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From Chennai 1999 to 2005, BJP comes full circle

The reversal of the party's fortunes since the 1999 Chennai meet was plainly visible as Friday's inaugural proceedings began.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2005 13:21 IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have come full circle as it began on Friday its national executive meeting in this city after six years -- a period that saw a dramatic swing from triumph to despondency.

The reversal of the party's fortunes since the 1999 Chennai meet was plainly visible as Friday's inaugural proceedings began in the grim shadow of a growing animosity against BJP President LK Advani, with a former party chief Bangaru Laxman raising a call for a leadership change.

Advani has been in the firing line of party colleagues as well as the BJP's ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) since his remarks in June praising Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah sparked a fierce ideological row.

The stark contrast between the tenor and atmospherics of the party's 1999 national conclave and the 2005 one can't be missed by any close BJP-watcher.

At the last national meet in Chennai in the dying days of 1999, the party was at an all-time high, riding on the euphoria of the victory in the Kargil war and a poll win that made it the undisputed leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition.

"There was a feeling in the party then that anything was possible," recalls BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar.

Coalition dharma was in fact the reigning mantra with the party taking a radical step of diluting its Hindutva agenda in favour of a secular consensus-based national agenda for governance.

Contrast this with the present state of disarray in the party that is stricken with dissidence and chronic feuding among some of its leading lights.

Every few months some leader or other (Uma Bharti, Madan Lal Khurana et al) hogs headlines for daring to defy the party leadership.

Khurana's expulsion for his outbursts against the BJP chief and the resulting face-off between Advani and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee - the two stalwarts of the party - left a sour taste despite the expulsion being revoked after an uneasy truce.

In 1999 the party and the people knew who the leader of the party was and what the party stood for.

Vajpayee was without doubt its tallest leader and Advani its chief strategist. Their authority was beyond reproach. In stark contrast, the RSS and many party functionaries now want Advani out as party chief.

After the ideological row over Advani's "Jinnah-was-secular" remarks, the search has begun in the BJP to prepare for a leadership change and the anointment of a second-generation leader. But the intense rivalry among the younger leaders has made it a difficult prospect.

Unlike the present cold war between Vajpayee and Advani, both leaders were in 1999 solidly united in their vigorous espousal of coalition dharma and in fending off overtures of the more extreme elements of the Sangh parivar.

First Published: Sep 16, 2005 13:21 IST