Time For A Post-Advani BJP
As I write this, the political atmosphere in Delhi is agog with the prospect of the National Democratic Alliance breaking apart in Bihar, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar deciding to dump the BJP and forming a “Federal Front” along
with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh. Nitish is apparently upset that the BJP, by appointing Narendra Modi its poll campaign chief, has literally projected the Gujarat Chief Minister as its, and hence that of the NDA, Prime Ministerial candidate in the next general elections, scheduled to be held next year.
However, what has interested me more are the telephones that I received this morning from some highly-placed sources in Bihar. According to them, the BJP veteran L K Advani, who, incidentally, happens to be the chairman of the NDA, has assured Nitish Kumar that he would be leaving the BJP too and join the Federal Front along with some of his supporters and that Nitish, in return, has promised that Advani will be projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the proposed Federal Front.
Had it been few years ago, I would have dismissed these speculations as loose talks. But having observed Advani and his politics over the last two years, I will not be surprised if Advani leaves the BJP to join Nitish Kumar. Seen dispassionately, Advani, arguably its “builder”, has been systematically harming the BJP’s interests of late. Just take his recent statements—be it on or relating to Hitler, Bhishma Pitamah, Narendra Modi, the RSS and Karnataka. The tone and tenor are not at all different from those emanating from the worst critics of the BJP. No wonder why he has become a big favourite of the Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, of all the persons.
Indeed, Advani must consider himself to be lucky that he continues to be in BJP despite the fact that he has left no stone unturned to ruin the image of the party in recent months. Advani has not been taken to task by the BJP, particularly for the manner his self-created crisis by resigning from the three key posts of the party, while remaining its primary member and chairmanship of the NDA with clear designs, made the party a laughing stock. And this in a party which had ruthlessly and unceremoniously thrown away a former party President Balraj Madhok, not to talk of the lesser mortals like Kalyan Singh, Sunder Singh Bhandari, Uma Bharti and Ram Jethmalani, on the grounds of indiscipline.
Advani’s recent grudge has been that the decision to promote Modi was imposed on the party leadership by the RSS, which, according to him, has been remote-controlling the party. I personally think that this is a wrong diagnosis; for the fact remains that Modi, despite all his perceived faults, is the most popular BJP leader at the moment—popular not only among the party cadres but also among the urban middle class and the youth of the country. It is their pressure—“pressure from below”—that did the trick for Modi. And it is this popular perception that forced the RSS, which, otherwise, was not having kind words about the Gujarat Chief Minister in recent years, to accept Modi.
But then ironically, if Advani is so much against the ascendancy of the RSS in BJP affairs, how did he finally withdraw his resignation on the advice of the RSS supremo Bhagwat? And what did Advani gain in the process? Nothing except losing all his credibility. The BJP or the RSS has not abolished Modi’s new post in the party. Advani’s loyalists are fooling themselves when they say that the RSS has promised to instruct BJP President Rajnath Singh to look into the “concerns” of Advani. These sugar-coated assurances are neither here nor there. In fact, one finds it to be a little surprising that Advani did not take into account his experience in 2005 when following his controversial remarks on Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan, he had resigned as the party President and the same Rajnath Singh had taken over the post. Nobody shed a tear for him, though he continued as the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, a post which he also was under pressure to give up following his disastrous performance in 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Despite his notable contribution to building up the BJP as a party of national consequence, Advani, of late, has not played the role of an integrator by taking everybody along in the party. His decision to undertake a country-wide yatra in 2011 was by no means the decision of the BJP as a party; it was his individual decision which took the party by a great surprise. In fact, the BJP was forced to support him in more senses than one. Besides, he is being increasingly seen to be a partisan and divisive, evident from the manner he has dealt with the situations involving former Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. I really fail to wonder how under Advani’s pressure the BJP literally drove away Yeddyurappa over a highly debatable report of the Lokayukta, which has been questioned for its sheer selectiveness and interpretations by the Karnataka High Court. He is not declared guilty as yet. In contrast, see Advani’s brazen silence on the repeated defiance of the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi to various reports of
Whatever Advani may say, the fact remains that he was never a democrat in the true sense of the word. In the BJP his has been “the last word” for years, and that includes the times of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Earlier, this status of his was due to “reverence” for him, but in recent years it has been due to the “fear” of him that he would do something else. And this despite the fact that Advani has not exactly been a great vote-getter. Otherwise, the NDA, with all the omissions and commissions of the UPA, should have won handsomely in 2009. With due reverence to him, one may say that in electoral politics, Advani, since the beginning, has always been averse to take risks. Let me quote here Blaraj Madhok, who as Jan Sangh President had brought Advani to active politics:
“Advani was an RSS pracharak and subsequently taken into the Working committee by me at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s insistence. He used to live in a government accommodation at RK Puram and I asked him in 1967 to contest for the Metropolitan Council from that seat. Two days before the nominations, he came to me and opted out on the ground that there were several villages in the area and victory was not guaranteed. I told him no one’s victory including mine (I was South Delhi Parliamentary nominee) was guaranteed. But he did not agree and I put up another person. The results came and we all won. Deen Dayalji told to nominate Advani to the Metropolitan Council (there were five nominated seats) and make him the Chief Executive Councillor. I declined to make him the CEC since he had not contested. But under RSS pressure I got him nominated and made him the Chairman of the Metropolitan Council and made Vijay Kumar Malhotra as the CEC.”
Be that as it may, as a student of political science, I clearly see two inter-related but important political trends in the country. One, the BJP is changing. There is now no fear of Advani, particularly from the cadres of the party. The latest decision on Modi is a clear case of the “demand from the below”. I think any democrat will welcome this trend. In fact, I will say that this welcome trend is not limited to the BJP; it has been equally seen in the case of the Gandhi family-dominated Congress—see the way Virbhadra Singh became the Chief Minister in Himachal Pradesh much against the wishes of Sonia Gandhi and the way for the first time in the recent history of the Congress, the newly-elected legislators in Karnataka elected Siddaramaiah as their Chief Minister. In my considered view, all these are happy signs in our politics, despite its myriad pitfalls.
Two, the next general elections will be in the mould of “Presidential elections”, in the sense that Indian electorate will vote for the leader of the party, not necessarily for the party alone, akin to what we generally see in the United States and France. It is not that we in India have not witnessed this before. In 1971, the people of India overwhelmingly voted for Indira Gandhi as a leader, not for breakaway Congress she represented. And mind you, that year all the veteran leaders of the Congress had left her.
In my considered view, 2014 elections will be on the pattern of the one held in 1971. Here, all the “established names” and parties will not matter. What will weigh in the minds of the voters is who is that leader who can directly establish a chord with them and live up to their expectations. And here, the BJP under Modi could well convert all its Advani-related adversities into a great opportunity.
By Prakash Nanda