Too many cooks are spoiling this broth

“As soon as BJP is done with its own leadership, it might think of providing some for the nation,” my colleague Madhavan Narayanan (@madversity) tweeted on Friday, hitting the nail bang on its head.

Elsewhere, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah similarly asked the BJP to first ’set its own house in order’ and then start to worry about others, including J&K – the party has decided to launch an agitation against the latest report by the interlocutors appointed by the Government of India to negotiate a return to normalcy in this border state.

Well, Kashmir has been never as peaceful as it seems at the moment and no political party in this country seems to be floundering as much as the BJP is obviously doing. So it might be time that the BJP sat up and took notice of the general sentiment of the people – for if any political party is capable of living in a fool’s paradise, it is this one (See my column on Wednesday, May 23, 2012: for more) . So who’s the face of the BJP, who’s the undisputed leader – LK Advani? Narendra Modi? Nitin Gadkari? Sushma Swaraj? Mohan Bhagwat? Perhaps all of them put together, ’severally as well as individually’, as some would say. Or none at all.

The party’s national executive meet just concluded in Bombay holds a mirror up to its leaders, just in case they had missed their reflection before. My good friend Nitin Gadkari seems damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Pacifying Narendra Modi meant sacrificing trusted lieutenant Sanjay Joshi but that was a matter easily resolved by making the latter his personal campaign manager at the 2014 elections which Gadkari plans to contest. But how does he resolve the problem with Advani? I believe it is not just the last-minute decision of former Karnataka chief minister B S Yedyurappa, who has been raging against Advani quite publicly, to attend the Bombay conclave that compelled Advani to give the concluding public rally a go-by. I notice that he wasn’t present even when the party passed the all-important resolution to amend its constitution – that amendment was meant to give Gadkari an unprecednted second term as president. And much as I admire Gadkari’s skills as a public works minister in Maharshtra (he built several flyovers), sorting out such complicated party matters where nearly all leaders worth their weight in gold are rather weightier (metaphorically speaking, of course) than Gadkari himself cannot be either an easy or enviable task for anyone.

When his name was first proposed for president, I remember Gadkari was rather disbelieving and told me, “I don’t think they will make me (the president). I am a different kind of no-nonsense type of person. I will not tolerate any shenanigans in the party and they know I will show them the door.”

Sadly, he has had to tolerate every bit of nonsense from all quarters, has had to give in on more than one occasion to the party’s regional satraps and has been unable to win the confidence of most of the party stalwarts, including, I have reason to believe, Modi’s and Advani’s, no matter their public posturing.

I felt very sorry for the man when, despite his best efforts to forge public unity among the warring leaders (and succeeding with both Modi and Yedyurappa), he was still outwitted by Advani and Sushma Swaraj whose actions of absenting themselves from the concluding rally can be seen as nothing but a snub — not just to Gadkari but also the RSS who seems to be pulling the strings on this score.

Gadkari is a well-meaning man but I believe the BJP, at this juncture, needed more than just an amiable and biddable party president, who seems to be pulling (and being pulled) in all directions by his party men. Gadkari, of course, cannot be the face of the BJP when it goes to the polls in 2014, the RSS does not want Advani any more and none of the known faces in the BJP want to accord that place of honour to Narendra Modi.

The BJP is doing no better than the Congress at the hustings but contrast their divided house against that of their main rivals to the throne in New Delhi: whatever their electoral record, the Congress is, at least, able to extract the kind of discipline from its party men (including former chief ministers under investigation for corruption, unlike Yedyurappa in Karnataka) that we had begun to expect of and from the BJP. Whatever the Congressmen might think of Dr Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, we see no public spats or insults as Yedyurappa has been heaping upon his party high command, including, of course, Advani. Also, remember how Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar had at one time referred to Advani as a `rancid pickle’ whose time had come to be thrown away? I just cannot imagine anybody in the Congress saying that of any of their leaders or getting away with it, even if they do. They would certaily not have been reappointd as chief minister, even had they won the election for the party. The BJP, though, seems to have little choice. Moreover, if the Congress is playing games somewhere like the BJP obviously did recently in Rajasthan, they have then, at least, managed to keep it under wraps. We haven’t seen the Congress leadership giving in to blackmail by its regional cheiftains.

I wonder if their long association with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has influenced the party’s thinking – that they need have no positive programmes of their own to win elections. The Sena always gains by the mistakes of its opponents. There is not a single election which has brought them to power under their own steam. When it has no emotional issue to exploit, as has been happening over the past decade, they are unable to get past the post by a long distance. And if they won the civic polls in Bombay earlier this year, that was only because Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan gave them good cause to enrage and unite their voters by calling Bal Thackeray a man past his prime who would be rendered `irrelevant’ after those polls. But does the BJP have similar appeal?

Now, though the UPA has enormous problems at the Centre, somehow all its opposing elements seem to be running out of steam. The BJP has not gained from its rhetoric against corruption (indeed, how can it hope to convince the people when many of their stalwarts are themselves under the scanner?); Anna Hazare’s movement has run out of steam and is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh are not really at war with each other as the BJP had hoped, predicting collapse; they have been unable to prove much against Union Home Minister P Chidambaram who they have made their prime target, while PC has been steadily chipping away at the saffronisation of the institutions that should not have been so corrupted while the BJP was in power for six years and they are unable to do a thing about it.

I am sure all in the BJP are wishing that Atal Behari Vajpyee was still around. I recall the late Pramod Mahajan poking enormous fun at Sonia Gandhi during the 1998-2004 election campaigns, likening her to a `goongi gudiya’ (dumb doll) and underlining that she was a ‘reader rather than leader’ for she tended to read her speeches rather than speak extempore. “The Congress has no better leaders than Monica Lewinsky,” he had said awfully and very contemptuously (he got into enormous trouble for that remark from his own party leaders and had to withdraw it in haste). “Why should then any one ever take the party seriously?”

Perhaps the Congress has/had no better leaders. But a leader they have always had. Quite a far cry from its rival: I am quite unable to fathom whether the BJP is hydra-headed or has no head at all. In either case it does not really make for a wholesome entity. More’s the pity!

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