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Clash of ambitions

The BJP likes to claim: country first,party next and the individual last. But the messy,very public...

Written by Coomi Kapoor
June 22, 2009 2:36:05 am

The BJP likes to claim: country first,party next and the individual last. But the messy,very public mud-slinging in a party which prides itself on being a cut above the rest is perhaps less about principles and ideology than personal advancement in a post-Vajpayee and Advani world. The varied expressions of dissidence speak of the need to introspect on the party’s electoral defeat rather than letting the issue be swept under the carpet. But the subtext is about a struggle to retain individual relevance and turf.

Analysed carefully the recent displays of defiance against the BJP leadership fall into different categories,though many assume it all of a piece. Sudheendra Kulkarni and Brajesh Mishra’s expressions of discontent cannot be lumped with the rebellion of senior party leaders Jaswant Singh,Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie. Both Kulkarni and Mishra are basically outsiders who were catapulted to positions of prominence in the BJP’s decision-making hierarchy because of their closeness to the two stalwarts,L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Neither Kulkarni nor Mishra holds any formal position in the BJP today.

Both men display their outsider’s perspective,when they suggest that for the BJP to succeed in electoral politics it should sever its links with the RSS and reconsider its Hindutva agenda. Similarly,many analysts have advocated that the BJP re-invent itself and emerge as simply a right-of-centre alternative to the Congress. For those who have risen through the ranks of the party,such a suggestion is not just heresy,but completely unworkable — a point Advani made clear in his closing address at the party’s national executive on Sunday. The BJP and the RSS are bound together by a very tough umbilical cord. Kulkarni and Mishra also claim the BJP campaign was disadvantaged by the projection of Narendra Modi in the middle of the campaign. However,a straw poll would show that Modi remains the most popular face among the party cadres,regardless of the negative perception in other political parties.

In contrast to the outsiders,Sinha,Shourie and Singh have not cast any aspersion on the RSS or Hindutva. Even Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Husain have only targeted Varun Gandhi’s style of Hindutva,not Hindutva per se. They know that to do so would stigmatise them forever in the party. Sinha’s letter to the party president resigning from his position as party vice-president is reasoned and rational. He calls for introspection into the causes for the party’s defeat and suggests a Kamaraj-style plan whereby everyone resigns from their official posts till responsibility is fixed. But why did Sinha wait for over a month to air his views? Perhaps his real grievance is that,“We completely disregarded the parliamentary party constitution in the election of office-bearers of the parliamentary party on May 31.”

He was referring to Advani’s unilateral appointment of Sushma Swaraj as his deputy in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Advani,as the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha,was apparently authorised by the parliamentary board to take the decision. Though the constitution recommends otherwise,appointments made in this fashion have been the norm rather than the exception in the party.

For Singh,Sinha,Shourie and others like Murli Manohar Joshi,the Jaitley and Swaraj appointments indicate that the BJP is moving towards a generational change in leadership in which those who are above 65 would be left out. The RSS favours passing on the baton to those in their fifties,such as Sushma Swaraj,Arun Jaitley,Rajnath Singh,Narendra Modi,Venkaiah Naidu,Shivraj Singh Chouhan,Sushil Modi,Vasundara Raje and Ananth Kumar who were inducted into the party as part of the JP and anti-emergency movement.

Advani and Jaitley,though not mentioned by name,are the principal targets of the veiled attacks. Members of the older generation are angry with Advani for bypassing them. If the focus is largely on Jaitley,it is because they suspect his star is rising in the party. Their argument is that those who were responsible for the party’s defeat should not be rewarded – “inam” and “parinam” as Jaswant Singh terms it — appears contrived and motivated. The BJP’s electoral performance in 2009 has been very varied in different parts of the country,suggesting that local factors played a more decisive role than the central campaign and national issues. The party did very well in Karnataka,Chhattisgarh,Himachal Pradesh and Bihar and very poorly in Rajasthan,Haryana,UP,Uttarakhand,Orissa and Delhi.

Summing up at the end of the BJP national executive,spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu made it clear that the party believed in collective responsibility and not individual apportioning of blame. A bigger snub was administered by Sunderlal Patwa,a party veteran and former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. He questioned the dissidents’ bona fides by asking what contribution they had made to the organisation — a remark that hit home since none of the three men,considered part of the BJP’s intelligentsia,is looked upon as a team player or an organisation person.

While the lost generation,as it is now sometimes referred to,was at the forefront of the attack,whether openly or implicitly,Gen-Next,more in tune with the party’s ethos,has maintained a discreet silence. But that does not mean that its members are not active behind the scenes. The fact that Rajnath Singh waited 10 days to announce Jaitley’s routine resignation as party general secretary is itself suspect. The real reason that the knives are out in the party is over the question of who becomes the party president when Rajnath Singh steps down at the end of the year. Until now the party president’s role has been overshadowed by the two founding fathers,Vajpayee and Advani. Vajpayee has bowed out of active politics and Advani seems inclined to follow suit. The new president will play a key role in deciding the future positioning of the BJP and the form of Hindutva it will propagate. And no doubt the RSS,which may not interfere in the day-to-day functioning of the party,will have a major say in deciding who will steer the BJP out of these troubled waters.

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