| In 1965 when Beatle Paul McCartney sang a nostalgic ballad titled Yesterday, he was referring to a love that was lost. Forty years on, the song seems appropriate for the BJP-and the power that it lost. Just a little over a year ago, so convinced was the BJP of the invincibility of the NDA coalition it led at the Centre that it even advanced the elections by six months. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, a year after it conceded power in one of the most stunning electoral reverses, its leadership looks exhausted; its telegenic second-rung leadership is beset with turmoil. |
If L.K. Advani's return as party chief in October 2004 was meant to restore the BJP's sense of pride and purpose, there is still no evidence of either. Add to that the skirmishes with the Sangh Parivar. The party's problems mounted after rss Sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan told a TV channel it was time Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee quit to make way for younger leaders.
On the face of it, the BJP's substitute bench strength is deep. There is the articulate and resourceful Pramod Mahajan, the urbane Arun Jaitley, the charismatic Sushma Swaraj, the fiery Uma Bharati, the strong-yet-silent Rajnath Singh, the Hindutva poster boy Narendra Modi, the sophisticated Vasundhara Raje and the indefatigable M. Venkaiah Naidu (see the following story). Most of them share one thing in common: they are all Advani's proteges. There is also a fatal flaw in each one of them: not one is acceptable to his or her peers. So instead of closing ranks to fight a common enemy, they are all busy trying to outplay one another in intra-party manoeuvres.
This crab in a pail syndrome is no post-poll defeat phenomenon. During the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, at least two Gen Next leaders were offered "safe" seats outside their home states by the local party units. Both cases were vetoed by Naidu, the then party chief. The ostensible reason: Naidu wanted his "brains trust" to assist him in manning the poll desk at the party headquarters. The real reason: Naidu didn't want to be the only one among the top leaders to miss a popular mandate. Similarly, many of the second-rung leaders were upset at the rising popularity of Uma Bharati, who resigned as Madhya Pradesh chief minister eight months ago after a court in Hubli ordered her arrest in a 10-year-old case.
The tragedy is that amid the intrigue and the infighting, the ones who call the shots in the party are not mass leaders like Bharati, Rajnath Singh or Modi, but soundbite specialists like Naidu and Jaitley. The result has been the steady marginalisation of the BJP's mass-based leaders who feel the party is being held hostage by a handful of desk jockeys who occupy the largest rooms at 11 Ashoka Road. The situation is no different in the states where grassroots-level leaders find themselves sidelined and watch in envy as new entrants capture centrestage. Little surprise that no new leader has risen to a position to alter the party's fortunes. Bharati may have paid the price for her candour but she did put her finger unerringly on the problem when she said the party was being held hostage by a bunch of rootless leaders. Sadly, when things go wrong, it is the same clueless leaders who gather at chintan baithaks to find out what went wrong and why.
It was after Advani took over as party president in 1986 that the BJP registered its most spectacular growth. The period also saw the emergence of a new team of leaders, most of whom were handpicked by Advani himself. In return they pledged their loyalties to him. Now, after years of being in power, the equations within the party have changed. The team that Advani built is at odds with itself and the leader himself is either unable or has no inclination to bring in order. The Iron Man label doesn't sit easily on him any more.
Advani has said that the BJP would face the next general elections under a new leadership. Assuming that the UPA Government lasts its full term, the BJP has exactly four years for drastic corrective surgery, including working out a peace formula for the feuding second-rung. That is a formidable task for a party which is hurtling from crisis to crisis. Having cornered much of the credit for the BJP's successes in the past, for Advani there is no escaping the blame for the mess the party finds itself in now.