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Advaniís 5th Rath Yatra: BJP: JOURNEY TO NOWHERE?, by Poonam I Kaushish, 15 Oct, 2011 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 15 October 2011

Advani’s 5th Rath Yatra

BJP: JOURNEY TO NOWHERE?

By Poonam I Kaushish

What is on BJP leader L K Advani's mind? Why would an 84-year-old man who retired from active politics in May 2009, inconvenience himself by undertaking a Jan Chetna Rath yatra for 38 days covering 21 States and 12,000 Kms? For what purpose and to what end? Is it to recover its Opposition space yielded to Gandhian Anna Hazare with droves of people coming out in his support?

Why the change of heart? Is it because he feels that the BJP's current leaders are incapable of doing a proper job in the Opposition? Does he believe being smarter than others as a PM candidate? Is the Party planning to field ageing Advani against Congress youth icon Rahul Gandhi? Or is he desperate?  

Questions which Advani of five-yatra-fame has no answers. Glibly replying, “I want to raise the consciousness of the people against graft.” Really? How does a yatra advance this lofty goal? What anti-sleaze is he talking about? The Karnataka Chief Minister Yedyurrapa had to be removed, ditto in Uttarakhand where Pokriyal made way for Khandhuri.

Two ex-BJP MPs and ex-Advani aide are in jail over the cash-for-votes scam and its Madhya Pradesh Party President last week bribed journalists to cover Advani’s yatra. In Chhattisgarh, the Lokayukta has indicted Chief Minister Raman Singh's regime for graft, blocking investigation and taking corrective action.

Bluntly, Advani’s motorized circus is not for corruption but for himself. Despite procrastinations to the contrary, Advani still has eyes on India’s Raj gaddi. But can he achieve his goal? No. The RSS unhappy with the yatra has made plain he is not the Party's candidate after the 2009 flop show, no matter being the tallest leader who has contributed majorly in building the BJP. The inhibiting factor is not his age 84, as Hazare has become Gen X youth icon.

Compounding matter, Gujarat Chief Minister Modi via his recent Sadbhavana Anshan too has thrown his hat into the Prime Ministerial ring. While RSS seems determined not to let the two leaders have their way, party cadres refuse to heed Party President Gadhkari assertion that the leadership issue was wide open and plum for their favourites. Whereby, the confusion at the top has percolated down to the rank and file.

Importantly, the Party seems to be in complete disarray. Directionless, rudderless, disillusioned and surprising arrogant it brings to the fore more intra-party differences with various sections pulling in different directions. There is lack of inner-party democracy. In the absence of democratic mechanisms to mediate their ambitions, young leaders are forced to play second fiddle to the entrenched leadership in order to advance their careers and suppress their rivals. 

It would be stating the obvious that the BJP has been aware of the rot piling up in its backyard. In fact, since its shock defeat in 2004, the Party has increasingly looked an agglomerate of factions whose composition keeps altering according to the interests of ambitious individuals who make for the so-called central leadership.

Moreover, as the BJP stumbles from crisis to crisis, the intra-party problems continue to multiply---ideological, factional and organisational. Those initiated in Parivar ‘sanskar’ draw a sharp distinction between themselves and those who have been lured by the privileges of power.

Factionalism and personal allegiance to various leaders is the touchstone of today’s BJP. Its reputation of being a highly disciplined cadre-based faction-free party is in tatters. Specially post its stint at governance at the Centre. Compounding this dilemma is the people’s disillusionment with the BJP. Its killer instinct, that its leaders so assiduously described, has been killed by the vicissitudes of power.

Part of the BJP’s quandary is its fallacy of what it stands for. What is the core of the Party? Is it Hindutva? The authority of RSS as the ultimate arbiter has declined with the consequence that fights continue indefinitely, reducing the party to a maelstrom of competing aspirations which can fuse for a common end only to drift apart.

The crisis is further compounded by lack of a widely acceptable leader vis-à-vis popularity among its cadres but also win-ability in an era of coalition politics. Modi is bogged down by the 2002 Gujarat riots and unacceptable to JD (U)’s Nitish Kumar and potential king-maker.

The Rajya Sabha Opposition Leader Arun Jaitley is a consummate politician but lacks mass base, his counter-part in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj is a good orator and a woman to boot who enjoys some degree of mass support but her overall profile remains low. Others in the race Rajnath Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Gadhkari et al do not ignite cadres.

The Saffron Sangh’s biggest challenge today is to recognize and accept pluralist India’s aversion for both Right and Left extremes. It needs to ponder very seriously why its traditional support base, the educated and urban middle class went against it and rework its ideology and strategy to get it back on board.

Further, it needs to re-package Brand BJP as a modern and constructive mukhota which would face future electoral challenges on a positive plank. But to do so it first needs to set its house in order. Put in place a hierarchy to end the in-fighting between its ambitious Gen Next leaders.

Given its geographical limitations, even die-hard optimists in BJP cannot claim it alone can win 200 seats. Its success at the Centre would largely depend on its accomplishment to broad base the NDA. That Modi is a big drag is evident when BJP agreed to the 'no Modi' line of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who could emerge as a “consensus” candidate.

Undoubtedly, difficult days lay ahead for the BJP as it faces multi-dimensional problems. Much is at stake. Not only its credibility but also its future at the national level as it grapples with a loss of seats and vote share. To redeem itself now it needs to stop pussy-footing and undertake honest, self critical introspection on issues relating to ideology, organisational health of the Party, leadership at various levels and build the morale of its disillusioned cadres.

Perhaps, the Party needs to ask itself whether it can afford to make the big leap by being all things to all people. Importantly, it needs to undertake is some honest heart-searching. Answer unpleasant and harsh questions if it wants to dominate the political mainstream. Much is at stake. Not only its credibility, but also its future as a viable alternative at the national level.

Clearly, the Party faces a Hobson’s choice --- mull over its contradictions, both internally as also within the Parivar, especially the RSS. It desperately needs not only  a USP to market itself but also to reinvent and recast its Hindutva moorings into a modern right-of-centre internationally liberal-minded grouping to regain credibility and behave as a responsible and effective Opposition Party.

In sum, till the BJP puts its house in order and sorts out its leadership issues, it is unlikely to seriously challenge the Congress. To quote poet Vajpayee, it has to decide: Do I make my final move, or do I withdraw from battle? What road should I go down? Do I take stock of each moment, or do I squander what little remains? What road should I go down? And, remember: Farce often follows tragedy in history. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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