Monday, April 7, 2014

Manmohan is History....... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/April 06, 2014

Manmohan is History, but Last Leg of Advani's Run Begins May 16

It’s a spellbinding tale of two titans riding into the sunset. One has a record for being the third longest-serving PM. The other has an unfulfilled dream of making it to 7 RCR even after two elections. PM Manmohan Singh and L K Advani, the titular chairman of the inactive NDA, have become pariahs in their homes. Even the claqueurs they promoted and protected during their shining days treat them with disdain. In 2009, both were star campaigners for their parties. Both were declared their party’s PM candidates in advance. Congress never missed an opportunity to market Manmohan as India’s consensus builder and global leader. Advani was hailed as strong and decisive regnant—the real inheritor of Sardar Patel’s legacy. Every piece of publicity material of both parties carried their pictures proclaiming their seigniory.

Come 2014, and their own parties do not want them. As Bob Dylan sang, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, the coup de théâtre is that both LKA and MMS—hailed as architects of a resurgent BJP and a prosperous India respectively—are now perceived as destroyers of the edifices they raised. The names of neither leader appear on the list of their party’s key campaigners, submitted to the EC, even as a mere formality. There is no demand for either of them to address rallies. If Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have spoken at over 200 meetings each, Advani and Manmohan aren’t expected to address more than 20 each.
The reasons for the ignominy of each leader are different. Advani has been in politics for over six decades. He led a movement, which brought his party to power in 1996 under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He groomed the current leadership of the BJP by appointing them CMs and giving them national responsibilities, even at the risk of ignoring the claims of senior satraps. The BJP’s Iron Man of Yesterday holds the world record of undertaking the longest-ever yatra for the purpose of uniting his party and carrying the Hindutva message through the country. Advani, along with Vajpayee, made BJP what it is today. Advani was, in fact, its soul and body; Vajpayee its moderate face. But the party’s poor performance in 2009 and Vajpayee’s infirmities forcing him to opt out of tasks of politics led Advani’s position to become vulnerable. The first sign of his plummeting acceptability was visible during the recent Assembly polls in which most BJP chief ministers were unwilling to invite him to campaign. Moreover, portraits of both Advani and Vajpayee, which used to hold permanent pride of place in the party’s publicity material started to vanish from electoral horizons of saffron states. Now, one can hardly find Advani’s picture on a poster or a hoarding put up for a BJP candidate.

Modi’s supporters have ensured that his bête noire doesn’t share any platform with Gujarat’s lord of the ascendant in any part of the country. So far, the old warhorse hasn’t been invited onstage to any rally in which Modi is main speaker. In a cruel irony, Advani—BJP’s leader, ideologue and philosopher—has been reduced to being just another name in the list of over a dozen members of the parliamentary board. The sanguine suzerain who carried BJP out of political untouchability and brought over 20 parties to its fold is today not even consulted or informed about alliances with other parties, which still respect him more than any leader in BJP. His inability to anticipate and understand the winds of change within his own party led to erosion of his supremacy. Never did he expect that his followers would stab him in the back one day.

A leader who once had the veto over the selection of even a member of a state Assembly has been denied the right to choose his seat. Advani, however, still commands a following among the old guard and a sizeable section of middle-level cadres who see in him a leader to admire—one with frugal habits and simple living. Prominent leaders like Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and over a dozen state party paladins still regard him as the symbol of BJP’s ideology. It is thanks to them that he has survived in the party and is still seen unleashing his oratory at rallies. It was the small but formidable support Advani commands within the rank and file that forced Modi to accompany him when he went to file his nomination from Gandhinagar. To the dismay of detractors, Advani continues to be an institution and not just an individual.

On another front, it is Sonia Gandhi and Congress which made MMS what he is today. The PM has never been seen as a person with political mettle to lead his party. Sonia appointed him PM because he was apolitical and wouldn’t pose any challenge to the Gandhi Parivar. During the UPA’s 2004-09 reign, he delivered on governance not because of his administrative prowess but primarily due to the effect of the global economic upsurge. MMS provided multinationals an easy market for making fast money and gave them concessions to create services and invest in markets instead of manufacturing. As the winter of global recession set in 2009, India’s vulnerability was exposed; the national growth rate plunged to a decade’s record low of less than 5 per cent. His introverted paralysis led to his failure in leading the government. Yet, his pickthank megaphones never missed an opportunity to blame the Gandhis and dual centres of power for the massive failures and scams hobbling the UPA. For the past few months, many of his ministers have been defying him. They found excuses for not inviting him to any of their ministries’ functions. Now portraits of him—so prominent in 2009 posters of the Congress—have vanished. If Advani still holds a place in his party, the Congress is eagerly waiting for MMS to make a graceful exit. The party had been dropping myriad signals, which forced the PM to announce his retirement way before the elections. While it is certain that MMS will be history after the polls, the writing of the last chapter of Advani’s 60-year-old political Yatra will begin only after May 16.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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