Cricket is a gentleman’s game where fielders are known to applaud an opposing batsman’s century or an exquisite shot. But last week, when BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, ensconced on the balcony at Lord’s, was seen on TV applauding a boundary by Kevin Pietersen in the India-England T20 match, his detractors back home were busy circulating text messages.
One read: “He led his party to a debacle, and now he is a witness to the defeat of India”. Jaitley, a hardcore cricket buff, was in London with his family on holiday while his party back home was imploding, just like the Indian team. At the same time, his colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad was in New York while another spokesman, Prakash Javadekar, was holidaying in Europe.
It was clearly a good time to escape from the heat of Delhi and, possibly, the heat being generated by the internal wars that have reduced the BJP to a caricature of its disciplined “party with a difference” image and raised embarrassing questions about its future.
Just as success has many fathers and failure none, the BJP was left scrambling for scapegoats to blame for the party’s most debilitating performance since its phenomenal rise began exactly over two decades ago. Suddenly letter writing became a primary talent of party leaders and the purple prose came with a premium.
Individuals who formed the Losers Team started blaming ideology, or lack of it, for the loss. And those who had won decisively discovered new infirmities in the leadership.
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- Instead of rewarding the winners and others who worked hard for victory, Advani chose to reward those whom the party cadres sawas the architects of doom.
- The BJP’s mistake was in choosing to fight the 2009 elections around Advani’s personality and not its ideology.
- The party faithful could relate with senior leaders who sought an internal debate on the reasons behind the defeat.
- After back to back defeats, the party leadership which is a creation of the RSS is blaming the organisation for all its ills.
- For the first time, the BJP dispensed with the old RSSstyle campaign. Even key issues like Mandir and Article 370 were relegated to the background.
The BJP is still blessed with an array of leaders who, given a meaningful role, can turn the party’s fortunes around.
- RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has so far chosen to be non-interventionist but is expected to play a more proactive role.
Appropriately enough, the first shot was fired by ex-soldier and veteran Jaswant Singh, considered to be one of the most disciplined leaders of the party. His furious fusillade in the form of a letter he circulated at a party meeting questioned the discriminatory punish-and-reward system in the party. Singh demanded some serious soul-searching in the party over the electoral defeat. He was quickly joined by many others, including former finance minister and senior leader Yashwant Sinha. It was clear that a fight was brewing between what is called the Byte Generation and the Substantive Generation, the Old Guard versus the New Pretenders.
Meanwhile, cadres watched helplessly from the sidelines as television studios and newspaper columns became convenient platforms for party leaders and functionaries to defend failure.
The leadership finally decided to fight back—clumsily as it turned out—by issuing a gag order on party leaders, exposing the communication gap and mistrust in its own ranks.
It is a pivotal moment in the 28-year-old history of the party. When the BJP lost the general elections in 2004, no one in the party held Atal Behari Vajpayee responsible for it. The election was fought in his name but the slogans, strategy and timing were decided by his anointed successor, L.K. Advani.
But there is one crucial difference between 2004 and 2009. Five years back, no one held the party’s ideology responsible for the defeat. Back then, there were also leaders who accepted responsibility for the defeat and offered to reign, like Pramod Mahajan. Turn the page to 2009. The party bagged just 116 seats. However, this time none of the top leaders accepted moral responsibility and offered to resign.
The absence of a leader like Vajpayee has eroded the BJP’s base and affected its fortunesAdvani made a token offer to resign but withdrew within 24 hours under pressure from those who took the party to disaster and were on the verge of losing their perks and posts. Instead of rewarding the winners and those who steered the party to victory in some states, Advani chose to reward the architects of the defeat.
Despite stiff opposition, Advani appointed Jaitley as Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha which carries the rank of a cabinet minister along with all accompanying perks. Jaitley is one of the best parliamentarians but his colleagues consider the legal eagle to be a part-time politician. His elevation was seen by many as Advani’s effort to consolidate his control over the party and deny any substantial role to other senior leaders.
For the first time, the party had no management role in the election, which was handed to a bunch of favourites in the party and outside. Eventually, the election was fought around Advani’s personality and not the party’s ideology.
The problem was compounded by Advani himself by not being clear about the line to follow—Hindutva or an extension of Brand Vajpayee. The ideological mismatch did not fool voters, not the least its middle class base. Little wonder then that the letter writers are insisting that the BJP should now be led by those who have an ideological stake in it.
Their credentials were impeccable: all of them were top performers in the Vajpayee government, were torch bearers of reforms and represented the party’s modern face.
Shourie and Jaswant particularly had reasons to be livid since both were staunch supporters of Advani, yet were kept out of the party’s election machinery. It is this attitude of those who led the party to its worst humiliation that the three senior leaders are determined to fight. Jaswant was blunt in his twopage letter to Rajnath in Sanskritised Hindi.
The volcano, as Sushma termed it, is waiting to erupt. But the tired and the discredited will most likely outlive the volcanic eruption and continue to demoralise.
Rajnath will be remembered not for what he did but for what he didn’tWhen the RSS anointed him as the party chief in 2005 after Advani was forced to step down following the Jinnah fiasco, Rajnath was expected to transform a demoralised party into a winning unit.
Since then he has been at best a captive president. He was the chairman of the central election committee, but only nominally since the campaign was managed from elsewhere. When Jaitley, secretary of the all-powerful parliamentary board, boycotted election committee meetings in protest against the appointment of Sudhanshu Mittal as an election-in-charge, Rajnath was simply cowed down. His only success has been to keep a powerful section of the RSS happy by obliging them with small favours. For these reasons the buck should stop at his desk.
RETURN TO THE RSS ROOTS
Advani himself has not spoken against the RSS, but his aides, both known and anonymous, hold the RSS and all that it represents responsible for the humiliating electoral defeat.
Election 2009 changed it all. The high powered e-campaign launched to propagate the Advani-For-Prime Minister message meant that the old style RSS campaign was conspicuous by its absence.
A far cry from the ’80s and ’90s when leaders like Nanaji Deshmukh, Sunder Singh Bhandari, Kushabhau Thakre, J.P. Mathur, all ideologically committed and with a high moral quotient, were deputed to manage the party’s political thrust as well as keep a check on the individual aspirations of BJP leaders.
But when Vajpayee dared them to bring his government down by advancing the passage of the Bill, the RSS backed off. Yet, all through the Vajpayee regime and later, the RSS had periodically tried to reassert its authority. It forced Advani to quit after his infamous Jinnah remarks and when he tried to make Venkaiah Naidu his successor, the RSS stalled it and got Rajnath in to carry the RSS ideology forward with the help of GenNext leaders. The move backfired since the second rung leaders never accepted Rajnath’s authority.
The gap between Advani and the RSS has only widened since and matters have reached a stage where the RSS is expected to review its relationship with the BJP at its pratinidhi sabha in July. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, a non-interventionist so far, is likely to play a more proactive role. That leaves the RSS with two options: it can either wash its hands off the BJP or fully take over the party. A senior RSS leader said they would be very keen to restore to the BJP its original tag of “the party with a difference”. How successful their mission is will be reflected in the choice of the BJP’s next president. One thing though is certain: the BJP doesn’t have much time to save itself from oblivion.
Notwithstanding the current crisis of identity and leadership, there is hope for the party. It still has solid votebanks in most of the states and also boasts of powerful state leaders who can steer the party to victory in the next general elections. Those who are blaming the ideological confusion at the top for the electoral losses forget that the same party has trounced the Congress in Bihar, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Jharkhand which accounted for over half of the 116 seats the party won.
Gopi Nath Munde
And in the new dispensation, the Byte and Cosmetic Generation will have to pave the way for those who are performers and can carry the masses and not just the classes. The message from verdict 2009 is quite clear.The voters want a party with a genuine difference and not differences based on personal animosities. They want a leader with an ideology and not a leader with mere aspirations. The decline of the BJP is also a cause for concern. In the absence of a cohesive opposition, the country may face an autocratic ruling party, blinded by arrogance and lack of political restraints.
The BJP flirted with the idea of individual superiority over ideology under Vajpayee and won the mandate. But the same voters rejected Advani who had no definable ideology. Now, the party has to find itself a face which looks more like Bharat and less like India. To achieve that, it has to first replace the drawing room strategists who walk the ramp of political fashion shows with those who can survive in the heat and dust of the India the party forgot.