Debating India

INDIA

Out of power, BJP cuts Atal down to size

S BALAKRISHNAN

Tuesday 22 June 2004, by BALAKRISHNAN*S.

MUMBAI: Keeping in line with the RSS strategy, the national executive of the BJP, which is meeting here, has begun the process of ridding itself of the personality cult of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Until the recent Lok Sabha elections, the party had projected him as the tallest leader of India on par with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. In the wake of the rout suffered in the polls, the party has decided to give greater importance to the organisation than to an individual.

"We thought that by projecting one leader (like the Congress) it will be easier to mobilise votes. But, in retrospect we feel that it was mistake since the statements made by Vajpayee were perceived to be the party position. In fact, Vajpayee caused enormous embarrassment on a few occasions by expressing his views which were not in sync with the party position. His recent utterance against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is a classic case," a party source said.

BJP president Venkiah Naidu, in his presidential address, made a veiled reference to the personality cult when he emphasised that "the virus of individualism has to be got rid off. Each one of us must realise that we are what we are because of the party."

Naidu virtually made a frontal attack on Vajpayee by candidly stating that "our performance fell way below our expectations."

In the past the leadership had talked of not fulfilling the people’s expectations. But on Tuesday Naidu openly stated that the Vajpayee government failed to measure up to the party’s expectations.

The RSS is particularly sore with Vajpayee for targeting Modi, who is seen to be faithfully following the Sangh line and reflecting its world view. By openly talking of a change in leadership in Gujarat, Vajpayee appears to have unwittingly given the impression that he is challenging the hardcore Hindutva ideology, which Modi has come to symbolise.

By referring to the old Jan Sangh days and talking of going "back to basics", Naidu was clearly extolling the RSS viewpoint.

Incidentally, the huge hoarding which provided the backdrop to the BJP’s daily briefing at a suburban hotel carries pictures of Deen Dayal Upadhya and Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, founders of the erstwhile Jan Sangh.

The pictures of Vajpayee and L K Advani are conspicuous by their absence.

If the supporters of Vajpayee in the party had not got the message clear, Naidu stressed that there was "no question of being apologetic about Hindutva."

Significantly, Naidu has entrusted a senior and hardcore RSS activist - Prof Bal Apte - with the task of preparing a training programme so that a new level of young leadership can be created.

The choice of Prof Apte is interesting, because he is the man most trusted by the RSS in the BJP.

P.S.

in The Times of India, Tuesday, June 22, 2004.

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