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Opposition BJP:SHORTSIGHTED & CONFUSED, by Prakash Nanda, 30 June, 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 30 June 2010

Opposition BJP



By Prakash Nanda

Two developments have been in the news pertaining to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the country’s principal opposition party. One is the “home-coming” of former finance/external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, who was expelled from the party 10 months ago for his controversial book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. And the second was the recent tussle between the BJP and the Janata Dal (U), affecting the fate of their ruling coalition in Bihar, which goes to polls later this year. Though news reports say the alliance is intact there is no clarity.

Both the developments have shown the BJP in very poor light, particularly its “chintan” (philosophy), and “chalan” (working style). Certainly, as a party, the BJP is now miles away from what it was in the 1990s, when it had caught up the imagination of the nation as “a party with a difference”.

Let us take the case of Jaswant Singh’s return. He was apparently expelled for his views on Jinnah, which the party did not share. In the first place, whether one’s individual, and that too academic, opinion on a person should be a sufficient reason for expulsion from the party is debatable. In fact, if at all Singh deserved to be expelled, it should have been for the widely shared view in Rajasthan that he, along with the late Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, did everything possible to ensure the defeat of the BJP, in the last Assembly elections simply because they did not like the then chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia. It is said that but for Singh and Shekhawat, Vasundhara would have won a second term comfortably, rather than losing it narrowly.

But having expelled Singh on the Jinnah issue, what is the reason behind “inviting” him back? Singh says he has not changed his views on Jinnah. Does that mean then that the BJP has changed its views?  If so, why has the country not been told about it? And if not, then how could few individuals, howsoever senior they may be, “invite” Singh back to the party without a proper or structured discussion in the concerned party forums? This question is the all the more important, given the fact that the decision to expel Singh was said to be BJP’s “collective” decision.

As regards the Bihar imbroglio, the BJP’s indecisiveness is equally bizarre.  Here, the party has been literally humiliated by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who belongs to the allied JD (U), seemingly over a non-issue – an advertisement displaying Kumar and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi together above a factual narration of Gujarat’s friendly contribution towards Bihar’s flood relief.

The “friendly” advertisement invited “hostile” reactions from Kumar. He returned the Rs. five crore relief to Gujarat, though quantitatively speaking, Gujarat’s overall contribution in terms of men and material exceeded Rs. 20 crore. Kumar also cancelled a dinner with the BJP leaders, assembled in Patna for a party meeting. What is most humiliating, Kumar’s associates have threatened they would not want either Modi or Varun Gandhi on the soil of Bihar for electioneering.

The BJP’s top mandarins sat over many a time to discuss the party’s line of action in Bihar. It claimed as per reports that the alliance was alive and that it would not “compromise on its dignity”. Arguably, any decision on how to deal with Kumar till the elections is going to be tough. After all, BJP-JD (U) alliance is one of the oldest in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Any additional time may prove really costly for the party.

All told, Kumar is a wily customer.  He wants to cultivate the image of a “secular” leader so that he gets the votes from the Muslims whose number is considerable in Bihar. He is still learnt to be in two minds on whether to ally with the Congress, whose second most powerful leader, Rahul Gandhi, is strongly inclined to court him. Though it is debatable how much of the Muslim vote he will get given the fact that all his other opponents – Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan – also thrive on the Muslim votes, Kumar’s supporters, particularly a section of the national media, will want him to emulate Orissa’s Naveen Patnaik, who dumped the BJP on the eve of the last elections, to prove his “secular” credentials.  

Of course, secularism has been a much abused concept in India’s political parlance but that is another story. However, it defies one’s imagination how Nitish Kumar can have “Rasgoola” but will hate to touch sugar. He has had no problem in taking the BJP’s support to remain chief minister for five years, but will consider Modi, a senior BJP leader, untouchable. 

Strangely, the national media has completely downplayed some strange ways of  Kumar’s functioning. For one, he is a leader who does not believe in party democracy. See the number of JD (U) leaders who have deserted the party in Bihar in recent years and the manner in which he has humiliated some of the party veterans, including former defence minister George Fernandes and former minister of state for external affairs minister Digvijay Singh, whose tragic and untimely demise came during the writing of this column (let me confess, it has been a great personal loss; Singh was a long-standing close friend). Arguably, Kumar has even surpassed Lalu Yadav in promoting his brand of casteism – the so-called Maha Dalits and Kurmis.

What is more disturbing is the way Kumar has handled the Modi issue. Without consulting his council of ministers, he took a unilateral decision in returning the money to Gujarat. Can any CM take a unilateral and personal decision pertaining to another State? After all, he did not return Modi’s money; that money came from the “whole” of Gujarat and had been given to the “whole” of Bihar. In fact, Kumar’s behaviour reflects poorly on the federal structure and functioning of the country.

What should, then, BJP do? The party must realise that the alliance with Kumar has not done any good to the party in Bihar. In 1996, the BJP was the senior partner there and he has now made it effectively negligible. Indeed, the BJP should have a second look at this concept of alliance politics. Be it in Uttar Pradesh or Orissa or Haryana or in Bihar, the party has become much weaker because of it. The same is considerably true in Punjab and Maharashtra.

It is being forgotten that if the BJP is the premier opposition party, it is primarily because of its performance in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat. And here, the party is not only alone but under the leadership of effective and competent leaders such as Yedurappa, Raman Singh, Shivraj Chouhan and Modi.

It is only the so-called Delhi-based national leaders of the BJP who will go to any extent of appeasing the essentially authoritarian leaders of the so-called allies. They forget the fact that these allies will come behind you when you have the strength. That was the case in 90s. Consistent appeasement, on the other hand, not only makes the party weak but also hurts its dignity.

Clearly, it is time for the BJP to part ways in Bihar. But will its confused and shortsighted leadership in Delhi dare to do so? Highly unlikely, if the recent years’ record is any indication. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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