They Want: Advani!                 Virendra Kapoor
       March 28, 2002

Enough of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, they have begun to say in the Sangh Parivar, let's have more of L K Advani.

The immediate reason for this is, yes, the BJP's slide in electoral fortunes. Now there are many who believe that only Advani, now the Union home minister, can 'restore confidence in the party.'

"The BJP has been adrift for nearly four years," this group says. "It is now indistinguishable from the Congress."

Prime Minister Vajpayee's candidate for BJP president was Bangaru Laxman. He, however, was obliged to step down after the Tehelka expose.

His successor Jana Krishnamurthy, though a fine human being with sterling qualities of head and heart, does not really measure up to the task of heading a national party, many insiders feel.

And so, the bigwigs in the Sangh Parivar -- notably, senior RSS officials -- have veered round to the view that Krishnamurthy must be replaced, pronto.

As a first step towards that, he was rewarded with a Rajya Sabha membership last week. Though Krishnamurthy has denied he is stepping down, sources say that is precisely what he will do.

The trouble with the BJP, according to political pundits, is that it doesn't have much of a leadership pool. For all practical purposes, Vajpayee and Advani have ruled it for close to 40 years.

Significantly, though Vajpayee is the party's more acceptable face, it was under Advani that the BJP notched up major electoral successes.

As for Advani, it is no secret he is tired of playing minister and would like to return to party work. But Vajpayee is not ready to allow his Number 2 to leave.

The reasons for that are: one, Advani as a full-time BJP president could change the present equation between the party and the government, with the former having to play a subservient role to the latter, and, two, with the government's popularity waning, Advani's departure could leave all the blame at the PM's door while the home minister, as party chief, could get away unblemished.

He wants it both ways

They had insisted on foisting him as India's envoy at large in the United States. We mean Bhishma K Agnihotri of course.

Agnihotri was determined to make the most of his proximity to the BJP leaders in power.

But he did not anticipate the hurdles he would confront in representing India while being a US citizen. He can well arm-twist the RSS-BJP leaders, but not the Americans who refuse to relax rules for his benefit.

Thus, they want him to surrender his coveted green card if he wants to enjoy the diplomatic status that India is only too keen to bestow on him.

That, of course, is not how Agnihotri wants to play it. But the US is firm: Green card or diplomatic status, not both.

Thanks to this he has been denied diplomatic status.

The American argument being, if your boss is not a diplomat, how can we grant you that status?

The upshot of all this confusion is that Agnihotri has not been paid a penny by way of salary to date, though he has travelled at the Indian taxpayers' expense quite a bit. Currently, he is on a 'Bharat Darshan,' a privilege routinely accorded to an ambassador-designate.

Punishing indiscretion

Recently, an old All India Radio hand invited a couple of senior scribes for a discussion on Ayodhya under the current affairs rubric -- and since it was Ayodhya, the Prime Minister's Office was quick to switch on the radio.

During the discussion, one of the scribes badmouthed the Sangh Parivar. The PMO couldn't do a thing about the journo. But it ensured that the AIR official who had moderated the discussion was immediately despatched to the doghouse.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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