By R. Balashankar
The BJP has to recover, recoup, rediscover and restructure. Shri Lal Krishna Advani, the leader of the Opposition is the new BJP president who has to undertake this four-fold task. The new party chief, who assumed office on Tuesday, October 19, is to be formally crowned at the massive National Council meet in Delhi, scheduled for October 27.
It often happens in the life of any vibrant political movement that it gets back into a shell, reviews its strategy and reinvents itself. The BJP has done precisely this. There was breathtaking speed, no-nonsense determination in the changeover. There were jubilations, relief and a re-kindling of hope in the air. Party workers across the country welcomed the change. The BJP is no more the party it was either in 1984 or 1993, the two earlier occasions when Advani took the mantle.
To say that Advani is the man with the magic touch for the BJP is only part of the story. In the last nine months Fortune turned a full circle for both the outgoing party chief Shri Venkaiah Naidu and the BJP. He assumed charge for a full three-year term in the first week of February 2004 on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections. The unexpected reversal the BJP suffered in the polls followed by the recent Maharashtra state Assembly debacle created an atmosphere of disaffection, disarray and defeatism in the party. Naidu has put in his paper because of personal reasons but many considered his resignation as an admission of the need to rejuvenate the party into a more focused political earthmover. Unlike the earlier occasions, the party is now faced with a lack of coherence on its ideological position. It had acquired a lackadaisical, easygoing profile. Advani has always been the man for trouble shooting, ideological articulation, organisational aggression and electoral combat, whenever the party was in dire need of leadership. He is a man of action and ?lan.
Soon after Pt. Deendayalji'stragic demise when the Jan Sangh was faced with very unpredictable turn of dissention it was Advani who was chosen to lead the party. Then he took charge from none other than Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee at the Kanpur session of the then Jan Sangh in 1972. That campaign ended only after the Janata Party fighting the Congress Emergency regime established the rule of law and democracy in the country. Later, on the issue of duel membership, the BJP was formed, after parting ways with the Janata Party.
The second political challenge before Advani came immediately after the BJP rout in 1984, in the aftermath of the Indira Gandhi assassination, anti-Sikh riots and the principled BJP stand for the protection of the Sikhs.
There is a historic background to Shri Advani'srise to leadership. It was on the wings of the most popular mass movement India has ever seen that Advani emerged on the national scene.
The BJP had to pay heavily, for, the country was in an emotional turmoil. Advani took the reins again from Shri Vajapayee and brick by brick he built the party, for the first time effectively arguing the pan-Indian nationalist concerns in a politically sound lexicon, undisputable theoretical finesse, immaculate strategic artistry and spirited idealistic fervour. It was a scintillating political experience to watch Advani bombarding the fortresses of pseudo-secularism; minorityism and vote bank politics pursued by the Congress and its cohort regional outfits. This catapulted the party to the centre stage. It became an arbiter of power in Delhi.
Advani has always made an interesting political copy. By 1989, Advani had launched the BJP on the highway to national power, propelled swiftly and effectively by the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. There is a historic background to Shri Advani'srise to leadership. It was on the wings of the most popular mass movement India has ever seen that Advani emerged on the national scene. Thus for the last three decades Advani was the most dominant face of the BJP after Shri Vajpayee. He had at times forced an ideological polarisation on the basic tenets of Indian nationalism.
The BJP under Advani had championed national interest. From a party, which was almost completely wiped out in 1984, the BJP today is the main opposition. There were factors other than personality of the leader, which helped the party'ssuccess. But, there is little doubt that Advani'soverall image is the single most significant factor.
His strength lies in his mien. His clarity of vision, precise statements and astute sense of timing?it is his ability to project a rational, reasonable and well-meaning image that has helped the party regain lost ground. One need not attack minorities, one has to be eminently sensitive to their concerns, but pandering to appeasement is different. If a party starts thinking that taking strong stand against terrorism, uncompromising on territorial integrity, unambiguous on Pakistan, it will be perceived as anti-Muslim, then it is pandering to minorities.
Making the party the first choice of the majority of Indians is the challenge now. In 1984, the BJP did not face a credibility crisis. It was untested. Today the party has to prove that the toils of lakhs of its supporters did not go waste. Sections of its cadre are not entirely happy with it. The VHP has its own reservations. It is for the party to convince and win them over. BJP now needs ideological clarity and strategic suppleness more than ever.