Debating India


Cupful Of Woes

Monday 30 May 2005, by BHAUMIK*Saba Naqvi

First Bhandari, then an angry NDA ally, some minor revolts and Advani’s own insecurities...

In May last year, the BJP went reeling into a sort of freefall as it faced the terrible reality of defeat in the general elections. A year later, the patient shows no signs of recovery. On the contrary, he seems to have developed several complications. This May too has been hot and miserable for the party. First, veteran leader Sunder Singh Bhandari, who was Gujarat governor at the time of the post-Godhra riots, launched a scathing attack on the BJP and its handling of the crisis (see box). He was also severely critical of the BJP leadership and the direction the party was heading in.

Bhandari remains unfazed even a week after creating a minor storm.

Talking to Outlook, he said, "There is nothing I have said that I retract. Where am I critical? The situation is in front of people. The cadres agree with me." He continues to be scathing about Advani: "If the party was run on the basis of the Constitution, there would be no problem. Advani is so insecure that the process of collective thinking has stopped. Those in the party no longer speak up in front of him. It is anti-party for one man to think he can do everything. Like Advani, Modi’s behaviour is also autocratic and anti-party."

Adding fuel to the fire that Bhandari stirred, a senior leader of a key BJP ally, the JD(U), echoed the criticism of Narendra Modi and the Vajpayee government’s inept handling of the Gujarat riots. The chairman of the JD (U) parliamentary board, Sharad Yadav, told Outlook Saptahik this week that the Central and state governments of the day had failed to contain the post-Godhra riots. "I have always felt strongly about what Bhandari has said now. I spoke twice to the prime minister (A.B. Vajpayee) during the riots but from his approach, it didn’t appear that he would echo the NDA’s sentiments or strictly implement its agenda," Yadav said.

He further said he and Chandrababu Naidu had decided to put pressure on Vajpayee but that the latter developed cold feet at the last moment. "I and TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu also discussed it (the riots) and decided to go for a fight to the finish but he (Naidu) issued a separate statement and it could not proceed further. If there is anything we feel sorry over in the NDA, it is Gujarat," Yadav told the magazine. Incidentally, he was all praise for the upa government for "reducing religious tensions" which he described as a "major" achievement. "The communal tensions that flared up as a result of the Gujarat riots and elements like Praveen Togadia have been checked," he said.

A few days before Yadav spoke out, the BJP was confronted by a revolt of sorts by former Jharkhand CM and the party’s sole Lok Sabha member from the state, Babulal Marandi, who threatened to quit the party after a new state unit president was appointed.

Then, in a gesture that some would say amounts to masochism, party president L.K. Advani’s minders put out reports that he was "actively considering" the rehabilitation of Uma Bharati. This when the lady, in the course of the past year, has been rude to him before live TV cameras, has publicly attacked Venkaiah Naidu, routinely abused Pramod Mahajan as a "dalal" and made several insinuations about Arun Jaitley, whom she blames for pushing her out of Madhya Pradesh.

Most of her contemporaries see her as the single individual responsible for giving the entire second-rung leadership of the BJP a bad name. Even Sushma Swaraj has stated at several inner party meetings that indiscipline should not be tolerated. Says a BJP vice-president, "The fact that Advani should even consider taking Uma back shows that he is losing control of the party. It is like taking a time bomb into your house and hoping it won’t explode."

A year into defeat, the BJP’s fundamental problem seems to be that it is engaged in a frenzy of activity without taking a pause to plan its destiny.

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