Hindustan Times, Between us | Pankaj Vohra, March 12, 2006
The BJP’s inability to effectively oppose the UPA government at the Centre keeps showing up every now and then. The party’s performance in both Houses of Parliament leaves much to be desired and the front-ranking leaders have been busy for the last several months in settling scores with each other rather than focusing on any real issue. After having failed to smear Manmohan Singh’s image by describing him as the weakest Indian PM ever, BJP’s think-tank apparently feels that the only way the UPA government can be brought under pressure is by playing its secular card in the reverse. In other words, if the government is perceived to be pro-minority, which at times it does appear to be, the saffron party may have a ray of hope.
The party is seeking to exploit projects such as minority headcount (ordered at the behest of either non-political or politically naive people in the PMO) to redeem its image. The BJP was, at one time, the darling of the middle-classes and it realises that today, Manmohan Singh occupies that place. In order to have an effective potshot at the government, it is important to first hit out at the PM and dent his image.
But the problem is that there is no one in the BJP at present who can come anywhere near securing the level of regard that most people have for the PM. The treaty with the US and India’s stand on Iran has gone down well with the masses notwithstanding noises to the contrary by some Left parties and a section of Muslims in the country.
The BJP needs to look at its own record while it was in power. Its ‘India Shining’ campaign and the ‘feel good’ factor were aimed at a small section of people leaving the vast majority out of it. Although Atal Bihari Vajpayee enjoyed a good image, his failure to stand up for the truth in the wake of the Gujarat riots did not enhance his stature. He was always perceived to be a clever Brahmin who knew when to cash in on the right political moment. His tenure was marked by controversies, which, however, did not touch him intimately. But he always remained a pale shadow of Jawaharlal Nehru with whom he liked to be compared, despite lacking Nehru’s vision or stature.
Vajpayee’s deputy L.K. Advani was not by any account India’s strongest home minister. His comparison with Sardar Patel ended only in the fact that in Parliament, both represented Gujarat. His unrealised ambition to be prime minister governed most of his post-2004 actions and are perhaps also responsible for the state in which the BJP and the Sangh parivar find themselves in today. When BJP’s tenure is recalled, the spectre of then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh travelling with terrorists to Kandahar comes to mind. The same terrorists who were let off were perhaps involved in the 9/11 blasts and also played a role in the attack on Indian Parliament.
Allegations, though not confirmed, have also been made that the entire Kandahar exercise, to concede to the demands of the hijackers, was carried out because there was international pressure to secure the release of a certain Roberto Giori and his companion who were on the aircraft. Giori is described by many as the currency king of the world and reportedly prints the currencies of more than 100 countries. And if this is true, then the ministers in the NDA government may have some explaining to do.
If the BJP is unable to rake up issues to oppose the UPA government, it is because it suffers from a guilty conscience at its own (mis) deeds.
The Varanasi blasts which needed outright condemnation are now being seen by Advani as a plank to revive the party’s fortunes. The same Advani who had to give up his party leadership in the wake of his Jinnah remarks and views that the Partition was an irreversible process, after the RSS grossly disapproved of his actions. Therefore, his announcement of the proposed Bharat Jodo Yatra without consulting many of his party colleagues or the RSS leadership has put both the BJP and the Sangh in a fix.
If the RSS supports the yatra, Advani can claim that all has been forgiven and forgotten and with the Sangh’s blessings, he would once again emerge leader of the Hindutva forces. But if the RSS, as was evident from the initial responses keeps away, since its functionaries are busy with the centenary celebrations of Guru Golwalkar and have finalised their other programmes, the yatra is bound to flop. Rajnath Singh too is likely to be caught in the cross fire between Advani and the RSS in the event of the yatra not getting the endorsement. He will have a difficult task choosing between the two. For his own future, he needs the Sangh more than Advani.
The yatra is aimed at polarising the communities on the basis of religion. But if some of the BJP leaders are critical of the yatra, it is because they feel that Singh and Advani have failed to carry their own community with them, so how can they unite the community on the Hindutva slogan? Singh in UP is seen as being instrumental in the fall of Kalyan Singh, Mayawati and Ram Prakash Gupta — who was eased out on the dhanteras festival, an occasion to celebrate for the vaish community. But it turned out to be an occasion of seeing the top vaish leader being ousted to accommodate Singh.
Whatever the outcome, it is difficult to imagine that the proposed yatra will make any material difference to either the fortunes of the BJP or to those of Advani. Between us.