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BJP, missing Atal ji

By Swati Chaturvedi | Last Updated: Monday, August 30, 2010 - 13:27
Swati Chaturvedi

ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE, former Prime Minister and the only BJP leader India loved and cherished remains an enigma. Perhaps the mystery contributing to the enduring fascination; yet, today the witty poet has no words for the party he created.

The man who could make any debate sparkle with witty asides such as when asked in Parliament “Atalji aap atal rahiye”, smiled and said, “Atal toh hoon lekin bhooliye mat, Bihari bhi hoon.” And who went to a RSS shakha wearing his customary dhoti and chortled at the sea of Khakhi shorts and said, “Pehle kyun nahi bataya, mein bhi pehen leta” (why did you not tell me before, I would also have worn shorts) thereby further underlining the difference between him - a political leader and the RSS. He today watches, eight months after the RSS took complete and formal control of the BJP with Nitin Gadkari, a provincial leader with no national exposure.

Everytime, RSS Sanghsarchalak, Dr Mohan Bhagwat, a vet, holds forth on how the BJP leadership needs to change, even those people who believe that Mr L K Advani is a completely lacklustre leader, who has lost the BJP two general elections, groan. Says Mr Brijesh Mishra, former principal secretary and national security advisor to Mr Vajpayee, “Vajpayeeji knew where to draw the line. There is a crisis in the BJP today because there is a leadership vacuum. Actions such as the expulsion of Mr Jaswant Singh are pointless and serve to convince people that this is less a political party and more some bizarre cult run by out of touch septuagenarians.”

To be described thus by an insider for the principal national opposition party is a come down indeed. And, the reasons are many. The blind ambition of one man, to be prime minister at any cost, the vapid grasping leadership of some second-generation leaders who thought that political graduation to real leadership came through the drawing rooms of Delhi, and the fluffing over genuine intellectual leadership challenge such as the Gujarat riots and the taint of Varun Gandhi.

So lost was the BJP in its delusions that it actually thought that it would sweep Uttar Pradesh after Varun Gandhi’s poison. Then party president Rajnath Singh promptly tried to clamber on to the bandwagon; cancelled seven announced public meetings and rushed to Naini jail to deliver Gandhi a change of clothes and the faithful a message. Gandhi, when asked by this correspondent about his poisonous messages and whether he actually believed in them said very patronizingly, “You must learn to listen.”

The miserable, failure of the election nonetheless, Singh continued to act on the RSS message. Despite his own singular failure as a mass leader in UP, the man described by BJP MP Mr Arun Shourie as a ‘’lachar thakur’’ tried and failed to cut down all other contenders in the BJP. He always tried to pretend that he was the man with the magic wand – the RSS – and would wave it and make all political challenges vanish. Unfortunately for the BJP, he never saw the opposition as competition, for to him it was personal and always Mr Arun Jaitly. Says a senior leader, “After the last electoral debacle we kept getting a lot of pressure from his office that he now fancied himself as a parliamentarian and wanted to speak in the house.” Problem was that they insisted that the man who has tried and failed to copy Atalji’s oratory wanted to speak on “Crissy”. We taxed our brains and finally I called and asked him who this mystery lady was. It turned out it was “Krishi” (agriculture). That in a nut-shell is the failure of the BJP’s communication skills.

Or take the case of the self-styled Sardar Patel part two or the grandiosely titled PM in waiting, Advani. As home minister he was prevented by Atalji from releasing a white paper on the ISI after the intelligence agencies indignantly pointed out that he would be making their assets public. On three separate and vital occasions, on issues of immense national interest, Mr Advani suffered selective amnesia preferring to pass the buck and the blame to the silent Mr Vajpayee. On the release of Masood Azhar and two other occasions he was exposed as by his own angry cabinet colleagues such as Mr Jaswant Singh. But, as Mishra who also exposed the hypocrisy points out, “How can you call yourself a leader and then waffle and fudge?”

Even his meaningless offer to resign following the BJP’s worst ever electoral defeat in the last elections was hollow. His coterie, guided only by self-interest, promptly persuaded him to change his mind. The story put out that the RSS wanted him to stay was scotched by Bhagwat himself, leaving Advani with egg on his face. Says one of his erstwhile camp-followers in a catty aside, “Problem is that he has no hobbies so he is refusing to leave. He should have taken up gardening of bonsai.” Advani’s stature in the BJP these days is rather bonsai sized with daily calls by the RSS in public for a bow-out from public life.

His followers, the second generation leaders who have grabbed all the plums, now make unconvincing noises about how he is waiting for a graceful exit. But, says a BJP leader rather ruefully, “When you hang on with your thumb nails and are publicly told to go what grace are we talking about! He wanted to be Sardar Patel but, instead became Sardar Buta Singh. And even now, despite the media plants, he still does not want to leave.”

There was feverish speculation in the BJP, but even that brief flurry of hope came to nothing. Recounts one of the aides for the campaign - Advani for PM, “The minute I saw the photograph of him trying to weight-lift, I knew we had lost. The palpable desperation to project youth in a bid to take on Rahul Gandhi, the daily attacks on a decent and learned man like Dr Manmohan Singh; the BJP was only wallowing in negativity. We had nothing to say to the country.”

In a bizarre kind of parallel with Pakistan and Jinnah, which the BJP seems to be obsessed with, it was almost as if the BJP had trapped itself in a negative mindset - stuck in partition somewhat like Pakistan while the rest of India had moved on and did not want the politics of grievance mongering.

Today, Advani finds himself all alone while all the second generation leaders he created such as Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitly , Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar are publicly told by the RSS that they are most “unwanted”. Even in their 60s they call themselves the “second generation”. The late Pramod Mahajan, told this correspondent half in jest, “I have become a grand-father and the party still considers me a teenager.” And, teens are known for their tantrums and hissy-fits which in the BJP appear in the shape of newspapers headlines and TV sound-bites.

“While the Congress party has a genuine youth leadership, we still have these seniors fancying themselves as young and ensuring that no real youth even come in to the party. We have a great bench strength, but still cannot even play the game. In a way Advani’s continuance for the last election ensured that the second generation had no future”, rues one of them.

Even without the daily plants and tantrums of the second generation, the BJP is shying away from grasping the Modi nettle. This in essence is the crisis of the BJP. Many believe that the Gujarat riots cost the BJP a general election, yet currently, Modi is only genuine mass leader of the BJP. If he was made President, it would electrify the faithful yet would ensure that the BJP could not become the party of government in alliance. Even the intellectual dishonesty repeatedly displayed, be it the destruction of the Babri Masjid or the complete lack of regret for the Gujarat riots, has eaten away at the heart of the great national project that the BJP was.

And, one man who had the intellect to understand the idea of India and make all of India connect to him watches silently like Bhishma on his bed of arrows, as the RSS and the BJP indulge in a modern Mahabharat. Let’s give the last word to Jaswant Singh on Atalji, “When there is too much to say the wise keep quiet.”

First Published: Monday, August 30, 2010 - 13:27

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