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Held back by ideology

Jaswant Singh’s expulsion will worsen the crisis in the BJP and mar its Baithak. The timing could not have been worse for a beleaguered BJP.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2009 23:40 IST

Jaswant Singh’s expulsion will worsen the crisis in the BJP and mar its Baithak.

The timing could not have been worse for a beleaguered BJP. The curtain-raiser for its much-awaited Chintan Baithak in Shimla was the axing of veteran leader Jaswant Singh, ostensibly for his pro-Jinnah book which was released this week.

Hardliners in the party like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had made no bones about their disquiet with Mr Singh’s espousal of a man the party holds responsible for Partition. Another factor for showing Mr Singh the door could be to appease its ally the Shiv Sena before the Maharashtra elections.

It is hardly likely that Mr Singh’s views will find favour with the mercurial Bal Thackeray. The only drawback is that the Baithak which was supposed to be the first step towards setting things right for the party will now be overshadowed by Mr Singh’s sacking. Mr Singh, of course, is playing it up for all its worth, tearfully telling the media of how sad all this has made him and how he was given the marching orders over the phone and not in person.

If the BJP was hoping to project itself as a democratic, moderate party which can accommodate many differing points of view, this expulsion puts paid to all that. It is true that Mr Singh almost seemed to ask for a reprimand from the party by raking up this controversial issue and timing his book to hit the stands just before the Baithak. But the party’s reaction suggests that it was unable to deal with this matter in a way that would minimise damage to its image.

It can’t have helped matters that its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) delivered a very public rap on the knuckles just before the Baithak. Its supremo Mohan Bhagwat signalled his dissatisfaction with an aging leadership and also made it clear that the party should look beyond even today’s anointed second-rung.

After its electoral defeat, the party just can’t seem to get its act together. With squabbles among the top brass coming out into the open, it seems to have forgotten its role as the main Opposition party. Its dependence on the RSS has today become a liability. The RSS insists that the BJP must stick to its core competence, that is Hindutva. But this is an ideology that is yielding diminishing returns.

The Singh episode will play itself out. But the bigger challenge is to resolve the disconnect between the RSS and the BJP and for the party to recast itself in a mould more relevant to younger voters. To this end, the Baithak, though marred by controversy, could mark a new beginning.