Are the rats deserting the sinking BJP ship? The misery has started mounting for the principal Opposition party. The latest jolt comes from Babulal Marandi, one of the party vice-presidents, who has simply walked out from the BJP, resigned as MP and now launched a hunger strike against the BJP coalition Government in Jharkhand alleging ‘rampant corruption’.
Not a day it would seem passes by without some bad news for the BJP which may soon find itself in the political wilderness like the Janata Party of yore. The shock death of Pramod Mahajan, instead of inducing a ‘sympathy wave’, would seem to have hastened the party’s disintegration. In fact the events around Mahajan’s death and the continued media spotlight for over a fortnight on the various and questionable dealings of the BJP’s top power-broker only reinforced the party’s considerably tarnished image as an ideologically shallow entity.
Top Hindutva leader Vinay Katiyar’s humiliating defeat in Rae Bareli – he forfeited his deposit – will have also, punctured UP strongman Rajnath Singh’s hopes of injecting some vitality into the party. The twin yatras also fizzled out. What must be even more embarrassing for them is Uma Bharti and Madanlal Khurana’s constant barbs about the BJP’s betrayal of the Ram Mandir cause. The party though still rules in some states: Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat, etc. With the party failing to make a mark in the recent assembly polls in the south, it may now be relegated to a smaller sphere of influence in central India, the traditional strongholds of the Jan Sangha and RSS.
L K Advani’s errant performance
NO one can blame Mr.Atal Bihari Vajpayee for reacting sharply to his long-time comrade-in-arms, Mr. L. K. Advani’s far from honourable attempt to convey to the country that, as Deputy Prime Minister, he had opposed the Kandhar tradeoff between the passengers of the hijacked Indian aircraft and three of the worst Pakistani terrorists in this country’s prisons on the last day of the last millennium.
The appropriateness of the decision to exchange the hostages for the prisoners – a delicate and difficult subject that brought India shame and pain even though there seemed no alternative to it, in the circumstances – is not the issue here. What understandably infuriated Atalji was that never having done what he tried to hint at in a self-seeking exercise, Mr. Advani was putting all the blame for the Kandhar decision on the former Prime Minister.
So much so that he invented the story that the then External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, went to Kandhar, along with the three released jehadis, “in pursuance of the cabinet decision”. This is absolutely false. The truth is that Mr. Jaswant Singh sought the cabinet’s permission to escort the terrorist trio and bring back the hostages. Of his attempted bonhomie, at the Kabul airport’s tarmac in full glare of TV cameras, with the thugs running the Taliban regime the less said the better. As for his own role in the tragic affair, Mr. Advani’s original remark, in the course of his lackluster rath yatra, was: “I was opposed to the decision and gave my opinion within the government”.
He added that he did not wish to discuss the matter further with the media. “It is an old issue”. This is as good an example of eating one’s cake and having it too as we are likely to witness. After the fiasco of his great discovery that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the proponent of the two-nation theory and the founder of Pakistan, was a paragon of secularism, Mr Advani was forced to step down as BJP president. In search of ways to reassert his leadership, he has been trying to clutch at every straw. Now he has convinced himself his second coming depends on regaining the “Hindutva high ground”.
So a little disinformation about Kandhar should not matter. The Varanasi bomb blasts had provided him with a pretext to stage a repeat of his 1990 Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra. But, as happens often, an attempt to repeat history turns into a farce. However, after Mr. Vajpayee’s reprimand, he has had to run for cover and to try to limit the damage. But it is a measure of how badly shaken he is that Mr. Advani fell back on the hoary and pathetic ploy of blaming the media of “distorting” his remarks.
Sadly, the apologia is worse than the original offence because everything said by him is on the videotape of at least a dozen TV news channels. No wonder the former deputy prime minister and current Leader of the Opposition has created for himself a credibility gap, not merely with the public at large but also within the ranks of the BJP. Nor is it merely coincidental that in the midst of the Kandhar controversy, the BJP general secretary, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, in a TV interview said that “99 per cent of the BJP workers were opposed to Advaniji’s remarks on Jinnah”.
To make matters worse, it is now being alleged that on that terrible day money also “changed hands” at the Kabul airport. Yet, one must have some sympathy with Mr. Advani. He rightly believed that the BJP’s surge in 1989 was due primarily to his original Ayodhya rath yatra. He has therefore been coveting the office of Prime Minister ever since but had to concede the superiority of Atalji’s claim. Even so, it was revealing that shortly before the 2004 Lok Sabha poll, an Advani acolyte, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, floated the idea of the party going to these elections under the “joint leadership” of the “Vikas Purush” Atalji and the “Loh Purush” Advaniji”, only to be slapped down by Mr. Vajpayee.
By the start of 2004, with “India shinning” – in their belief at least – BJP leaders were confident that they would win the Lok Sabha poll.Of course, as far back as 1951, Ivor Jernnings, arguably the greatest expert on the cabinet system, had acknowledged that the doctrine of primus inter pares (the Prime Minister being the first among equals) had gone by the board. A Prime Minister could easily become an “Imperial or dictatorial Prime Minister”, provided he or she could continue to command the support of a majority of the House of Commons. In the recent British history, Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson and Lady Margaret Thatcher are examples of what Jennings was talking about. In this country, Jawaharlal Nehru could have emulated their examples, but chose not to. Indira Gandhi did so, of course, indeed with a vengeance. But then, except during her 33 Page three months in the wilderness, she had two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, consisting of Congressmen who fell over each other in proclaiming undying loyalty to her.
This should also explain why P. V. Narasimha Rao’s occasional attempt to issue a diktat – such as his 1996 order to the Tamil Nadu unit of the party to stick to the alliance with Ms. Jayalalitha – failed. In this age of coalitions, a dictatorial Prime Minister would be a contradiction in terms. Against this backdrop it is regrettable, to say the least, that Mr. Advani, for reasons of his own, should have dealt a blow to the fundamental principle of the Cabinet’s collective responsibility, his subsequent retraction of sorts notwithstanding.
If he was appalled by the proposed exchange at Kandhar, why did he not resign and come out in the open? Whatever, his internal feelings remained within him. After it became clear on that traumatic night that the public reaction to what had happened at Kabul was hostile, Mr. Advani’s spin-doctors briefed journalists to the effect that the Deputy Prime Minister was “opposed” to the deal and had even “hinted” at resignation. Some of this stuff did find its way into print.
But Mr. Vajpayee had got wind o
f what was afoot – as he was bound to, unless the Intelligence Bureau and other agencies were sleeping – and he chastised his colleague in no uncertain terms. If, in spite of all this, Mr. Advani found it expedient to revert to making false claims, one can only sympathize with the BJP, which once used to boast of being a party with a difference.