Is he the best BJP president?
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Is he the best BJP president?

Rajnath?s appointment has been made at the expense of his talented colleagues, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2006 04:17 IST

The Sangh parivar’s decision to grant a three-year term to Rajnath Singh as BJP President appears to have been taken on the insistence of RSS chief KS Sudarshan. He used his position to grant Singh a full tenure despite opposition from some of his colleagues, who feel that Singh doesn’t have it in him to ensure the party’s success in either the UP assembly polls or in the general elections due in 2009.

Many in the BJP feel that LK Advani or even Murli Manohar Joshi could have been a better bet. But as has become true of Joshi, he always gets to be the ‘best man’ and not the ‘groom’. In this case too, he proposed Singh’s candidature. He perhaps did it as a disciplined soldier of the Sangh knowing fully well the consequences of this decision.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose importance in the party has been diminishing ever since he stepped down as PM, also seemed to support Singh. But Brahmins in caste-conscious UP may disapprove of him backing the appointment of a Rajput. Reports suggest they are already aligning with Mayawati. Vajpayee may claim that his appeal is above caste lines. But this can never be true of grassroots politics.

Singh is no doubt the most experienced of the younger BJP leaders. He has been both a CM and a Union minister in the past. But his stint as CM was not memorable. In fact, the BJP had lost the polls under his stewardship the last time. In fact, even the Banias may now have second thoughts about supporting the BJP. The Banias were upset when Singh had replaced the late Ram Prakash Gupta as CM on Dhan Teras, an auspicious occasion for the Vaish community. Singh also does not seem to be the leader of his own community, as Rajputs appear to have more faith in Amar Singh and Raju Bhaiyya.

Political circles are abuzz with speculation that Singh’s appointment was pushed by Sudarshan on a secret understanding with Mulayam Singh Yadav. This is unlikely since neither is Sudarshan politically naive and nor is Mulayam Singh stupid enough to risk his Muslim constituency by having any truck with the BJP, notwithstanding his allergy for both the Congress and Mayawati.

But the impact of Singh’s appointment needs to be analysed in the context of the forthcoming assembly polls and the next parliamentary elections. It is unlikely to have an impact in UP, where the BJP will be in contention for the third or fourth place with Ajit Singh’s party and the Congress. Kalyan Singh, also a former CM, does not see eye to eye with the new president and Uma Bharti, if she remains out of the BJP fold, can play havoc with the OBC votes that the BJP could be eyeing.

In Uttaranchal, Singh’s appointment has virtually ruled out the possibility of Bhagat Singh Koshiari, also a Rajput and state BJP president, becoming CM. In order to cash in on the anti-incumbency factor, the BJP may have to project BC Khanduri as a chief ministerial candidate. Khanduri has the best image among BJP leaders, even though he is not strong on grassroot networking. But his integrity will pull him through and if the party wins in Uttaranchal, the credit will be his.

In Punjab, the BJP has stopped identifying itself with the Hindus, having projected both tainted Navjot Singh Sidhu and HS Grewal as their star campaigners. The Sidhu verdict will affect the BJP’s chances as well as its alliance with the SAD. The BJP’s base in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh should be a cause of worry for its leaders.

Singh’s appointment will also hasten the exit of Jaswant Singh, also a Rajput, as opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha. Though Joshi’s name is being floated, he may again lose the race. Whether there will be an impact on Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s chances in the presidential contest is to be seen.

From one angle, the Sangh parivar seems to be following Sanjay Gandhi’s tactics of giving prominence to Rajputs over Brahmins. Gandhi had a hand in making VP Singh, Bir Bahadur Singh and Arjun Singh CMs or ministers. The BJP also wants to widen its base by putting the party in the hands of Rajputs. Only history will tell whether it is the right decision.

Singh’s appointment has been made at the expense of some of his talented colleagues. Arun Jaitley, for instance, is one of the finest political brains in the BJP. If he can evolve to be a mass leader, he has a bright future. Sushma Swaraj may have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but she remains a strong leader. Ananth Kumar is the only young leader to have won four successive Lok Sabha polls. He could become the BJP’s face from the south. Narendra Modi, despite mixed sentiments, is popular. He may have to shed some of his rabid habits to be a national leader. Uma Bharti, the only mass leader after Vajpayee in the saffron brigade, may make the party jittery during the polls. Her commitment to Hindutva is strong and she has a better chance of garnering support from other Sangh constituents than the BJP. Besides, she is young and competitive.

The flip side to Singh’s appointment is that he was given the post as part of a deal. There are indications that Sudarshan may quit as RSS chief, paving the way for the more dynamic Mohan Bhagwat. But Bhagwat has no magic wand to bring the BJP back on its Hindutva rails. In order to succeed, Singh will have to depend on Advani, who alone can checkmate opponents both within and outside the Sangh parivar. Between us.

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First Published: Dec 04, 2006 00:27 IST