Akrita Reyar “I was thrown out of the party for writing a book!” rued a visibly disturbed Jaswant Singh. But he, like the rest of us, knew that he was thrown out of the BJP for most of everything but the book. The BJP had an eye on his track record. The ex-Armyman was preaching a wee bit too much about discipline after having himself incited an internal rebellion in Rajasthan that worked against the party and former chief minister Vasundhra Raje. More importantly, he also happened to be the ideal scapegoat – because of his narrow support base – to become an example for the other dissenting voices. However, far from crushing the revolt, the party high command seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest. Sudheendra Kulkarni, who has been a secretary to both LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, walked out two days later de-crying lack of internal democracy. And now, Arun Shourie wants the party headquarters bombed and replaced by a completely new leadership, as he feels the current chair holders have walled out all voices that differ from their own.
The point with the BJP is that it is in midst of such a turmoil, that it is in danger of completely losing the way. Clearly, the excuse they chose to kick out a colleague of the last 30 years was poorly chosen. To throw out a man for an intellectual exercise… made the BJP look silly and intolerant. The party also alienated itself from young blood of the country, which has a mind of its own, and may have hitherto been its supporter. Above all, it made the BJP appear to be a party that does not accept difference of opinion, internal party debate or democracy, the very reasons for which they used to find fault in the Congress. The tale of woes The litany of BJP troubles started in 2004 when they suffered a shock defeat in Lok Sabha elections. Smug about their achievements of the past five years, the party was on a high with its India Shining campaign. After Vajpayee planned to slowly fade away from active political life, they also lost their most acceptable face. LK Advani, who took over the reins of the party as president, found himself in the eye of a storm soon after when he found new love for Pakistan leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, whose djinn is now threatening to destabilize the party. Advani, despite his seniority and stature, was slammed left, right and centre for crossing the line. Internal dissent came into full public view for the first time as leaders, not necessarily terribly senior, fired salvos at their chief-leader on live TV. Earlier, Uma Bharati had staged a similar drama in full public view. BJP was beginning to wash its dirty linen in public. The cracks also exposed the clear divide between those supported by the RSS, and the outsiders. With senior leaders in trouble, juniors started projecting themselves as alternative power centres. Plainly, the past reasons of rejecting “Su and Swarth to serve for the Swabhiman of the nation” (borrowing from Jaswant’s terminology) wasn’t the goal. Then there were the Sanjay Joshi “sex tapes” and the death of their ‘fixer’ Pramod Mahajan. His son sullied the image of the father and in some way of the party, only further. Rajnath Singh tried to throw in his hat for the prime ministerial post mid-way, while a factional feud brewed at the party’s Bhopal meet. The fate of the party at the ballot box was not very rosy either with it biting the dust in several key states like Delhi and Rajasthan. Ahead of the general elections this year, people were already talking about BJP as a lost party, so shaky was its appearance. After its worst debacle in 20 years, what followed was a session of blame game with Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha clearly raising the banner of protest. In serach of identity What has actually been the reason for this slugfest in the BJP which once boasted about being a “disciplined party”?
Swapan Dasgupta, a BJP member, who is also known to be journalist with balanced views, sees the writing on the wall. He predicts that the party is “ready to implode” because it has failed to reinvent itself. That it is “painting itself into a corner” as it searches the meaning of what the party stands for. As things stand, while the party claims to being “grounded in ideological certitudes”, it is at the same time wanting to “remain relevant in the battle of power”. Therein lies the major challenge. If BJP goes back to its Rath Yatra politics, then it will encounter a huge disconnect with the Indian population, which unlike the BJP, refuses to continue to live in the 1980s. But the greater is the need for reinvention, the more the party seems to be stuck in the past in terms of the mindset. Unfortunately though, it is at the same time witnessing an erosion of some of its positive values. It is an open secret that while the BJP and Congress spar in public, they have a healthy backroom understanding on issues of national interest, foreign policy and strategic affairs. But when it came to the Indo-US nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in for a shock. The very party which began negotiations for this extremely useful agreement, just backed out from supporting the Congress. Even Brajesh Mishra, who was the principal advisor to former PM Vajpayee, had lauded the N-deal and complimented the PM, Manmohan Singh, of coming up with an accord far superior in terms of negotiating India’s interest compared to what the BJP had done. Advani was one of the first to oppose it and tempered down his negative stand only slightly when he judged the public mood to be in favour of it. Obviously Advani, who self admittedly wrote in his autobiography about never having compromised on his values, and keeping national interest above everything else, was having second thoughts. But this is not the first time that Advani has baffled. In a statement just before the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate said that in his entire political career, never had circumstances been so conducive for the BJP wining elections and never was the public sentiment so in their favour. When the entire country was talking about Congress winning a second term, one wondered about Advani’s source of optimism! And today, amidst all this turmoil, Advani continues to bewilder. In Pakistan, Mr Advani thought Jinnah to be secular; in Shimla he refused to back the man who stood for him in his tough times. After the word about Jaswant Singh’s sacking spread, one would expect the senior-most leader to be a worried man. Intriguingly, Rajnath Singh said that Advani was in the “jolliest of moods” and is believed to have told the party president that “I am very happy today!” Needless to say, the party is in urgent need to throw up some young leaders who have come up from the grassroots level and are more in touch with the new India. The party, which is at crossroads, needs to make the right choices and define a development agenda to offer to the people, while rediscovering its old values of discipline and democracy. However, if it fails and persists on the current catastrophic path of self-destruction, then the BJP is clearly writing its own obituary.