Sunday, 24 May 2020

BJP Awaits Perestroika

Updated: February 16, 2013 1:53 pm

Lunch session was over two hours back. Youth Congress workers were all geared up. Dholwallahs were ready. Crackers rolls were in place. A fleet of cars was waiting. The plan was ready. As soon as the AICC special session ends with the speech of the young leader, a grand road show was to be put up. Veterans in the hall were eagerly waiting for their chosen leader Rahul Gandhi. The leader however had other plans. He was sitting with his mother and sister for well over three hours now in that plush suit. His sister has especially flown down to Jaipur for this meeting. The door was tight shut. Nobody was allowed inside. Lunch was refused. The speech was getting finalised. A little later, the door opened. The leader walked straight into the auditorium accompanied by his mother. Greetings were exchanged quickly. And the hour-long speech began in English and in Hindi. Caution, instructions, orders, sharing of sentiments and the vision of the youngest scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family everything was there in the speech. Congress’ perestroika had begun. The leader departed for Delhi directly.

Over a thousand mile away in Nagpur, deliberations were on for the next BJP president. That the BJP cannot go to elections in defensive mode was the common refrain. The young Congress leader’s speech was also listened in full, word by word. It was time to take decisions. Phones began to ring. Calculations started getting reworked. Options were limited and the time was running out fast. Deliberations continued till late evening and the next day. Finally, the python decided to change its course. Emissaries were sent to Prithviraj Road in New Delhi just before the day for election. Deliberations were over by noon. In the afternoon, the BJP patriarch met the incumbent BJP president in the presence of the RSS leader deputed to take a final decision on the matter. In less than half an hour, the decision was taken and the incumbent president delayed his departure to Delhi. Rajnath Singh was chosen to lead the belligerent BJP in 2014 elections. For Rajnath Singh, the responsibility was not new. Last time in 2009, he was at the same chair when his party did not fare so well. Plans were made even at that time. However, the Party failed short of numbers to wrest power at the centre.

The battle pitch is different in 2014. There are many things to his advantage. The party cadres know that their leader has risen from the ranks. He is one leader in the party who enjoys personal rapport with the rank and file. Veterans see in him a master strategist who works his way to get things done. The biggies within his party consider him no rival as he is not running for Race Course Road. Yet, he is known for taking tough decisions in the most piquant situations.

Outside the party, his allies know him as a leader who does not wear Hindutva on his sleeves. At the same time, he is the one who knows when to wear saffron. He enjoys the confidence of his friends across political spectrum.

But then challenges are bigger this time. Leaders have grown bigger this time. So big that even veterans fail to control them. Rajnath faces the toughest challenge in controlling the factional fight within the party. Regional satraps have national ambitions. National leaders prefer to live in their own cocooned world. The party seems to have meandered from its ideological moorings. Hindutva seems no longer in vogue. The party failed to capitalise on the failings of the ruling dispensation—whether it be in the matters of corruption, price rise or the growing disenchantment from the ruling class. The party seems to be on a defensive mode always. With elections less than a year away, the script for victory is yet to be prepared.


 “WHATEVER ROLE THE PARTY WILL BESTOW ON HIM, MODI WILL FOLLOW”

—Rajnath Singh (BJP National President)


“All agree that if any party or any coalition can provide good governance, it is only the BJP or the BJP-led NDA alliance. People have lost faith in this Congress-led UPA regime due to its failures on numerous fronts,” said the newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh while talking to Prakash Nanda and Deepak Kumar Rath in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

 Were you prepared for the post of party president?

Now, I am prepared. But earlier, I was not. We wanted Nitin Gadkari to continue next term as party president and we had even decided that. But then whatever the allegations were against him, he was hurt and finally resigned. Later, I was made party president with consensus.

What are your priorities?

So far as priorities are concerned, we would make organisational network more active and effective. At the same time, our cadres’ ideology and commitment to political thoughts would be shored up through training camps. But then, this is a long term process. Meanwhile, there would be assembly elections in several states in 2013 and Lok Sabha polls in 2014. We have to chalk out strategy to ensure party’s success at the hustings.

It’s a co-incidence that you were party president when the general elections were held last time and you are once again president when the general elections are due in 2014. Given the present-day reality, why do you think voters would vote for the BJP?

The people have seen the performance of the BJP-led NDA government under the premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and they have been watching the performance of this Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for nearly ten years now. On comparison, all agree that if any party or any coalition can provide good governance, it is only the BJP or the BJP-led NDA alliance. People have lost faith in this Congress-led UPA regime due to its failures on numerous fronts. The challenges and the crisis staring the nation on economic, security and diplomatic fronts are all due to bad policies and planning of this government. But the BJP would prefer to go to the electorate on the basis of positive issues the party wants to implement once it returns to power. Of course, we would also raise the negative issues of the UPA during the polls.

See, this Congress-led UPA very often talks about the economic reforms. What sorts of economic reforms are these which widens economic disparity, increases unemployment? What sorts of economic reforms are these where people fail to make two ends meet or the children of the poor fail to attend schools? We do not need such reforms. We want the reforms which can lower the poverty, minimise the economic disparity, solve the problem of unemployment and people are not forced to spend nights without food.

You have recently said that your primary role will be to strengthen the party while other things will be taken care by the NDA convener and Lal Krishna Advani.

Yes, yes. We see Advaniji as our mentor and he will always remain so.

It is said that where the Congress is in alliance with any party, the former gobbles up the latter, but where the BJP is in alliance, it’s the ally that turns stronger. It’s a classic case in Bihar, where the BJP was number one in 1996, but today it’s NItish Kumar who calls the shots. Are the alliance partners blackmailing the BJP?

It happens by chance. But for this, I do not hold our ally responsible, rather we should introspect ourselves why does it happen? Why does our electoral base weaken?

Earlier, BJP’s trade mark used to be a party with a difference, but now people say that it’s a party with differences?

This is a propaganda fueled by our political opponents in a planned way. There have not been serious allegations against us. How can they then defame us? In the states where the BJP is in power, it is running the governments very well. Our opponents have then devised the charge of factionalism in the BJP, but there is no factionalism in our party. If there had been any factionalism, my election on consensus could not have happened. Yes, there is internal democracy in the party and people are free to express their opinions. It’s our internal democracy which is the inherent strength of the party.

But then, the facts remain that Karnataka strongman BS Yeddyurappa left the party, Babulal Marandi in Jharkhand and Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat left the party in past.

We all know there are even differences in a family. Differences crop up even in a small family with 5-6 members and sometimes the son leaves it.

Now, since you are the chief, will you persuade them to return to the parent body? You have successfully done this by bringing Kalyan Singh recently back to the party fold.

See, these decisions could be taken only after taking into confidence the various state units. But right now, there is no such proposal.

But sometimes, one has to take pro-active decision.

Whenever such things appear, we shall see.

Are you a prime ministerial candidate?

No. Whatever the responsibility I have got, I will carry on. I won’t deviate. How does the party get success in the polls and how can it form the government, I will think only over them. If I start thinking how can I be the prime minister or the president, I think I cannot ensure success of party at the hustings.

How do you view Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s Hindu terror allegations?

It’s very unfortunate. I term it as an irresponsible statement due to which the honour, dignity and pride of the country have been hurt. See, LeT chief Hafiz Saeed has backed the statement of Home Minister. Saeed has been trying to paint India as a terror state rather than Pakistan. It’s a serious issue and I am surprised that the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi have not commented on it. If the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are imparting training of terror in their training camps, why don’t the government ban them? Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States has linked the LeT to the blasts in Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid. Wherever national interest is concerned, one should not play political game. Politics should be played for building society and nation and it should not merely be confined to forming government.

When you were being appointed as party president, Lal Krishna Advani said that you should ensure that the tainted ones be weeded out.

Advaniji was right. I have accepted his suggestion. He put forth his views as a guide of the party.

How do you see the meeting between you and Modi?

The meeting was very good. We talked how can we ensure party’s victory in forthcoming polls and we all are making efforts in this direction.

Has Modi sought any role for himself?

No. No one seeks any role in our party. He did not claim for anything. Whatever role the party will bestow on him, he will follow. That’s what I know.

Will you give him any role in 2014 polls?

We shall all sit together and then decide what role and responsibility one would get. Everyone will get his responsibility.

Will Modi get some responsibility?

Why not? He is a popular leader and he will get his responsibility. We have our chief ministers, senior leaders. Everyone will get his responsibility.

There are talks that the general elections may be held even in 2013. What do you think? Will the polls be held in 2013 or 2014?

Now, we will start preparations for 2014. But we are ready, even if the polls are held today or tomorrow. We are ready to meet all the challenges.

“All agree that if any party or any coalition can provide good governance, it is only the BJP or the BJP-led NDA alliance. People have lost faith in this Congress-led UPA regime due to its failures on numerous fronts,” said the newly-elected Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh while talking to Prakash Nanda and Deepak Kumar Rath in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

Were you prepared for the post of party president?

Now, I am prepared. But earlier, I was not. We wanted Nitin Gadkari to continue next term as party president and we had even decided that. But then whatever the allegations were against him, he was hurt and finally resigned. Later, I was made party president with consensus.

What are your priorities?

So far as priorities are concerned, we would make organisational network more active and effective. At the same time, our cadres’ ideology and commitment to political thoughts would be shored up through training camps. But then, this is a long term process. Meanwhile, there would be assembly elections in several states in 2013 and Lok Sabha polls in 2014. We have to chalk out strategy to ensure party’s success at the hustings.

It’s a co-incidence that you were party president when the general elections were held last time and you are once again president when the general elections are due in 2014. Given the present-day reality, why do you think voters would vote for the BJP?

The people have seen the performance of the BJP-led NDA government under the premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and they have been watching the performance of this Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for nearly ten years now. On comparison, all agree that if any party or any coalition can provide good governance, it is only the BJP or the BJP-led NDA alliance. People have lost faith in this Congress-led UPA regime due to its failures on numerous fronts. The challenges and the crisis staring the nation on economic, security and diplomatic fronts are all due to bad policies and planning of this government. But the BJP would prefer to go to the electorate on the basis of positive issues the party wants to implement once it returns to power. Of course, we would also raise the negative issues of the UPA during the polls.

See, this Congress-led UPA very often talks about the economic reforms. What sorts of economic reforms are these which widens economic disparity, increases unemployment? What sorts of economic reforms are these where people fail to make two ends meet or the children of the poor fail to attend schools? We do not need such reforms. We want the reforms which can lower the poverty, minimise the economic disparity, solve the problem of unemployment and people are not forced to spend nights without food.

You have recently said that your primary role will be to strengthen the party while other things will be taken care by the NDA convener and Lal Krishna Advani.

Yes, yes. We see Advaniji as our mentor and he will always remain so.

It is said that where the Congress is in alliance with any party, the former gobbles up the latter, but where the BJP is in alliance, it’s the ally that turns stronger. It’s a classic case in Bihar, where the BJP was number one in 1996, but today it’s NItish Kumar who calls the shots. Are the alliance partners blackmailing the BJP?

It happens by chance. But for this, I do not hold our ally responsible, rather we should introspect ourselves why does it happen? Why does our electoral base weaken?

Earlier, BJP’s trade mark used to be a party with a difference, but now people say that it’s a party with differences?

This is a propaganda fueled by our political opponents in a planned way. There have not been serious allegations against us. How can they then defame us? In the states where the BJP is in power, it is running the governments very well. Our opponents have then devised the charge of factionalism in the BJP, but there is no factionalism in our party. If there had been any factionalism, my election on consensus could not have happened. Yes, there is internal democracy in the party and people are free to express their opinions. It’s our internal democracy which is the inherent strength of the party.

But then, the facts remain that Karnataka strongman BS Yeddyurappa left the party, Babulal Marandi in Jharkhand and Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat left the party in past.

We all know there are even differences in a family. Differences crop up even in a small family with 5-6 members and sometimes the son leaves it.

Now, since you are the chief, will you persuade them to return to the parent body? You have successfully done this by bringing Kalyan Singh recently back to the party fold.

See, these decisions could be taken only after taking into confidence the various state units. But right now, there is no such proposal.

But sometimes, one has to take pro-active decision.

Whenever such things appear, we shall see.

Are you a prime ministerial candidate?

No. Whatever the responsibility I have got, I will carry on. I won’t deviate. How does the party get success in the polls and how can it form the government, I will think only over them. If I start thinking how can I be the prime minister or the president, I think I cannot ensure success of party at the hustings.

How do you view Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s Hindu terror allegations?

It’s very unfortunate. I term it as an irresponsible statement due to which the honour, dignity and pride of the country have been hurt. See, LeT chief Hafiz Saeed has backed the statement of Home Minister. Saeed has been trying to paint India as a terror state rather than Pakistan. It’s a serious issue and I am surprised that the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi have not commented on it. If the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are imparting training of terror in their training camps, why don’t the government ban them? Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States has linked the LeT to the blasts in Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid. Wherever national interest is concerned, one should not play political game. Politics should be played for building society and nation and it should not merely be confined to forming government.

When you were being appointed as party president, Lal Krishna Advani said that you should ensure that the tainted ones be weeded out.

Advaniji was right. I have accepted his suggestion. He put forth his views as a guide of the party.

How do you see the meeting between you and Modi?

The meeting was very good. We talked how can we ensure party’s victory in forthcoming polls and we all are making efforts in this direction.

Has Modi sought any role for himself?

No. No one seeks any role in our party. He did not claim for anything. Whatever role the party will bestow on him, he will follow. That’s what I know.

Will you give him any role in 2014 polls?

We shall all sit together and then decide what role and responsibility one would get. Everyone will get his responsibility.

Will Modi get some responsibility?

Why not? He is a popular leader and he will get his responsibility. We have our chief ministers, senior leaders. Everyone will get his responsibility.

There are talks that the general elections may be held even in 2013. What do you think? Will the polls be held in 2013 or 2014?

Now, we will start preparations for 2014. But we are ready, even if the polls are held today or tomorrow. We are ready to meet all the challenges.


The party’s base seems to be constricting. In the recent assembly elections, the party though won in Gujarat, it lost the battle in Himachal. Moreover, the Gujarat victory is largely perceived as a victory of Modi rather than that of the party. There is growing erosion of base in Hindi belt that once propelled the party into power. In the two most crucial states Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP seems to be nowhere. In Bihar, though they are in the ruling alliance, JDU has an upper hand. Support of leaders like Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh was sought to expand party’s base among the OBCs and Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, but the efforts do not seem to be enough. The BJP is positioned at number three after Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. In the south, the party finds it difficult to hold fort. Leaders like Yeddyurappa, who once led the party to victory, are now in opposition. The crucial 170 mark at the centre seems to be a far cry. The recent poll surveys indicate that the NDA has an advantage if the elections are held today. However, it is clear that unless an ingenious plan is put up in place, this advantage would wither away.

The BJP leaders differ on the strategy to counter the Congress. Many believe that by declaring a prime ministerial candidate the party would be in an advantageous position. Yashwant Sinha minced no words in saying: “The party must ride high on the popularity of Narendra Modi and project him as prime ministerial candidate even at the cost of losing allies. Party must chart its own course. Modi is a charismatic leader and he should be declared a prime ministerial candidate.” Other seniors like Ram Jethmalani hold the same view. Political pundits, however, disagree. The party cannot afford to invite displeasure of its allies by declaring a candidate beforehand. Secondly, with one candidate declared, it would be very difficult to control factions within the party. Perhaps the most formidable challenge before Rajnath is to win support of allies. True, he commands respect among his allies but race for Race Corse Course is not going to be smooth for anyone. There are many in the allies who want to throw BJP yoke off their shoulders and pose as the frontrunner for the post. Rajnath also has to arraign those parties who can swing both ways. Those friends like the TMC who once walked along with the BJP also need to be courted back. The task is difficult if not impossible.

Rajnath has made right moves so far. Meeting Narendra Modi in full media glare and with all fanfare at his residence sent out a clear message to the party cadres. Modi flew down from Gandhinagar especially to meet Rajnath—something that was unheard of in the Gadkari tenure. He met Sushma over lunch. Other seniors have also been taken into confidence. He successfully manoeuvred in Karnataka and saved the tattering Shettar government for now. The general feeling is that the BJP is back in the game. But the real battle has to begin now. He has to put a strategy in place that puts an end to factional fight in the party. Organisation needs to be spruced up. Ideology needs to be fine-tuned to meet the present requirements. More importantly, he has to emerge as an organisational leader who can devise plans that are acceptable to both his mentors in the RSS and also the party’s supporters across India. BJP awaits perestroika.

 By Kumar Gopal

 

 

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