Wednesday, 19 June 2013 | Rajesh Singh |
LK Advani commanded the BJP even as it steadily lost allies over the past few years, and ended up with no more than four major partners from the earlier two dozen. How does this square up with his present talk?
On the day the Janata Dal (United) withdrew from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, veteran BJP leader LK Advani reportedly communicated to party president Rajnath Singh that the NDA will stand dissolved if Mr Narendra Modi becomes the party’s prime ministerial choice. The party patriarch’s concern for the coalition is touching. His anguish is justified because he along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr George Fernandes had painstakingly built the NDA. What is difficult to digest is the problem which he has identified. If we are to believe Mr Advani, the NDA will flourish with Mr Modi’s elimination from the prime ministerial race. But the Gujarat Chief Minister has only in recent weeks come centre-stage. In the last nine years before that, under Mr Advani’s unquestioned leadership, the numerical strength of the NDA has steadily gone down, reaching less than half a dozen partners now. How so?
The NDA comprised nearly two dozen parties at the peak of its existence, which was during 1998-2004. But immediately before and after it lost the election in May 2004 and Mr Vajpayee had to quit active politics on health grounds, the numbers began to dwindle steadily and continuously. Mr Advani was at the helm all through the months when allies, one after the other, began to desert the coalition. The glue that his camp followers today believe he is to check the dissolution of the NDA, simply looked on helplessly as the coalition got emaciated. Mr Advani commanded the BJP even as the alliance led by the party ended up with no more than four major outfits from the 24 it earlier had. It is strange that nobody holds him responsible for this massive downfall of the NDA, while he and his apologists are ever so willing to slam Mr Modi for the loss of just one partner in the form of the JD(U). If the BJP-led alliance indeed collapses, a large part of the blame must go to Mr Advani who had for all these years failed to stem the downslide.
We don’t have to go as far back as 2004 even. In 2009, the 11-year old tie between the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal collapsed. Since then, the saffron party has been reduced to a fringe player in Odisha. This happened just before the general election in which Mr Advani was the clear and declared candidate of the party (and the NDA) for prime ministership. Mr Advani’s camp followers may now argue that the BJD left because of differences of opinion over seat-sharing and not on Mr Advani’s acceptability. The reason is immaterial; what matters is that the ‘charismatic’ Mr Advani could not persuade BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik from saying an unceremonious goodbye.
Just as Mr Advani could do little but rub his palms in frustration as yet another partner, the Telugu Desam Party, quit the National Democratic Alliance. TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu is reported to have said in a recent interview that he had committed a “grave political mistake” in aligning with the BJP-led NDA. He was talking of the BJP then effectively led by Mr Advani, and not by Mr Modi. There are other such instances; Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is another example where Mr Advani’s stature and charm failed to work.
So, Mr Advani is not the bond that can keep the NDA together. He was not before; he is not now. What will keep the NDA alive and kicking is a good electoral performance by the BJP. Are the veteran leader’s camp followers seriously claiming that he can take the party to victory in the coming Lok Sabha election? For argument’s sake, even if he reclaims his undisputed position and checkmates Mr Modi, all that can be achieved as a result of the development is that the JD(U) may walk back into the NDA fold. But the BJP will be the loser. What then will the coalition do? Sit in the Opposition for five more years and gloat over its unity, while the Congress lets loose more of its misrule over the people!
Meanwhile, Mr Advani is getting oxygen from the unlikeliest of quarters. When cornered in a television debate over so vociferously supporting a ‘secular’ Mr Advani when the latter is known to have unleashed the most ‘divisive’ politics in the country in recent decades with his Ayodhya Rath Yatra, a senior JD(U) leader weakly explained that Mr Advani was now a “different” person. He did not elaborate on the changes that had come in the veteran leader, but let us guess: He has sobered with age; does not any more speak the communal word; has become more inclusive; is no longer the aggressive Hindutva poster boy. But all that is applicable to the Gujarat Chief Minister as well. Not once since 2002 has Mr Modi resorted to communal rabble-rousing; he refrains from talking of Hindutva from public platforms; he has successfully initiated the politics of inclusive development in his home State. So, how is he different from Mr Advani for the JD(U) and for such other ‘secularists’ in the BJP? The only difference is that the latter is far more senior. But is seniority alone the key to acceptability?
Mr Modi is also different because he is seen as a formidable challenge to a bunch of senior BJP leaders whose well-entrenched interests can come under siege. Because they want to protect their turf, they are willing to align with just about anybody — even with the one who has led the party to debacle once and will surely do yet again, if given a chance.
Let alone having failed to check the NDA from being reduced to a puny outfit from a healthy two dozen, Mr Advani crafted the defeat of his own BJP in Karnataka. For all his devotion to the ideals of Deendayal Upadhyay and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, he led a cabal that supported the shenanigans of the tainted and infamous Reddy brothers of Bellary against then BJP leader and Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. The Advani camp hounded Mr Yeddyurappa out of the chief ministership and then from the party itself. If the former Chief Minister faced corruption charges, the Reddy brothers were no saints either. Why then did Mr Advani lend his heft to a blatantly partisan game of inner-party politics? The end result is this: The BJP faced a humiliating rout in the recently held Assembly election and the Congress seized power.
Again, the political prude that Mr Advani is, he saw to it that Mr Nitin Gadkari lost the presidentship of the BJP when it became difficult for the party to defend him against allegations that surfaced over certain business dealings of his companies. Of course, Mr Gadkari had to go. But what prompted Mr Advani to suddenly push for the same Mr Gadkari only a few months later as a counter to Mr Modi? The taint no longer mattered!
Mr Advani is a tall leader and his statements are nothing short of being grand, even when they are mundane. But he is losing space within the party largely due to his own obstinacy and partly because of the fact that his golden era is well and truly over. If only he could gracefully reconcile to these realities…