Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, May 17, 2010

I AM not the betting kind, but if for a change, I were to indulge in it, I’d put some money on the next bizarre thing that could happen in the BJP. I have come to this conclusion after watching over the past few months, a series of extraordinary happenings in the main Opposition party. It’s been six months since Nitin Gadkari took over as the party president and promised to take the BJP back to its glory days. As an outsider from Nagpur, he was said to be the most qualified man for the job, unbeholden to any faction and uncorrupted by the dirty intra-party fights that frequently erupted in the Central office. Gadkari was seen as the party’s best — and last bet. Has the chance slipped by already?

All pointers suggest yes. Two months ago, Gadkari appointed a new team of 121 office-bearers that included 13 vicepresidents, 10 general secretaries 15 secretaries and a treasurer. Barring the last, no one still has a clue what he is supposed to do since there has been no allocation of work. Many states, including crucial ones such as Bihar are going to polls in the next few months, but there is no central election committee in place yet. Normally, the presidents of state units are elected before the national president is chosen, but here we have seen the reverse happening. And Gadkari’s choice of party chiefs for the Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh units don’t exactly inspire confidence among the rank and file.

Delhi was once the BJP’s pocketborough but after three successive defeats to Sheila Dikshit, the party seems to have lost the will to fight. What else could explain the elevation of little known Vijender Gupta as the Delhi BJP chief? His only claim to fame is that he was trounced by Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha elections. Similarly, not even hardcore Gadkari fans think that Surya Pratap Shahi in Uttar Pradesh and Prabhat Jha in Madhya Pradesh are the panacea for the party’s ills in the two big states.

In Bihar, the tussle between warring factions ended with C.P. Thakur being appointed party chief. He appears to be the best choice, but the likes of deputy chief minister Sushil Modi and Rajiv Pratap Rudy are said to be raising the banner of revolt. The party’s daily flip-flops in Jharkhand would have been comical if the matter weren’t so serious.

Gadkari was tasked with discovering the Advanis, Modis, Shekhawats, Mahajans and Uma Bharatis of the future. Instead BJP cadres are livid that Gadkari is persisting with the Brahminical hierarchy in the party both at the Centre and in the states.

One of Gadkari’s first pronouncements after being elected to office late last year was that he won’t allow himself to be remote controlled. Yet that is precisely what is happening. The oligarchy that’s held the party in a vise- like grip for the past 20 years continues to call the shots, knowing that Gadkari is yet to negotiate his way through the bad, bad ways of New Delhi politics. With the main opposition too busy fighting its own internal battles, it has no time to take on the government.

Is it any wonder that the government takes demands from its allies and other supporters more seriously? Contrast this with the Yadav combine. With 25 MPs, Mulayam and Lalu command the support of just about a fifth of the BJP’s strength in the Lok Sabha.

Yet it is the two Yadavs who seem to dictate the agenda and with whom the government chooses to enter into dialogue and discussions. All decisions taken in the recent past seem aimed at placating the voluble Yadavs. When they protested against the women’s reservation Bill, the government chose to put it on the back- burner after getting it passed in the Rajya Sabha.

When the Right and the Left joined hands to move cut motions on the finance Bill, the government quietly weaned the SP and the RJD away and got the motions defeated. Subsequently, the two supported the government on the nuclear liability Bill.

Led by two highly individualistic and egoistic leaders, the parties united on a mission and found a slogan. The BJP has neither. Its leaders are happy flitting from one TV studio to another to run the government down when they should have been doing the job in Parliament. The party which once took the lead in setting the tone for debate, it seems, is yet to recover from the debris of back to back electoral debacles. With an Opposition such as this, who needs allies?

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