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How infighting is breaking up BJP

In the run up to the Chintan Baithak in Chennai, the BJP has had a brush with fresh crisis in the wake of the expulsion of Madan Lal Khurana. Pankaj Vohra examines the ramifications.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2005 14:05 IST

As expected, the crisis in the Sangh parivar has resurfaced with the top two BJP leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishanchand Advani, locked in a tussle. This could again hasten the exit of the latter as the president of the party in accordance with the wishes of the RSS which has been demanding his ouster since early July.

Although the crisis has this time been precipitated by Madan Lal Khurana's arbitrary expulsion from the BJP for six years, the real reason seems to be Advani's reluctance to quit as the BJP president. This had been agreed upon in the deal brokered by Vajpayee with the RSS in July to allow Advani to continue till the monsoon session and enable him to have an honourable exit. While the RSS kept its side of the deal by granting temporary reprieve, Advani, who was to resign by September 3, decided to hang on to his position, to Vajpayee's great embarrassment.

Through a well-calculated media strategy, he started giving the impression that he was in full control and even convened meetings of the officebearers in order to finalise the agenda for the jinxed BJP national executive in Chennai next week. And in order to demonstrate his control (which has been loosening since the RSS asked for his ouster) he ordered the expulsion of Khurana without taking into confidence any senior party or RSS functionaries including Vajpayee.

In fact, Khurana's expulsion has become Advani's undoing and has brought into action all the forces backed by the RSS who have been wanting him to go. Such has been his isolation in the latest episode that several BJP office-bearers who were asked by Advani to sign Khu rana's expulsion letter reportedly declined to do so. In the process, till Saturday afternoon, the former Delhi chief minister was yet to receive marching orders. Even some of Advani's diehard supporters have been quick to change their stance and have preferred to lie low. This was evident when not a single BJP leader issued a statement in his support after Vajpayee joined issue with him over Khurana's expulsion.

The significant aspect in this latest round of power play within the Sangh is that Vajpayee, accustomed to making ambiguous statements on TV, this time expressed his views in writing. Since his initial statement was on a plain sheet of paper, some of Advani's sympathisers questioned its authenticity. (In the past, similar statements made in favour of Advani were perfectly acceptable to them), Vajpayee took pains to issue the statement the second time and this time on his letterhead to remove any doubts about who sent the letter and what it stated.

This was a body blow which pushed Advani to a point of being marginalised. His position has become untenable. His trouble shooters, Jaswant Singh and M. Venkaiah Naidu, have not been able to extract a `come-down' statement from Vajpayee and Naidu told the media that the Khurana episode was going to be resolved soon. But as everyone realises, Khurana is not the issue; it is Advani whose continuation is causing all the problems in the wake of the RSS decision to remove him as the BJP chief.

The latest crisis is also going to have wideranging ramifications for Advani, whose position as the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha will be threatened once he is made to give up the BJP presidentship. The argument would then be that a man who was asked to quit as the party chief has no moral right to be the leader of the opposition. The mantle may fall on Vajpayee since there are very few key leaders of the BJP in the Lok Sabha. If that does not happen, V.K. Malhotra, the deputy leader, may be elevated. But all this will happen only after Advani quits.

The latest crisis has also called the bluff of Advani supporters that a change at this juncture would impact the Bihar elections. It is not any change but the lack of support for the BJP from the RSS which can impact the Bihar outcome. On its own, the BJP has no organisational structure to take on the might of Lalu Yadav. In any case, Shatrughan Sinha, who is the party icon in the state, has refused to work under Nitish Kumar's leadership and is threatening to revolt against the central leadership if things do not get sorted out soon. The state leaders also realise that Advani is not a vote catcher but could prove a liability this time.

Second, the crisis has brought to the fore the resentment which exists among senior leaders against the style of functioning which has led to the marginalisation of several top functionaries. Everyone in the Sangh realises that the threat to the party in several states is from within and not from outside. The fu ture of the Arjun Munda ministry is in jeopardy. Once Advani goes, Narendra Modi's position as Gujarat CM may also become untenable. BJP stalwart Keshubhai Patel is not in any forgiving mood and is likely to carry his plan to its logical conclusion. The BJP in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is also stricken with dissent. Obviously, things need to be ironed out sooner than later.

Khurana's expulsion has served two purposes so far for the Sangh parivar. First, it has brought out the manner in which decisions were being taken (without any consultations) by Advani and his coterie. Even senior leaders were not given a chance to explain. It has also proved that Khurana had issued his statements after getting the clearance of top BJP and RSS leaders, a claim which was hotly contested by Advani supporters.

Second, the expulsion has served the purpose of drawing the attention of the entire Sangh parivar on the reasons why senior leaders like Khurana were speaking out despite their being with the RSS for more than 60 years. Obviously, their anguish was on account of being denied the opportunity to speak in the party fora.

The anguish was also on account of the deviation from ideology and the manner in which certain leaders could get away with anything. Between us.

Originally appeared in Hindustan Times dated September 12, 2005

First Published: Sep 16, 2005 00:34 IST