan were also taken by surprise. None of them initially expected Vajpayee to talk about anything else other than the Master Plan or political processes before the November elections.
Obviously, Vajpayee knew what he was doing. Neither at Ayodhya nor at New Delhi, the prime minister had stated something other than what he had said earlier. But he had successfully set the trap for the opposition to react the following day in Parliament. And as expected, Ayodhya dominated the proceedings in the early part of the week. While the opposition thought that their attack on Vajpayee underlined their commitment to secularism, from the BJP's point of view, any debate on Ayodhya helped the party to consolidate their Hindu vote bank. In a spirited defence of what he had stated, Vajpayee successfully made repeated references to Ram Chandra Das Paramhans and his funeral ceremony, thereby highlighting the association between the Ayodhya movement and the deceased even on the floor of the House. He also declared that he would prefer to quit rather than come under any compulsion to change his stance on the issue. At the end of the day, the Prime Minister had fully exploited the issue to his advantage. The opposition had been put in the reactive mode with the BJP successfully keeping Ayodhya in focus.
Even as the issue seemed to be fading away, Advani this time made sure that this would not happen. His observations on Saturday regarding legislation to sort out the tangle once again highlighted the importance of keeping the construction of Ram temple alive. While Advani stated that the government could not be sacrificed on the Ayodhya issue, he obviously sent a signal that if the legislation could not be carried through, it was essentially because his party did not have adequate numbers in Parliament and the move therefore was unlikely to get support from other parties. The implication of this was that barring the BJP no one wanted the Ram temple.
The BJP has been navigating its political course in a calculated manner with both Vajpayee and Advani outmanoeuvring their opponents and allies by deft moves which are clearly aimed at helping their party to consolidate its position. From time to time, they also manage to raise controversial issues which not only put the opposition on the defensive but also in the reactive mode.
The entire opposition seems to have become reactive rather than proactive and has apparently allowed itself to be dictated by the political agenda set by the BJP. In the process issues concerning governance or development where the government can be cornered get overlooked. Whenever the government has come under attack on poor governance or corruption issues, it has always been extremely uncomfortable. So it suits the BJP to rake up controversies.
It is obviously a happy situation for the party which is toying with the idea of holding simultaneous elections of the Lok Sabha with the Assembly elections to the five states later this year. Advani successfully kicked up a debate on the larger issue of holding simultaneous elections to Parliament and all state assemblies last week in order to keep opponents guessing over the BJP's intentions about a mid-term poll to Parliament. Even Chief Election Commissioner J.M.Lyngdoh got involved in the controversy by airing his observations to a TV channel.
The entire opposition also attacked Advani's proposal without realising that the deputy Prime Minister had cleverly put out a test balloon to engage other parties in a debate. He surely realises that this was not possible and not implementable but if the government decides to hold Lok Sabha polls with the elections to five state assemblies, the Election Commission will have no option but to comply. The opposition needs to have more clarity on the BJP's real intentions on the subject .
The pre-dominant thinking within the entire Sangh Parivar is that this was the best possible time to have elections to Parliament as next year the situation may not be as conducive as it is at present. The decision will obviously have to be taken by the Prime Minister who has to make a choice of cutting short his present term by a year or going in for a gamble which could pave the way for his party being in power for another five years.
Many in the BJP feel that had Indira Gandhi been in this kind of a situation, she would have certainly gone in for a mid term poll since she was used to taking risks and going ahead with her plans. But Vajpayee is cautious and ageing and may not show the same kind of political initiative which Indira Gandhi had. But if he does take this gamble then the present Lok Sabha session could be the last one.
The BJP is the only party at present which is totally in the election mode. All its actions are directed towards elections and it has successfully introduced its agenda without any of its NDA allies realising that the BJP was looking beyond the common minimum programme which had been mutually agreed. If allies and opponents do not see through the game now, they maybe in for a surprise.