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Cornered Joshi looking for a face-saver
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | September 24, 2003 02:20 IST
Tensions are rising within the Bharatiya Janata Party on account of Murli Manohar Joshi's resignation as Union human resources development minister following the adverse ruling on September 19 of a Rae Bareilly court in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
Joshi appears to have become the fall guy in the Ayodhya drama. And, thanks to his own miscalculation, even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is finding it difficult to help him today.
Joshi never imagined a scenario in which Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani would be let off and he would get trapped in the Ayodhya case with the others. Now he has become a victim of his own bravado, giving rise to a new conflict within the BJP.
Joshi has been wanting to head the BJP for long. His supporters saw in his resignation a chance to push the idea. But to Joshi's chagrin, hardly any national-level BJP leader has rallied around him after he submitted his resignation. His Raisina Road residence in New Delhi saw no visitors from the party when the Rae Bareilly court's order came.
Rumours of Joshi's possible next moves met with an instant reaction within the party. An informal front of second-rung leaders like general secretaries Pramod Mahajan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley was formed. And Mahajan and BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu kept repeating on television that it was against the party's policy to resign.
Joshi, naturally, saw a political conspiracy in these statements. His argument was that when he had already told the press on September 18, on the eve of the Rae Bareilly court's order, that he would quit if the court were to indict him, where was the need for BJP leaders to meet the next morning at Advani's residence and announce a contrary policy?
Though the former physics professor is now looking desperately for an honourable solution to his predicament, time is not in his favour. A new equation has emerged within the BJP: Pramod Mahajan has once again won Advani over.
Mahajan, who does not usually cloak his political positions, has been keeping a low profile lately. He does not have too good a relationship with Venkaiah Naidu, though both are working together on the party's pre-election strategies in four Congress-ruled states. But Joshi's resignation has brought all second-rung leaders, including Mahajan, firmly behind Naidu.
On September 19, Mahajan was in charge of handling the media at Advani's residence. He turned up early in the morning, well before anyone else. Since the rise of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Mahajan is known within the party to be opposed to the use of Hindutva as an election plank. Hence, he is backing Advani at this juncture when Joshi will try to save his image by projecting himself as a martyr for the Ram temple.
According to indications from BJP headquarters, Joshi's resignation will eventually be rejected by Prime Minister Vajpayee on his return from the United States. But by then the subtle campaign against Advani by disgruntled elements within the party will have intensified, with these elements rallying around the senior politician from Allahabad.
Advani has three reasons to worry.
Second, while defending themselves in court, counsel for Joshi, Uma Bharti and other leaders may, even if unintentionally, shake up Advani's legal position. An internal assessment by the BJP believes Advani's acquittal weakens the case against the rest.
BJP politicians are already talking about how seriously Advani took the legal charges against him and how his acquittal has rejuvenated him. His lawyers have submitted hundreds of press clippings from various Indian language newspapers collected painstakingly from all over the country to prove that even before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Advani never spoke against Muslims or incited Hindus against them; he only spoke of building a Ram temple.
The third complication is that the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is under the Cabinet secretariat, will have to decide whether to contest Advani's acquittal. (When Advani was made deputy prime minister, the personnel department of the Government of India was shifted to his office, but the CBI was shifted from that department to the Cabinet secretariat, which is headed by the Cabinet secretary and reports to the prime minister.)
Not surprisingly, hectic parleys are going on behind closed doors in the Sangh Parivar to find an amicable, please-all solution to the tangle caused by Joshi's resignation.
With inputs from R Prema
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