Jan 12, 2009

India - BJP’s fortunes are still up in the air

Pankaj Vohra

A civil war has apparently broken out within the Sangh Parivar with its senior-most member and former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat raising doubts over the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate L.K. Advani’s ability in carrying all the alliance partners with him during the 2009 Parliamentary polls. Shekhawat has also questioned the credentials of the BJP party president Rajnath Singh by stating that he was not even born when he (Shekhawat) contested his first election.

Shekhawat’s broadside assumes political significance for two reasons. Its timing and the calibrated manner of his attack on
the current BJP leadership which comprises many “non state’’ operators with no support amongst the masses. These are the people who have been influencing party’s programmes and strategy thanks to Advani’s patronage.

In fact, the former Vice-President who is senior in age and electoral politics to both Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee has raised issues, which were some time ago also flagged by former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana. While Khurana was expelled (and later re-admitted) and marginalised, there is little the BJP can do except feel embarrassed by Shekhawat’s onslaught.

What is also worrying the current BJP leadership is that the issues raised by the former Vice-President are finding support among party cadres in various states. His anguish over the party’s deviation from its basic values is shared by many. His attack on Advani just before the polls could not have come without support from some quarters within the RSS. While meeting mediapersons, the former Vice-President took care to have the portrait of the second RSS chief Guru Golwalkar in the background to emphasise his ideological beliefs even though he is not a member of any party, having quit the BJP before assuming the office of Vice-President.

Shekhawat is peeved with Advani as he feels that by making him first the nominee for Vice-President and then the President, the BJP stalwart had forced him out of active politics. He feels that this was done with the objective of getting him out of the PM’s race and also to promote some of his favourites in his home state, Rajasthan. The BJP leadership clear involvment in selling tickets, which led to the defeat in Rajasthan as also a corruption scandal worth Rs 22,000 crores during Vasundhara Raje’s regime, have helped him get back at the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee.

He also appears to be peeved over the admission into the BJP of Janardhan Singh Gehlot who, as a Congress candidate, had defeated him in the early seventies in the only election he lost in his political career. By stating that he may contest the Lok Sabha polls from Jaipur, Shekhawat has sent a warning to the Sangh Parivar that the question of the NDA’s leadership was still wide open.

His calculations obviously arise from the belief that since the entire NDA had supported him for Vice-Presidentship in an election that he won, and later for Presidentship, his credentials to head the alliance were far greater than those of Advani. He is also not reluctant to play the caste card as well use his inter-personal relations with leaders of other parties to emphasise that his support base was across party lines. In the Vice-President’s elections, many Rajput leaders in the Congress too had voted for him in preference to the party’s official candidate Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Shekhawat’s plight can be best described as that of a head of family who, after allowing his children to be guided by his brother, suddenly finds they have deviated from the family values and, therefore, decides to take up the head’s status once again to alter the situation. He is most upset that “non state’’ leaders who cannot win from any state in a people’s election had assumed such important positions at the expense of senior leaders who had been pushed in to the background under Advani’s leadership’’.

By throwing his hat into the ring, the former Vice-President appears to be aiming at wooing parties and leaders who were both within and outside the NDA and UPA.

The new developments are likely to have an impact on the BJP’s national executive meeting to be held in Nagpur in February. And the way Shekhawat has challenged the current leadership, the issue of the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate might well be thrown open once again. Between us.

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