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Kyunki BJP kabhi different thi
December 16, 2004
This time last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party would have responded with cold contempt to a television soap actress' demand that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi should resign because of the post-Godhra riots of 2002. Indeed, her threat to 'fast unto death' till Narendra Modi took to sackcloth and ashes would have raised twitters of derision.
Not so this year. It required the combined efforts of BJP's supreme leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Party President L K Advani, General Secretary Pramod Mahajan and leader of the legislature party in Maharashtra Gopinath Munde to get Smriti Irani, whose claim to fame is her role as the 'bahu' in the popular television soap Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, to retract her demand and recant her dire threat.
If Smriti Irani's public denunciation of Narendra Modi was a bizarre act of political tomfoolery, no less inexplicable is the apparent desperation of the BJP leadership to bring her to heel. Ever since taking charge as party president, Advani has repeatedly stressed that the party is above -- and more important than -- individuals. Had he really meant this, then he would have simply run his pen across her name on the list of National Executive members and asked the cashier at party headquarters to refund her two-rupee primary membership fee.
Instead, it was all systems go to secure a retraction, which, when it came, did not sound very convincing; on the contrary, Smriti Irani, through some deft and subtle use of her histrionic abilities, made it abundantly clear that she did not mean a word of what she read out from the prepared statement.
This naturally raises the question: Why did the party have to go to such extent, having gone to the extreme of taking disciplinary action against Uma Bharati for striking out in front of television cameras? The answer to this question would lie in a multitude of questions that the BJP would find extremely difficult, if not downright embarrassing, to answer.
For instance, why was Smriti Irani, a political greenhorn whose sole contribution to the BJP is her defeat as the party's candidate in Delhi's Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituency in this year's general election, made a member of the national executive? What were the compulsions to include the likes of Smriti Irani and Vijaya Shanthi and exclude seasoned veterans? And since when have the BJP's national executive members started inaugurating jewellery stores and launching fashion accessories?
With the ascendance of 'flatterers and chatterers,' a term often used by Kushabhau Thakre, quintessential self-effacing, no-nonsense pracharak that he was, to scornfully describe the flotsam and jetsam that gravitated towards the BJP during its years in power at the Centre in the hope of partaking of the spoils of office, the party leadership has become desperately dependent on showboys and showgirls. Never mind vacuous slogans like 'Back to basics;' the party leadership is putty in the hands of individuals who would be hard-pressed to spell ideology, leave alone commitment and conviction.
A direct consequence of this is the amazing erosion of the authority that leaders like Vajpayee and Advani wielded till not so long ago. Hence the sorry spectacle of Uma Bharti not only talking back at Advani but flouncing out from a meeting chaired by him in the full glare of cameras and journalists. Hence, too, Uma Bharti's subsequent attempts to manoeuvre the situation to her advantage by obsequiously apologising to Advani, even while rudely cocking a snook at the party and maligning her former colleagues in 'secret' letters to the BJP president that reach him only after she has ensured that copies have been provided to journalists.
There is, of course, merit in such cynical politics of manipulation. Witness the softening of the BJP leadership's stance on Uma Bharti, who is nothing more than a 'mukhota' of a former party general secretary now living in disgrace and whose full time job is to draft her craftily maudlin letters, or the haste with which a sulking Madan Lal Khurana, who of late has taken a shine to getting himself photographed in the company of Congress leaders, has been mollified. Witness also the sly manner in which attempts are being made to pin the blame for the embarrassment caused by Smriti Irani on Pramod Mahajan because she is said to be his protégé.
M Venkaiah Naidu has taken time off from 'family commitments' for which he gave up the party presidency to explain to journalists, 'She (Smriti Irani) has no proper understanding (of politics).' Which, of course, is not only tantamount to casting more than an aspersion on the 'political understanding' of her alleged mentor, but also questioning that of those who have seen enough ability in her to be declared a 'party leader.' Who cares if all this amounts to reductio ad absurdum?
Or, for that matter, that the BJP, which now seeks to make peace with malcontents and opportunists and places a premium on flatterers and chatterers, is the inheritor of a political legacy that laid great stress on the necessity to not only be seen, but also function, as a 'party with a difference.' Pandit Mauli Chandra Sharma, president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was expelled on the mere suspicion that he was hobnobbing with Congress leaders. Professor Balraj Madhok, the shining star of Hindu politics, was banished into lifelong political wilderness.
Meanwhile, for the second consecutive session of Parliament, the BJP has abysmally failed to play the role of a robust Opposition. Party MPs have failed to show up for parliamentary discussions on the specious plea of attending marriages in their constituencies, ignoring the Leader of Opposition's directive with impunity.
The UPA's flawed policies on internal security and foreign relations have gone virtually uncontested; bread-and-butter issues like galloping inflation and mounting budget deficit have been reduced to populist agitprop lasting all of half-a-day. The BJP is listless, both inside and outside Parliament. The leadership, seemingly suffering from sleeping sickness, is clueless about how to kick-start the stalled party organisation.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and all that Prince Hamlet can do is wring his hands in despair.