IT HASN’T been a great year for the BJP and the leaders and cadre alike must be glad that 2009 is nearing its end amidst hopes that the new year will bring better tidings.
The leaders and the led, I am sure, are equally relieved that the much awaited reshuffle at the top has finally taken place. Not for the first time has LK Advani stepped down as the Leader of the Opposition, but there will be no room for withdrawal of his resignation this time.
That’s because, before he finally quit, the party amended the constitution, that he himself had penned at the founding of the BJP exactly 30 years ago, to create a new post— the chairman of the BJP Parliamentary Party— which he promptly occupied. 57 year old Sushma Swaraj took over from him as Leader of the Opposition. A couple of days after the dramatic developments, Nitin Gadkari, the 52 year old firebrand pracharak from Nagpur, took over from Rajnath Singh as the BJP’s youngest president.
So is it, as is being suggested, the end of an era and the beginning of another in the BJP? Far from it. It’s my hunch that ringing in the new, at least in this instance, does not automatically imply that the old have been phased out. The party’s short but tumultuous history has been a political rollercoaster. When down, it has always managed to bounce back. All that changed once the party tasted power for the first time at the Centre in 1998. It is not for nothing that the Congress has been referred to as the natural party of governance.
For despite having one leader who has a vice- like grip on the party and the government, there has forever been a clear demarcation of roles for those assigned to run the party’s organisational and its parliamentary wings. That has not been the case in the BJP where those in charge at 11 Ashoka Road also ran its Parliamentary wing and during its days in power, the government too. During the Vajpayee regime, it wasn’t uncommon to see a couple of ministers replying to question hour in the Lok Sabha in the morning, attending to the parliamentary party office in the afternoon and in the evening holding forth at its central office. It caused huge damage to the organisation as grassroots leaders were sidelined.
It was sometime late last year that the RSS had for the first time suggested corrective measures to delink the political from the legislative unit. But faced with the general elections which were then less than six months away, this was put on hold. Following the BJP’s humiliating defeat in May, Nitin Gadkari Advani resigned but his overnight decision to stay on in office, a decision forced on him by his coterie, meant that the clean up operation had to wait.
This suited the RSS fine, since its political affiliate had by then been riven by petty factionalism and Nagpur saw wisdom in letting the veteran clean up the mess that his protégés left behind.
That the RSS wholeheartedly supported the idea of creating a new post of Chairman of the Parliamentary Party to accommodate Advani is a clear sign that it now wants the former prime minister in waiting to keep a tight leash on his pupils. They expect him to play the role of a neutral umpire as his proteges continue to indulge in their dangerous game of fratricide.
If the plan is fully implemented then those who lead the parliamentary party will have a marginal role in running the affairs of the organisation.
One thing is clear: as the senior most leader of the BJP, he is on test once again. The RSS expects him to rein in the feuding leaders of the BJP’s bygone GenNext who made sure that its previous president Rajnath Singh’s hands were tied and therefore unable to perform.
According to sources within the Sangh Parivar, it was Advani who had first suggested that Nitin Gadkari be made the next party chief. His argument: Gadkari wasn’t polluted by the factional fight that the central leaders were involved in. Now it is up to Advani to make sure that his many wards behave so that the portly Brahmin from Nagpur delivers. This is probably the BJP’s last chance.