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The iron man’s rusty words

The BJP’s real agenda in the presidential election seems to be finally out in the open, raking up a lot of muck about Pratibha, writes Pankaj Vohra.
Hindustan Times | By Pankaj Vohra
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2007 10:52 AM IST

The BJP’s real agenda in the presidential elections seems to be finally out in the open. Earlier speculations that the BJP and the NDA were using the presidential elections to dislodge the head of the UPA government were confirmed when LK Advani, leader of the Opposition, let the cat out of the bag while addressing survivors of the 11/7 blasts in Mumbai last week. Hitting out at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for stating that he had spent a “sleepless night” thinking about the plight of the families of the Indians accused in the failed UK terror plot, Advani said “it was tantamount to appeasement of terrorism”. Not happy with his far-fetched interpretation, he added, “getting rid of the weak and visionless UPA government is the only way to wipe out terrorism in this country."

While Advani is restless about fulfilling his ambition of becoming PM, this comment was his second faux pas in the run-up to the presidential polls. He had earlier sent a handwritten letter to members of the presidential electoral college using words which undermined his own eminence among parliamentarians. He continues to attack the PM whom he has earlier described as “the weakest”. But he now wants to associate the PM with the rise of terrorism, something which his own party, supporting the Akali government in Punjab, could not have appreciated.

In the early 1990s, Advani was the most articulate and seemingly rational BJP leader. In an interview to a foreign journalist who had taken him on over his view that India is a Hindu nation, Advani had given an apt reply. Drawing comparisons with England, he had stated that like England is a Christian country, India is a Hindu country. That does not mean that people of other faiths do not have equal rights in England. The same thing can apply to India as a Hindu country.

But those were the times when Sangh ideologue Govindacharya lent force to his statements and the BJP was still in the Opposition. The party had not tasted power, nor had it become a pawn in the hands of functionaries owing allegiance to Advani. Others in the party had bitter experiences later when the top leadership became obsessed with the India Shining campaign. The BJP virtually committed political suicide by calling for elections earlier than scheduled.

Advani’s attack shows his desperation. The anxiety could be a result of a turf war within the Sangh. The RSS is trying to assert its supremacy in order to put the BJP back on its ideological rails. Sources say that the RSS is considering proposals that may not go down well with the Advani camp. For instance, some RSS members feel that BJP presidents should be appointed only after clearance from the RSS. This is significant as at times, presidents (not Rajnath Singh) were appointed and the RSS leadership informed only later about the changes.

Another proposal seeks to curtail Advani’s powers. The top RSS brass feels that the Opposition leader must not act like the party president or give such an impression. There is pressure on the RSS leaders from Sangh constituents that a Brahmin should be projected as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2009 parliamentary polls, given the shift of the upper castes towards Mayawati. In other words, Advani should be out. If there is any element of seriousness in either proposal, Advani’s anxiety can be explained. There could then be serious differences within the BJP itself.

As for his attack on the PM, one has to only look at Advani’s track record as NDA home minister. Who can forget that Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was the VIP escort that the BJP provided to deliver terrorists to the Taliban in Kandahar following the IC-814 hijacking in 1999. The attacks on Parliament, Red Fort and the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar all took place while he was at the helm of affairs. His intelligence agencies failed even to detect the Kargil intrusions.

The PM can be faulted for a number of things like his obsession for consolidating shining India and not paying sufficient attention to the ‘struggling’ India. He can be faulted for being apolitical on occasion and failing to ensure his party’s win even in Punjab. But to call his statement appeasement to terrorism is inexplicable. One wonders whether Advani’s pro-Jinnah remarks were endorsement of his patriotism and nationalism or were they consistent with the Sangh’s ideology.

The point is that the BJP has raked up a lot of muck about the presidential candidate. Attempts to malign her have been gaining momentum despite the fact that the apex court and the Election Commission have, on merit, rejected the allegations. The BJP should, thus, have got the message. It should have stopped the campaign to besmirch the sanctity of the institutions involved. Even if Pratibha Patil is not the best option, she was set to become the country’s first citizen. The party had not raised any objections while she was appointed Rajasthan’s first citizen, a BJP-ruled state, in 2004.

The Congress, of course, is also at fault for not doing enough to bring out the truth of the matter. No front-ranking leading Congress leader has so far taken on the BJP over its propaganda. However, it is to the credit of Umed Singh Champawat who had contested against Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in the assembly polls in 2002 to take on his old rival in public despite all odds and veteran leader Shashi Bhushan whose statements have attempted to expose the schizophrenic face of the BJP. Pratibha has the numbers on her side at present and it will be only through a miracle that Shekhawat can win. Many believe that miracles are not unheard of in politics. Between us.

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