Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, July 26, 2010

THE JOB profile of the Union home minister has never included the word “ diplomacy”. Palaniappan Chidambaram knows it better than any of his predecessors, including that old hawk Lal Kishen Advani. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to send Chidambaram to Pakistan to do some plain speaking to his counterpart, Rehman Malik, the idea was to convey the message that henceforth, at least as far as Indo- Pak ties were concerned, domestic politics would dictate diplomacy.

After the fiasco of foreign minister S. M. Krishna’s Islamabad visit last week, in hindsight, it appears that whoever advised Manmohan Singh to draft Chidambaram in the new diplomatic offensive must be an expert in innovative disruptions. After all, never before has a visit by the home minister preceded that of the foreign minister as part of confidence building measures. North and South Blocks stand barely 100 metres apart on the Capital’s Raisina Hill, but it appears that the disconnect between the two imperial era buildings that house the foreign and home offices is too wide.

Dealing with a hostile and ever unpredictable neighbour like Pakistan would tax the most suave of diplomats. Seasoned foreign office mandarins have told me that to be part of a dialogue team with Pakistan is akin to inviting distress.

This was quite evident last week when officers on either side of Rajpath were engaged in blame game for the disastrous visit of foreign minister Krishna to Pakistan. Bureaucratic turf fights are nothing new but at issue now is the conflict between diplomacy and domestic politics which is now fodder for the media.

Chidambaram’s trip to Islamabad was disruptive innovation at its best, aimed at bypassing the conventional dialogue mechanism which was stuck in the past.
The home minister landed in the Pakistan capital with a mandate from the government to address the concerns of the home constituency. What he told them was bitter, yet true, of the clear involvement of their defence officials in the many terror attacks on India, particularly 26/ 11.

These weren’t just dossiers compiled by the investigating agencies but revelations made by David Headley to Indian investigators in the presence of FBI officers in Washington. Chidambaram’s plainspeak had put the Pakistan establishment on the defensive and interior minister Malik was condescending enough to tweet that “ Chidambaram was a very intelligent politician”. It was widely believed that Chidambaram’s triumphant return to New Delhi would be followed by a final assault on the Pakistan establishment.

So were home secretary G. K. Pillai’s comments on the day G. K. Pillai when Krishna was to leave for Pakistan part of the disruptive agenda?
Shortly before Krishna arrived in Islamabad, the Indian media quoted Pillai saying that from the confessions of Headley, it was clear that Pakistan’s ISI was behind the 26/ 11 attack. His remarks are now said to be the reason for the talks getting stalled even before they could begin.
Back in India, a red- faced Krishna says that everything Pillai said was right, but its timing was the reason the talks failed.

Pillai, an upright civil servant whom any bureaucracy would be eager to embrace, is now said to be so downbeat that he contemplates putting in his papers.

Why didn’t the mandarins in the foreign office pick up the signal — that his exercise was meant to bring Pakistan back to the unfinished agenda of the home minister’s visit? But our diplomats refused to pick up the signals. They converted Krishna’s visit into just another aimless bilateral engagement.

It gave Pakistan a chance to pay back by disrupting the conventional dialogue. Pakistan foreign minister S. M. Qureshi even questioned Krishna’s authority to take decisions. Krishna’s humiliation was complete.

It is the first time that there have been two high profile ministerial visits to Pakistan. It is also the first time it has led to domestic political crises of such magnitude and divided the cabinet and the bureaucracy right down the middle.

The decision to send Chidambaram to Islamabad cannot be faulted and is among the boldest and most innovative steps that this government has taken. But it failed because one side kept up the pressure while the other preferred the status quo.

At the SAARC heads’ meeting in Bhutan a couple of months ago, the prime minister, in hindsight it appears, rather unwisely said that we will continue to talk no matter what happens.

The foreign office seems to have adopted that credo and chooses to walk the talk all the time, unmindful of the vast quantities of yolk that accumulates on its face.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, July 25, 2010

'Viewers like the role of Ammaji'

Meghna Malik, who potrays the role of Ammaji in TV popular serial Na Aana Is Desh Laado, says in Seedhi Baat that she (Ammaji) represents the background to which she belongs and the story is about the conflict among characters.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, July 18, 2010

फिल्‍म जगत के साथ-साथ छोटे पर्दे पर भी दिलेरी के साथ रोमांचक कारनामों को अंजाम देने वाले 'मिस्‍टर खिलाड़ी' अक्षय कुमार अपनी आने वाली फिल्‍म 'खट्टा-मीठा' की कामयाबी को लेकर आशावान हैं. आजतक के कार्यक्रम 'सीधी बात' में उन्‍होंने इस फिल्‍म और कई अन्‍य दिलचस्‍प बातों का खुलासा किया.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, July 19, 2010

SPIRALLING prices, the Maoist menace, the Bhopal tragedy compounded, the fiasco in Islamabad, feuding ministers. The list is long enough to make anyone think that there is trouble lurking around the corner for the government as Parliament prepares to meet for the monsoon session. Perish the thought.

The government has already drawn up plans to keep the Opposition wolves at bay and senior ministers of UPA II exude confidence as they say that they will tide over the severest of challenges with the least effort. Towards the fag end of the budget session, the government seemed to be teetering on the brink as the Left and the Right closed ranks and moved cut motions on the finance bill.

Since then, the Opposition has flexed its muscles on more than one occasion, the latest being the all India bandh on July 5 against rising fuel prices. Though the BJP and the Left parties gave separate calls for the bandh, it brought the country to a standstill, even triggering speculation that the two had worked in unison. Having seen the wrath of the combined Opposition, the government is least inclined to take chances.

The Opposition has an embarrassment of riches as far as issues are concerned to pillory the government, but the latter is not so lucky. But it has one trump card: the ideological card that will make it difficult for the non- NDA Opposition to rally around the BJP either on the floor of the house or outside.

The emphasis will be on dividing the Opposition by raising issues that would isolate the BJP and make it ideological untouchables. Governor H. R. Bhardwaj’s offensive in Bangalore typifies this in many ways. Occupants of Raj Bhavans are supposed to be impartial and apolitical and expected to play strictly by the book that is the Constitution. But governors have seldom been able to hide their political past. Bhardwaj is probably the only one who openly flaunts it.

As the mining scandal threatened to sink the Yeddyurappa government, Bhardwaj was brazen enough to say, “ I am proud to be a Congressman.” His statement makes it abundantly clear why the ace lawyer who got so many Congressmen, including some VIPs, off the hook in many serious cases, was sent to the Bangalore Raj Bhavan.

The same tactics are evident in Gujarat where the Centre is trying to pin down Narendra Modi by targeting one of his closest aides, the minister of state for home Amit Shah. Sohrabuddin Sheikh was killed more than five years ago by Gujarat’s Anti- Terrorism Squad in an alleged encounter and now the CBI says there is evidence to show Shah’s involve- H. R. Bhardwaj ment in the fake encounter. It doesn’t require special investigative skills to realise that the real target is the Gujarat chief minister who is perhaps the only one in the whole country who evokes similar sentiments in the Congress and the non- NDA Opposition parties. So they will target Modi to weaken the BJP.
It’s almost a week since Nitin Gadkari made the intemperate remarks about Afzal Guru’s relatives in the ruling party and the Congress seems in no mood to forgive. How can it, when the JD( U), the BJP’s coalition partner in Bihar, has slammed the BJP president? The 50- yearold fight between Karnataka and Maharashtra has surfaced once again and the Centre is watching with considerable glee as the Shiv Sena in Mumbai raises its pitch against Karnataka where a BJP government is in power.

The Congress strategy is working and consequently, the frustration in the Sangh Parivar is boiling over as was evident on Friday when hoodlums vandalised the office of the Headlines Today TV channel in Delhi. Such reactions are normally associated with those who have lost the common touch. And the Right has clearly lost it.

Just two months ago, it was all so different. With everything that could possibly go wrong indeed going that way, the government looked vulnerable and even the government’s spin doctors admitted the future looked bleak. But almost overnight, the doubts have vanished and there is a spring in the establishment’s step.

For that, they must thank the BJP. Democracy works not just because of the elected government but also because of a rigorous Opposition that scrutinises the government’s every step and seizes its chances. By that yardstick, the BJP’s performance has been a disgrace.
The punishment for that will be a much longer wait in the wilderness.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Seedhi Baat / Aajtak, July 11, 2010

'Give quota to backward Muslims'

Jamiat Ulema-e Hind leader Maulana Mehmood Madni on the show Seedhi Baat says that reservation should be given on the basis of educational, social and economical backwardness.

The senior Deobandi Muslim leader and Rajya Sabha MP also talks about the need for Muslims to be included in caste- based census, the issue of hanging Afzal Guru and the concept of fatwa .

Power & Politics / Mail Today, July 12, 2010

A MONTH ago, when in the wake of the 2G spectrum scandal, rumours swirled about the possible axing of A. Raja. A Congress spokesperson sa id, “ It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to decide who stays in his cabinet and who stays out.” That Raja is still in office says much not only about the limited prerogative of the incumbent PM but also of the limited powers that the Congress enjoys in the government that it heads.

Sharad Pawar has been around so long that he can give a few lessons in the art of politics to all in the UPA, barring perhaps Pranab Mukherjee. Like the Spaniards and Germans on a grass pitch, the Maratha is the master of counter attack in the field of politics. When the pressure mounts, he switches strategy, marshals his resources and blunts his opponent’s attack before launching a counter offensive that changes the course of the game.

For the past few months, both he and his NCP colleague Praful Patel have been under the scanner for their roles in the IPL. Pawar has been particularly targeted by the Congress for the uncontrolled inflation which the party believes will cost it dearly.

When the Left and the Right joined hands to bring the country to a halt last Monday to protest price rise, Pawar was in Singapore for his coronation as chief of cricket’s world body, the ICC. No sooner had he landed in New Delhi, he drove to the Prime Minister’s house and requested that some of the workload be taken off him. You can’t but sympathise with him. At 70, even a Grand Maratha cannot be expected to carry multiple burdens. And Pawar carries so many: minister of agriculture, food and civil supplies, consumer affairs and public distribution.

It’s a well- calibrated strategy, the kind that has served him well for the nearly 40 years he spent in public life. It has put the Congress on the defensive. Pawar wants his workload to be lightened, but is adamant about not yielding agriculture. That leaves Manmohan with the limited option of handing food and civil supplies and public distribution to someone else.

The question is: with inflation running in double digits, who would want to hold the hot potato? The real motive behind Pawar’s request was to force the Prime Minister to effect a cabinet reshuffle, something he knows the Congress is not ready for. At 77, this is the largest ever cabinet in independent India, with 58 from the Congress alone and Manmohan is not inclined to add to it.

Besides, he never tinkered with portfolios in UPA 1, so it would be out of character to expect him to do so within fourteen months of UPA 2. Within A. Raja the Congress, there is considerable anger at the inefficiency and the many charges of corruption hurled at alliance ministers, particularly from the DMK and the NCP.
While Pawar constantly revises strategy to counter the Congress, the DMK is typically brazen and rubbishes demands for Raja’s ouster saying that it can happen only if he is found guilty by the courts in the 2G spectrum allocation case. With the Prime Minister looking on like a helpless spectator, senior Congress leaders are putting pressure on Sonia Gandhi to put the house in order. The internal bickerings in the UPA would have been fodder for the media if Kashmir had not flared up and hogged the headlines. Still the Congress strategists continue to ply their trade, with motivated leaks of an impending reshuffle and TV channels predicting, like Paul the Octopus, the names of new ministers.

A mid- term reshuffle is a normal course correction strategy that governments routinely undertake to repair their battered image. But by taking the initiative for a reshuffle, Pawar has effectively stalled one. It’s not the first time he has resorted to such chicanery. After 26/ 11, when Vilasrao Deshmukh refused to resign as Maharashtra CM and Union home minister Shivraj Patil continued to spend more time in front of the mirror than looking at files, Pawar got R. R. Patil of the NCP, the deputy CM and home minister to step down owning moral responsibility.

Both Deshmukh and Shivraj saw the writing on the wall and quit. And now comes the news that the NCP will contest next year’s assembly polls in Kerala in alliance with the Marxists. No one knows the black arts of the political trade more than Pawar.
The NCP may have only nine MPs in the Lok Sabha, but Pawar will continue to strut around as if he has 90.

Power & Politics/Snippets / Mail Today, July 12. 2010

The endless cycle of committees
LAW MINISTER Veerappa Moily has headed numerous commissions and submitted so many reports that I suspect even he may have lost count.

As chairman of the Administrative Commission, he has submitted 15 reports over the last five years on subjects ranging from good governance to ethics in government to conflict resolution and corruption in the bureaucracy.

Most of these are gathering dust as the government has neither the will nor inclination to tinker with the status quo. Sometime back, Moily handed a copy of the report on corruption in the bureaucracy to the Prime Minister.

After going through its contents, the PMO passed it on to the Committee of Secretaries who after due deliberations, suggested that a high- power committee be set up to further look into the matter. And so a committee of experts comprising P. C. Hota, former UPSC chairman, P. Shankar, former chief of the Vigilance Commission and A. K. Verma a retired UP cadre IAS officer was constituted in May.

Unlike most committees that sit on their jobs and seek extensions in order to continue enjoying the perks, this committee completed its work in two months flat. Though he was offered a secretariat and all other perks that go with such a job, Hota rejected these and opted to do the job himself, working out of his own house and keying in everything on his computer himself.

Last week, when Prithviraj Chavan, Union minister of state for personnel, called on Hota at his residence he was in for a surprise. Not only had Hota completed the task assigned to him well in time, he had put copies of his work on CD as well as on pen drives and sent these across to fellow members. He gave a copy to Chavan too, who needless to say was taken by surprise at the doggedness and tenacity of the 75 year- old retired officer. May his tribe increase. But on the flip side, I have the feeling that the government will set up another committee to study Hota’s report.

Abdullah father and son set to play musical chairs
NOT A day goes by without TV channels flashing visuals of the young and dapper Omar Abdullah in designer attire but you can see that the man is anything but relaxed. Kashmir is on the boil like never in recent times and last week, after 10 years, the army held flag marches.

There is a National Conference- Congress coalition government in place in Srinagar, but the deputy chief minister Tara Chand of the Congress is so busy inaugurating buildings and bridges that he hasn’t found time to form an opinion on the violence. Ditto for the state Congress president Saifudin Soz and former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad. But what really raised eyebrows was the absolute silence of Dr Farooq Abdullah. When his beloved Kashmir was burning, Farooq saab was much of the time in London. And when he surfaced last Sunday in Srinagar, Omar added another twist to the burning tale by saying that Papa Doc was “ here to advise me and not to intervene”.
It is worth recalling that Farooq was projected as chief minister last year, but an overnight coup by Delhi’s babalog saw son take over and father settling for Union ministership. Omar’s problem is that he understands the peer crowd in Delhi but not in Srinagar and has scant regard for the political and bureaucratic set up in Kashmir which his Papa nurtured and respected.

With every brief respite from violence resembling the lull before the storm and Omar feeling totally isolated and helpless but since he was the choice of the Congress Gen Next, senior leaders are in a bind. But a whisper campaign is now on within sections of the Congress and the NC leadership that the father- son duo be persuaded to swap jobs.

No one will be hurt, Omar who is clearly uncomfortable in Srinagar’s hot seat, may welcome a return to Delhi. As junior external affairs minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, he did an excellent job. For the sake of Kashmir, it is to be hoped the father and son duo comes to an agreement on a job trade off.

THERE are few who are not genuinely impressed by the way Home Minister P Chidambaram goes about his job. His dogged pursuit of terrorists, Naxals and other extremists has impressed even the BJP that the main opposition party demanded that PC be given a free hand to do his job. The trouble with PC is that he is as irritating as he is honest and well intentioned. That puts most of his colleagues off.

Much of what he does are unilateral decisions, the Khap bill aimed at tackling honour killings being the latest. He came up with the idea without consulting his colleagues or the state governments in the North where the Khap Panchayats are very powerful.

Predictably, he met with stiff opposition. Ministers from the North ganged up against him and the cabinet meeting last Thursday witnessed frayed tempers as PC was accused of ignoring regional sensitivities and pursuing a legislation that could be an emotional minefield for the Congress, particularly in Haryana, which apart from Delhi is the only Northern state where the party is in power. Though PC would settle for nothing less than a free hand as long as he is North Block and prime minister will gladly grant him his wish, the majority opinion in the Cabinet was that the issue needed further discussions at multiple levels. So they have constituted another Group of Ministers and its back to the red tape brigade.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, July 05, 2010

Politicians’ race to the Big Apple
THERE is something about New York that fires the traveller’s instinct among our MPs and once again it is that time of the year when our honourable representatives get the itch to travel to the Big Apple for the annual sojourn at the United Nations. The UN General Assembly meets only in September but the Prime Minister’s Office is already under immense political pressure from Congressmen as well as UPA allies to have their members included in the delegation. A bureaucrat friend said in jest that the lobbying was somewhat like what is witnessed on the eve of a cabinet session.

It’s easy to see why they are all clamouring to fly to New York. The Indian delegation normally consists of of 30 to 35 people. Sixteen of them are MPs who join the delegation in two batches of eight each and the rest are ministers and diplomats. For 45 days, all of them get to hole up in one of the best Manhattan hotels at the taxpayers’ expense. The stay is long enough for those afflicted with minor and major health problems to hold consultations with some of the best physicians in the world.

In normal circumstances, the selection is entirely the prerogative of the Prime Minister, but in a coalition like the UPA, as we have so often seen, the unusual is the rule rather than the exception.

So the final choice may not be Manmohan Singh’s alone. In a few days, we will know who have made the grade, but there is a record that will be hard to beat and it belongs to Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

He first attended the UNGA in 1977 as foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government when he famously addressed the assembly in Hindi.

Between 1988 and 1994, India had four prime ministers.

That all of them chose the BJP veteran is perhaps a measure of the deep admiration they shared for a political adversary.

Absentee ministers make cabinet meetings a no- show
CONSIDERING all the praise that heads of states and governments lavish upon him, it’s easy to see why Manmohan Singh needs only the slightest of excuses to take to the skies. “ When the prime minister of India speaks, the world listens” or something to that effect, US President Barack Obama said in Toronto last week.

How Manmohan would wish his own ministers also listen to him with similar earnestness. Kashmir was in flames even as Manmohan was rubbing shoulders with the G- 20 leaders, so it was understandable that as soon as he returned, he wanted to take stock. So he decided to hold an emergency meeting of his cabinet on his return to the Capital on Thursday, which coincided with the day of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Incidentally, during the Vajpayee days, the cabinet used to meet on Tuesdays but this was shifted in the UPA era to Thursday, following requests from some of the powerful alliance ministers from the South. They said they wished to be home with their families during the weekend.

A five- item agenda paper was drawn up for circulation among all cabinet ministers and, as is procedure, the deputy secretary in the cabinet secretariat in charge of cabinet meetings rang up the private secretaries of all ministers to find out the “ availability” of their masters.
Only 15 of the 33 full fledged ministers were available in the Capital.

Among the notable absentees were the three DMK ministers, who were enjoying a wellearned rest after the exertion at the highly publicised World Tamil Congress in Coimbatore.

Sharad Pawar was in Singapore getting himself embroiled in yet another cricket- related controversy, while other worthies cited prior commitments to excuse themselves from the emergency meeting.

Finally, the scheduled cabinet meeting was converted into a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, with the PM chairing the session attended by four of his senior- most colleagues — the ministers of defence, home, finance and external affairs.

STRANGE things are happening in Jharkhand.

Barely 10 years into its inception, the state has already seen six changes of chief ministers and two spells of president’s rule, including the current one which began on June 1 after chief minister Shibu Soren resigned on the eve of a trust vote.

The assembly is under suspended animation since then and with no party in a position to form the government, the BJP has demanded fresh elections. But the Centre seems in no mood to oblige. Usually, immediately after President’s rule is imposed, the Centre appoints advisers to assist the governor, but even this has not been done though a month has gone by.

Worse, governor MOH Farooq, who is the de facto chief minister, is hardly ever in Ranchi. The 73- year- old former Pondicherry chief minister is said to be not in the best of health and spends half his time in Chennai for medical treatment.

But the UPA’s proxy rule in Ranchi is unlikely to last long since it has to get the presidential proclamation ratified by Parliament, which is not an easy task since the UPA is woefully short of the majority in the Rajya Sabha.

Last heard, the Centre is contemplating withdrawal of president’s rule before Parliament’s monsoon session begins later this month.

For whose benefit and under what conditions remains to be seen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, July 05, 2010

ON JULY 15, foreign minister S. M. Krishna will leave for Islamabad for bilateral talks with his Pakistani counterpart. Krishna says he is going for talks that will “ bring our two countries closer together. Let us hope that our efforts will be fruitful”. Back in Islamabad, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Krishna’s host, says Pakistan will raise the issue of “ human rights violations and army excesses” in Kashmir. If ever there was a case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it. But leave that aside for a moment. On an average, about 50 security personnel die every month fighting enemies who draw their inspiration from abroad and within.

And this figure does not include the alarming recent rise in deaths of the paramilitary personnel at the hands of the Maoists and other insurgents. In the last 15 years, more than 10,300 security personnel have been killed by terrorists, but their martyrdom is soon forgotten.

On the other hand, a single case of human rights violation by the army is “ breaking news” for days together on TV and fodder for writers. The situation is so shameful that a couple of months ago, the Supreme Court chided the government for treating armymen like “ beggars”.
The apex court was referring to the pitiable emoluments and pensions of the brave men in uniform who routinely lay down their lives so that we can live, but the honourable judges may well have been talking about their morale.

The armed might of any nation is meant to defend the country against threats, both internal and external. Our services personnel have time and again showed their power and responsibility while dealing with enemies within or outside and, barring a few aberrations, have never exceeded the briefs given to them and have always accepted the supremacy of civil authority. There are inbuilt systems like the courtmartial to deal with the errant. Unfortunately, a section of the civil society and the political leadership is now beginning to question its mission and doubt its integrity, leading to demoralisation.

Cases are sought to be reopened and decorated officers dread the ignominy of facing trial years after retirement and being stripped of gallantry medals in front of their grandchildren. There seems to be a motivated and preposterous vilification campaign against the army as a congenital violator of human rights and not fit to settle civilian problems. Worse is the hypocrisy. Nobody A. K. Antony seems to bat an eyelid when troops are rushed to quell violence in Gujarat but they all baulk when it comes to sending the same men to Kashmir or to the Maoist- infested areas.

What all this leads to is confusion at the political level which percolates down to the services. Home minister P. Chidambaram wants the army’s help to flush out and, if necessary, liquidate the Maoists. But votebank watchers in the ruling dispensation have nightmares of impending human rights violations but overlook the fact that there is a Human Rights Commission and similar outfits in every state for redressal.

The cabinet is divided on the question of sending in the army to trouble spots. Chidambaram wants to rope in the army to take on the Maoists alongside the police and central paramilitary forces, but defence minister A. K. Antony has reservations and says his men should be used as the last resort. The home minister wants army help to demine forested areas infested by the Maoists to carry out surgical strikes and wants Indian Air Force helicopters to be deployed for logistical purposes. Antony says nothing doing and the majority view is with him.

I am therefore not surprised that after a recent fiery and heated cabinet meeting, Chidambaram came out and told the media that he had only a “ limited mandate” from the cabinet to fight Left- wing extremism.

Admittedly, the use of the army should be a last resort but as far as Kashmir and the Maoists go, we crossed that point a long time ago. The army’s role shouldn’t be a subject of controversy.

It is accountable to the system and its intervention should be based on need and not on politics.
The brave soldiers fight in some of the most dangerous theatres of war and the political establishment must take its eyes off the votebank and let the boys do their job. Those who attack the soldiers do no more than shame themselves.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Power & Politics / Mail Today, June 28, 2010

IT WAS once touted as a cadre- based party, bred on iron discipline whose leaders do not compromise on principles. Today, it is at best an uneasy union of various factions, some more powerful than others, but each doing what it thinks is best to serve its own interests while running down the rest. The last fortnight has seen the fissures in the party crop up like never before as the BJP tried to grapple with the twin issues of Rajya Sabha elections and reinduction of two of its talismanic expelled leaders. Neither party president Nitin Gadkari nor senior leaders seemed capable of loosening the stranglehold the powerful clique, the D- 4 as they are called, have had on the party ever since it was voted out of power six years ago.

For more than a month now, there has been talk about the party welcoming back into its fold two of its most charismatic leaders. There are valid reasons why Gadkari and senior leaders like L. K. Advani and Rajnath Singh wanted Jaswant Singh and Uma Bharti back. Jaswant’s homecoming wasn’t a smooth affair, but with Advani determined to bring back the seventerm parliamentarian and former finance and external affairs minister, on whom Advani often falls back on for intellectual inputs and sagacious advice, the D- 4 could do nothing but fall in line.

Uma hasn’t been so lucky. Her proposed reinduction has much to do with the party needing her grassroots connections as the BJP prepares to fight assembly elections later this year in Bihar and in the next couple of years in many cowbelt states. But the opposition to her re- entry from the resident Gang of Four at 11, Ashoka Road, was bolstered by the stiff resistance from Shivraj Chouhan, who succeeded Uma as Madhya Pradesh chief minister. There are reports that Chouhan told the party’s central leaders to take his resignation before reinducting Uma.

What all this makes abundantly clear is that in Uma’s homecoming, the D- 4 sees a threat to the status quo — the power- sharing arrangement allows them to control the party setup both at the Centre and in the states. It is actually a self preservation society at work. From 1998, they have controlled the levers of power, either as ministers in the NDA government and, after being booted out of power, as party officebearers. That their power is not commensurate with their acceptability is evident from the fact that while most of them sweat at the mere Jaswant Singh prospect of fighting a popular election, they have the power to decide who will get tickets to contest polls or even who will be the chief minister.

The opposition to Narendra Modi addressing a JD( U)- BJP joint rally in Patna was not so much from Nitish Kumar as from Friends of Nitish Kumar ( FONK) in the BJP’s central office who are visibly disconcerted at the pan- Indian appeal of the Gujarat chief minister and are unnerved by the prospect of him moving to Delhi.

Greed and self interest rule over everything else but in the process, the party and the NDA coalition that it led are paying a heavy price. In the last six years, the alliance has shrunk beyond recognition. It once had 21 parties glued by the unmatched charisma of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Today, there are barely half a dozen. Among those forced out are the National Conference, the DMK, the INLD, the Telugu Desam Party, the MDMK, PMK, the Trinamool Congress, the Lok Janshakti, Ajit Singh’s RLD, to name a few.

Worse, its relations with existing partners are at best tenuous, as exemplified by the recent game of brinksmanship with the JD( U). In the hands of the ruling clique, its future appears bleak. But there may still be some hope left. In the recent Rajya Sabha elections, the old guard was as assertive as could be.

Vasundhara Raje Scindia, whose disdain for Jaswant is no secret, was asked to assemble and keep in isolation the party’s Rajasthan MLAs in the run- up to the elections to the Upper House.
And Venkaiah Naidu, an important cog in the gang that was initially opposed to fielding Ram Jethmalani from Rajasthan, was tasked with being the election manager.

The old guard is finally showing that there is still some fight left in them. And that’s good news for the party and all those who wish it well.