Since politicians are generally
suspected of hiding their self-serving interest under homilies, it
is unlikely that there are many takers for L.K. Advani's claim
that his recent rath yatra - his sixth trademark venture - has
nothing to do with his prime ministerial ambition.
However, his purported goal may have already hit a few road bumps.
For instance, he had set off in something of a hurry to, first,
cash in on the momentum against corruption created by Anna Hazare
and, secondly, because of his belief that a government under siege
may bring the general elections forward.
Neither of the two expectations seems realistic at the moment.
While the earlier euphoria about Anna has been dissipated by the
revelations about the dubious activities of some of his close
supporters (and his own preference for flogging offenders), the
worst is apparently over for the government largely because of
failures of the civil activists.
But since the change of scene does not mean that Advani will
quietly withdraw to a retirement home for octogenarians, it is the
BJP which will now have to contend with a plethora of prime
ministerial aspirants in the party even if the contest is still
three years away.
Although BJP president Nitin Gadkari has said that a nominee can
be chosen in "a fraction of a second", it is obvious that the task
will not be easy. For a start, no one in the party can be in any
doubt that Advani is a serious candidate considering that he has
so emphatically rejected the BJP's efforts to sideline him by
making him the largely ornamental chairman of the parliamentary
party after he insisted on continuing as leader of the opposition
in the Lok Sabha till 2014.
But Advani is not the only one in the ring. If he hoisted the
anti-corruption banner to present his credentials, Narendra Modi
also suddenly announced his presence by resorting to the unlikely
ruse of staging a 'sadbhavna' (goodwill) show in aid of "social
harmony" - an objective for which the Gujarat chief minister was
not hitherto known.
But, like Anna's stumbles, Modi, too, has run into trouble with
the court cases against him, the police officer Sanjiv Bhatt's
allegations about the chief minister's complicity in the 2002
riots and the continuing denial of American visa for him, a snub
which does not enhance Gujarat's 'asmita' (self-respect) on which
Modi is so fond of harping.
It would, therefore, be reasonable to assume that Modi's sadbhavna
rally was a wasted effort because it might not propel him to the
frontline of the prime ministerial race. Besides, his tussles with
Gadkari are no secret, especially after the latter inducted an
apparatchik, who is Modi's bęte noire, into a position of
importance in the party. Since the move was apparently at the
behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), it is also
obvious that the pater familias of the Sangh Parivar is against
The scene has been further complicated by the faint hints that
Gadkari himself is not averse to throwing his hat into the ring.
His weight-reduction regimen and decision to contest a Lok Sabha
seat, most probably from his stronghold of Nagpur, have fuelled
speculations in this regard. His objective may be to stymie Advani
- and Modi. But, since he is known to have the RSS' backing, he
cannot be ruled out.
What this internal kerfuffle means is that the BJP is yet to
settle down. Unless it can sort out the leadership issue to the
satisfaction of Advani and Gadkari, not to mention Sushma Swaraj
and Arun Jaitley, who were the frontrunners before the rath yatri
and the party chief entered the field, the party is unlikely to be
seen as a credible alternative.
Its difficulties will be all the greater if the Congress can pull
itself together with a few more definitive steps like allowing
foreign investment in the retail sector, a move that has pleased
the "great Indian middle class", to quote Communist Party of India
(CPI) leader A.B. Bardhan's sarcastic compliment to the voting
prowess of the 250-million-strong section after the Left's
resounding defeat in 2009.
If the BJP missed the bus in 2004 because of the Gujarat riots, as
Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, and in 2009 because its prime
ministerial candidate, Advani, did not measure up to Vajpayee's
exacting standards, it may fall short yet again because of the
same problem - the absence of a leader of stature with pan-Indian
appeal. Although Advani has been modelling himself on Vajpayee by
posing as a moderate, he is not convincing, largely because of his
fiery past when he flew the Hindutva flag with great fervour.
More than personalities, however, the BJP's main problem lies in
the fact that it is simply not trusted by the minorities and the
liberal Hindus because it has been unable to shed its communal
image. As long as this unsavoury reputation remains, Delhi will
remain 'dur ast' (far away) for it.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at email@example.com