How not to run a party

Neither Modi’s elevation,nor Advani’s bitterness,was handled with finesse

Written by Parakala Prabhakar | Published: June 14, 2013 12:46:56 am

Neither Modi’s elevation,nor Advani’s bitterness,was handled with finesse

The saga of Narendra Modi’s elevation to chief of the BJP’s campaign committee for the 2014 elections,Advani’s resignation from his party positions in protest,and its subsequent withdrawal at the Sangh’s behest,is not a simple storm in the BJP’s teacup. It points to a deeper malaise in the BJP and shows that the leadership of the main opposition alliance is yet to learn how not to make its putative ride to power,bumpy.

One aspect of the malaise is that people who have worked with Advani closely for decades couldn’t gauge how wounded he was. The other,perhaps,is that they felt that it was no longer worth addressing his misgivings and try to make Modi’s elevation agreeable to the veteran. If it is the former,it shows political tactlessness; if the latter is the case,it betrays a streak of ruthlessness in this generation of the BJP leadership.

Whichever the case,this episode casts the top brass of the party in poor light. That both Advani and the party leadership failed to execute their intentions properly was,in a way,unavoidable for the BJP. If one side showed unwarranted bitterness about an inevitability,the other exhibited indecent haste in doing what needed to be done. It also cements the RSS’s role as the final arbiter in the BJP’s organisational affairs.

If Advani is honest about the reasons he cited in his letter to party president Rajnath Singh,his resignation is politically ill-timed,and its withdrawal unconvincing. He came across as a bitter man unable to come to terms with the generational shift in his party.

He said in his letter that he was “finding it difficult to reconcile either with the current functioning of the party,or the direction in which it is going.” Advani also levelled a more damaging charge against his party. He said he did not find the BJP to any longer be “the same idealistic party created by Dr Mookerji,Deen Dayalji,Nanaji and Vajpayeeji,whose sole concern was the country and its people.” Advani said in his letter that most of the present “leaders… are now concerned with their personal agendas.” This diagnosis will not cease to haunt him and the party for a long time to come,even after the news cameras stop whirring.

If these charges,however,are right in any measure,Advani himself is perhaps more responsible for these ills than anybody else. Most of those in leadership positions in the BJP today were handpicked by the patriarch and mentored by him and him alone.

That Narendra Modi is the best bet for the BJP in 2014 is perhaps true. However,if the leadership is not able to bring Advani around to its point of view on this issue,they could have waited for a few more days or weeks. It is unclear what,if anything,the party could have lost if the announcement of Modi’s appointment was deferred. If it was just a matter of an announcement and did not need the endorsement of the national executive,it could have been made after persuading Advani. It is either naive or reckless to expect a campaign committee to be effective in what could be a closely fought election in 2014 without the wholehearted co-operation of Advani. Advani’s campaign might not add significantly to the prospects of the BJP with the voters,but a sulking Advani and an Advani perceived as slighted could prove to be costly for the BJP in its dealings with potential allies.

It is unlikely that the implications of these developments are beyond the grasp of the party’s strategic minds. But it looks like that the party leadership was overwhelmed by a desire to create a bang in Goa. They also wanted to look resolute and show that they refused to be held up by the disapproval of a generation of leadership past its shelf-life. The comments of important party functionaries from Goa on social media conveyed the sense that they lived up to what they had promised to do in Goa: make Modi the mascot for the coming elections. Surprisingly,the party that has privileged ideas and issues now seems to think that revising an ideological position or departing from a political stand is not enough to lend traction to the organisation. Rather,in its calculation,it is the anointment of a leader that would do the trick.

Pressure from Modi’s supporters,the unceasing social-media-led buzz and the compulsion to hit headlines in the mainstream media perhaps did not let the BJP leadership pause for calm reflection. This reckless haste did Modi more harm than good. It turned him into a divisive figure within his own party — which he wouldn’t have been but for the Goa saga. He is divisive enough within the alliance and in the country generally. The JD (U)’s reaction will only aggravate the fissures in the alliance. Modi and the party could do without this kind of a portrayal at this stage.

In this saga,if Advani comes across like an offended school kid,the next generation of leaders appeared as brash,and demonstrated that they have yet to master the finesse required to manage an era of fragile coalitions.

The writer is a Hyderabad-based political commentator

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