Wednesday, September 02, 2009

If only Advani had...


[For an expanded version, with insider details of Advani-Vajpayee and Advani-Jaswant relations, see my column Coffee Break in Sunday Pioneer.]
These are not happy times for L K Advani. Colleagues in the BJP who were in total awe of Advani and owe their rise in the party as well as in politics to him have turned bitter critics. Fawning journalists who would call Advani’s office incessantly for an ‘exclusive’ interview or felt privileged to be invited for a cup of tea with him are now busy writing his obituary or ridiculing him pitilessly. The South Delhi commentariat, which has arrogated to itself the task of thinking for the masses, would want us to believe that five decades of public life can be summed up in 33 minutes and 47 seconds of discussion as was witnessed last Monday on NDTV.

When I met him on Tuesday morning, he looked his usual affable self. But his eyes reflected a sense of pain and despair. For a while we talked about books. Advani is a voracious reader although, unlike many of his critics, he does not flaunt intellectual pretensions.

The conversation meandered to what’s happening in the BJP and Advani sounded both upset and pained. “This is not the party I knew… it has changed so much,” he said wistfully. It has changed in many ways.

Thirteen years ago, when Advani was party president, the BJP projected itself as an ‘alternative’ to the Congress not merely in terms of political ideology but also policy and programme. Few people would know about it, and fewer in today’s BJP would care to recall, that he and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were constantly thinking in terms of ideas to craft an alternative agenda of governance. Vajpayee was the big picture man – “We should change the system, otherwise governance cannot change” – while Advani would think in terms of nuts and bolts, the small details, of how to change the system.

Today those who aspire to take charge of the party have neither the time nor the inclination to indulge in ideational thinking. Rhetoric has come to replace crafting of agenda. Any serious effort to engage them in discussing alternative policy ideas fails because they find it boring. It’s easier to outsource that task to lobbies and pressure groups: They come up with ‘alternative policies’ and these are then adopted as party objectives.

Advani was deeply pained about Jaswant Singh’s vituperative personal attacks against him. “He was in the party for 30 years, during which time for nearly 28 years he was an MP. He has held every possible post except that of party president and Prime Minister. Yet he now brushes aside his association with the party as if it does not amount to anything.”

On Kandahar, he sounded distraught that media was making a mountain out of a molehill. “I have merely said I don’t recall, I can’t recall a decision being taken on Jaswant Singh accompanying the terrorists.”

Actually, the Cabinet Committee on Security, as I have written in The Pioneer, did not discuss or decide the issue of Jaswant Singh accompanying the terrorists. What was discussed was his going to Kandahar and doubts were expressed whether it was the right thing to do as he could have ended up a hostage too and then the demands would have been spectacular. Jaswant Singh accompanying the terrorists was the result of last minute changes in travel plans. Pakistan gave over-flight permission for an Indian Airlines aircraft and not the Aviation Research Centre (a R&AW-linked agency) plane in which Jaswant Singh was supposed to travel. This resulted in his travelling on the same plane as the terrorists. Given the tight schedule, the CCS could not have possibly discussed this aspect all over again. In any event, a decade later, Kandahar is a bit of a non-issue.

Advani is equally pained by Yashwant Sinha’s criticism of him: “I have gone out of my way to help him… I have done so much for him... He owes a lot to me.” Sudheendra Kulkarni’s departure has not distressed him as much as his declaration that he was disassociating himself from the BJP due to “ideological differences”. Advani is not amused that it took 13 years for Kulkarni to discover these ‘differences’.

Contrary to popular perception, Advani said he would be more than happy to step aside and retire from active politics. “I could do so many things… read books, write. But there is always this issue of who will take over… There are enough young leaders. After all they have to take charge at some time.”

Each one of us has a fatal flaw. Advani’s fatal flaw, to my mind and reaffirmed after my chat with him, is that he could never assert himself. He admitted as much. Good men often suffer from the inability to force their way; or else Advani would not have succumbed to pressure to stay on, as he did after this summer’s election. Those in the party who persuaded him not to step down were concerned about themselves – not about Advani or the BJP. Advani could have stuck to his instinctive decision, but he did not.

Just as he failed to take a stand on the hasty and ill-considered decision to summarily expel Jaswant Singh from the party. Had he stood firm, the parliamentary board could not have gone ahead and done what it did. Nor could Gujarat have banned Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence. The ban is bound to be set aside by the courts, causing nothing but further embarrassment to the party all because Ananth Kumar clamoured the loudest for "immediate action" at the fateful parliamentary board meeting in Shimla and others thought it expedient to second his demand.

[Although, in all fairness, it must be said that Advani is not alone 'guilty' of letting down and abandoning Jaswant Singh. I have been witness to how Vajpayee was made to drop his name from the list of Ministers the night before the NDA team took oath of office in 1998. The then Sarsanghachalak, K S Sudarshan, did not want him included as he had "just lost the election". I carried the letter to Gopal Gandhi, then secretary to the President of India, an hour before the swearing-in ceremony. Jaswant Singh forgets that episode, just as he forgets that Advani did not forget to include him as Finance Minister in the 13-day Government, although he need not have done so.]

If only Advani had… But then, life is really about a whole lot of ‘if onlys’.

Which brings me to the issue of leadership change. The recent intervention by the RSS and elaborate consultations which took place in Delhi, apart from the comments by the Sarsanghachalak, Mohanrao Bhagwat, have helped bring about clarity on what needs to be done. These are:

. The old guard must step down and step aside. This cannot be delayed any further.
. The choice of future leaders cannot be restricted to those stationed in Delhi.
. The RSS will not interfere by way of micro-managing the party’s affairs.
. The BJP will have to decide for itself what is best for the party.
. The Sangh will provide any assistance that is sought.
. The RSS will play the role of moral compass: The BJP sorely needs this.


It has been decided, according to one of the senior leaders who was involved with the consultation process this past weekend, that the new president will be “young and energetic” with a high integrity quotient. Mohanrao Bhagwat has provided enough hint by saying there are “75 to 80” potential leaders in the BJP. This also broadens the choice for the party.

There will be two major changes in the coming days. Advani will step down as Leader of Opposition and become a party mentor, perhaps chairman of NDA or even chairman of the parliamentary party. Whether Sushma Swaraj will be elevated to the post of Leader of Opposition is anybody’s guess, although she would like to believe it so. I don’t think it’s a settled issue.

[Although not linked, I am curious about what qualifies Sushma Swaraj to head the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. It would be in order to mention that this committee was once headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The job requires an instinctive feel for foreign affairs, foreign relations and diplomacy, apart from more than passing knowledge of countries and continents. Political officers at foreign missions in Delhi are amused, although what they have to say is not funny.]

I have no confirmed information. But the new president of the BJP could be a proverbial ‘dark horse’. Two names have been mentioned in various discussions – Nitin Gadkari and Manohar Parrikar.

My vote would go to Parrikar. By making him party president, the BJP would signal a tectonic shift. Parrikar can come across as a soft-spoken man, but those who know him will vouch that he cannot be bullied nor will he allow anybody to ride rough-shod over him. He has organisational experience and a clean image; he is ideologically sound and enjoys high credibility with the Sangh; and his youth appeal could prove to be a huge asset for the party among both urban and rural voters.

A new president will also mean a new team of central leaders, a new National Executive and a new set of decision-makers, including organisational general secretary and secretaries.

What needs to be remembered is that the new president’s term will come to an end in the winter of 2012. That is also the time when Assembly election will be held in Gujarat. The result of this poll will be a big factor in deciding Narendra Modi’s future role in the party. The next general election is due in 2014. So, irrespective of whoever holds whichever post today, whether in party or in Parliament, what will matter is the line-up that will emerge in end-2012/early-2013.

During the interregnum, the BJP needs to stabilise and regain the initiative it has lost in the past month. The rest can follow.

32 comments:

NR said...

Thanks for clearing the air on the wretched kandhahar. So what many of us have been emphasizing is true. The channels comfortable changed as accompanying terrorist to knowledge of him going to kandhahar.
parikkar, had succesfuly dealt with senior leaders of goa, but his appointment will do away the fight is not a guarantee, untill all those concerned just put the part welfare first.

Hoefully, one day this mess is cleared and Advani's towering legacy is realized by one and all.

NR said...

You have once again hit the bulls eye, when you point clear lack of an agenda of governance that sets its apart from all the opponents. Presently it is no man's land. The roadmap has to develop not only ways and means to expand and revivie but importantly alternative governance agenda based on sound principles, from which any decisions can be derived for any sort of situation aconfusions ancient principles and is hence consistent. Any confusions ancient principles can be used.

ss said...

Mr. Advani's fatal mistake has been to let political expediancy triumph principles or values over and over again. It is nobody's assertion that one can be raja harishchandra in today's politics. But the top leaders have to be seen to stand for somethings and draw a line somewhere. Whether it was Gujarat riots or Kandhar facts or cash for votes or Varun Gandhi, Advanijee failed to take the right position and went with the position that at the time seemed to yield political dividends. I am sure all these positions were the handy work of some aide or think tank (including the rather personal attacks on the PM), but Advanijee went along with them and so is equally responsible.

harish said...

Thanks for the wonderful updates sir. It would do better if Advani comes out and faces the media, bang on.

Panchajanya said...

Thanks Kanchan for this blog and clearing the air on Kandhar, there were so many of us who were distressed even by the thought of LKA lying to the nation. As you rightly pointed out the only way BJP can survive is by removing the Delhi cartel.

offstumped said...

Dear Kanchanda

Great stuff bringing us a first hand reliable account of the inside track in BJP.

It is a game changing move for the BJP to look to Manohar Parrikar or Nitin Gadkari both of who have the right resume.

Manohar Parrikar's IIT background in particular makes him a formidable alternative to academically challenge Rahul Gandhi.

Having said that I think the novelty of the names is no guarantee of legitimacy especially across all sections of the party. The very fact that allude to the 2012 timframe and give it a semi final sort of impression is bound to undercut whoever the BJP promotes as its young face.

I strongly believe the BJP needs to get out of this semifinal mindset and must dispel the impression that this is an interim face keeping the seat warm for someone else.Doing so is bound to lead to the same set of problems that dogged the leadership last 5 years.

Finally how does the calculus of caste square with a Parrikar, Jaitley and Swaraj or Joshi all donning leadership positions?

In closing you make an appropriate point on lack of an agenda for governance. It wont happen unless a compelling Vision is articulated only then can a coherent policy agenda follow.

Mouthing crude generalizations and vulgar oversimplifications like pro-poor, pro-farmer, pro-middle class etc.. will not cut it. It is intellectually insipid and electorally uninspiring.

We need a vision and a mission to win back the Center from the Right.

Will the BJP's new face be up to the challenge ?

Jaideep said...

Great job on completely clarifying the Kandahar issue. What I fail to understand though is why didnt Advani himself come out & challenge his critics saying exactly what he told you. His spokespersons have done a terrible job at putting forward his point. How come a person who has always shown great clarity of thought is represented by those who cant put forward a simple matter of fact Also Mr. Advani should realise that it is no longer a small point anymore. The opponents (political & media) are not just questioning Advani's honesty but the trying to portray that the movement which the BJP represents is itself based on deciet.
As far as the next BJP president is concerned I differ with offstumped a bit. The time frame of 2012 does not necesarrily mean keeping the seat warm for someone. It essentially means that whoever is chosen Parikar, Gadkari or anyone else proves himself by then. If they prove themselves then the issue will be resolved if they dont then someone else will have to come in.
As regards caste again too much is made out of it. The last time BJP consciously chose a president based on caste they ended up with Bangaru Laxman.Caste may be a factor in picking local leadership but on the national scene doesnt matter much.
On policy while a clear vision is important a vision by itself is of little value unless it is backed by credibility. The BJP of the 90's had credibility which over the years was somehow eroded.

Sena vs Sena said...

Shouldn't the party be concerned about the forthcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra? I hope some kinda arrangement with Raj Thackeray's MNS will be worked out to minimize the damage.

Ghost Writer said...

I fear you have been a little too kind to Shri Advani. He made too many mistakes for them to be merely "inability to assert goodness". Advani maybe a nice guy, but he is also a man full of political ambition and guile. It is pathetic to see it end like this for him - but really he has no one else to blame but himself.
I also agree on the current "Gang of four" jockeying for the BJP leadership being intellectual and political brankrupts. The only place I agree with you is on Parrikar being promoted up. If Modi does not get ensnared in this SIT non-sense he can still come back. If he does get ensnared - Parrikar is the ideal counter to Rahul Baba. He is an IIT graduate and young - and he is from a smaller state.

Balaji said...

a man is known by the company he keeps. so this intellectual Advani spends time with such 'intellectuals' as Kanchan Gupta? hilarious.

yup, Manohar Parrikar is the guy. his spectacular political abilities in winning a state, the size of a shoe, shud serve him well. so shud his khusti matches with Sripad Naik.

when Parrikar comes to Delhi, even the dog at the party office won't listen to him. which suits the muslim haters just fine. afterall they are only waiting for the messiah Modi to come and deliver them from Muslim tyranny.

a party that even at its rock bottom cannot think of electing leaders to rescue it, doesn't deserve a single vote from the people.

Balaji said...

lest anyone forget, Sitaram Kesari won an election against Pawar and Pilot when the Congress party was in the doldrums. so there, even a dynastic party knew when its time to count the ballots.

Malayappan said...

Kanchanda,

Thanks for a great update. One small observation - I am not sure to what extent Advaniji's emotions on Jaswantji's comments can be justified. After all he is a senior member of 30 years standing who did so much for the country. And in Advaniji's presence he was expelled gracelessly! And was told of his expulsion on the phone.

Indeed having failed to insist on his way he will need to face the criticism. And this 'fatal' weakness of his is not only on party matters but also on Governance - ISI white paper, citizenship cards and even issues like police reform.

At the same time his contribution to the development of Right movement in India can never be forgotten!

Fact is to wield power one does not necessarily need office - from the examples of Bhagwan Krishna and Bheeshma to Mahatma Gandhi, and right up to Sonia Gandhi. Advaniji will be respected by the party irrespective of whether he is Leader of Opposition or just a member of the National Executive. In my humble opinion he must have realized AND ACTED on this not now but in 2004!

Anonymous said...

Yes, LK Advani made big contribution to the development of BJP and Right in our country. But, his role during past 5 yrs has been nothing to write about, and after May 2009 debacle so disastrous. Just cotrast that with what the Japansese PM did this week. He resigned from the leader's post and LDP will elect a new leader. The fact is that, from being the leader of BJP, he has reduced himself to be factional leader! And, self-goals are exactly that, self-goals. He has lost the respect he used to have for what he did (or did not) since mid-May. The biggest crime is the return of UPA because of the mismanagement by Mr Advani and his coterie.

Anonymous said...

Kanchan,
I dont like you; but I like this post. Great job and thank you.

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...

Some of the commentators here have mentioned that Manohar Parrikar is the best to counter Rahul Gandhi as he is an IIT-Graduate?

Can you point out exactly once instace when educational qualifications mattered in Indian politics to such an extent that they become the deciding factor in a national election?

I am sure the congress could flaunt Rahul Gandhi's "foreign university educated" status. And Shashi Tharoor would berate Mohan Parrikar for being an engineer rather than a humanities / pol. science graduate like he did in an article in TOI some time back.

shail said...

Jaswant singh has been expelled form the party for over ten years he was very happy being associated with the party. Now he is being vindictive and is trying to get even.

To give credibility to his frustrations like the media channels are doing is so stupid and waste of time. ten years have passed since kandhar but still the upa and the media fought their entire elections based on kandhar. and entirely forgetting about Mumbai 26/11.

Now doesnt that say a lot about our intelligence in buying and getting swayed by the media.

Elections are approaching in three states and what is the best way to divert attention from upa's failures KHANDHAR AND BJP CRISIS WOW !And yup the voters are going buy each and every lie and deciet hurled their way.

Its true we get what we deserve. Well we deserve the corrupt and defunct congress party.

Ofcourse the main opposition party should get their act together but the way these channels having been going berserk about it speaks a lot about their motives.

Sena vs Sena said...

“MNS will bleed the Shiv Sena in the polls”

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/23239/bright-prospect.html

iamfordemocracy said...

Advani has suffered enough. Now that he is certain to step down, all personal attacks must stop.

Please also remember that recollections of personal putdowns, insults, hurts need not be published for public consumption. We don't care who felt bad and who did not. As long as a leader is strong enough to take tough decisions in the interest of the nation and society, the rest should be unimportant. So far, most leaders have placed personal equations above national needs and that must change.

mpanj said...

On LKA:

What sold people on LKA as a leader and visionary was his steely resolve and uncompromising commitment to hindutva.

From coining 'pseudosecularism' to shaping a vision for India, LKA was a different politician - up till 1998.

This was the same leader who resigned his Lok Sabha seat when accusations of corruption were made against him.

He was also the only leader completely acquitted by the courts - not on technical grounds -but on evidence presented.

So what the hell happened.

LKA seems to have gotten entangled in his on grand strategy. He understood better than anyone else, that India needed soft Hindutva - ABV fit the bill perfectly.

Watching ABV's success, he tried to model himself after ABV.

Almost every key issue was shelved or forgotten - Article 370, Kashmir, Bangladeshi intruders, etc.

To committed voters like us this was a sell out.

LKA had become risk averse. Too cautious not to hurt the liberal, anti-Indian establishment.

Bending over backwards not to displease the enemies of Hindutva.

All his political moves post-1998 can be explained by this misplaced need to win over his pseudosecular rivals.

WTH - herein lies a lesson for future BJP leaders. The left will never consider them friends. Never.

Only those with and Iron will can fight and win the Maha Yudh that lies ahead.

As things stand only one man fits the bill....NaMo.

shail said...

vajpayeeje was the face of bjp but it was Mr.Advani who organised and worked tirelessly behind the scene and never got credit for it. It was Mr. Advani who had declared vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate.

It was the nda govt and not the bjp govt who came in power and do you really think the first chance bjp got to form the govt with 182 seats it could have build ram temple, abrogated article 370 and brought about other changes then we are being too unjust and having lot of false expectations from them.

What bjp had to do was to show the country the good work they could do and then come in full majority to implement changes. Good work they did but it was so unfortunate they didnt get a second chance.


On parliament attack, BJP showed much better response that Congress did after 26/11. NDA government’s operation parakram got huge attention and diplomatically pakistan’s evilness was exposed. A trigger happy government is never good, BJP showed military strength with restrain and with fierce diplomacy tarnished the enemy.

Nda go
On parliament attack, BJP showed much better response that Congress did after 26/11. NDA government’s operation parakram got huge attention and diplomatically pakistan’s evilness was exposed. A trigger happy government is never good, BJP showed military strength with restrain and with fierce diplomacy tarnished the enemy.

History pro
On parliament attack, BJP showed much better response that Congress did after 26/11. NDA government’s operation parakram got huge attention and diplomatically pakistan’s evilness was exposed. A trigger happy government is never good, BJP showed military strength with restrain and with fierce diplomacy tarnished the enemy.

History pro
On parliament attack, BJP showed much better response that Congress did after 26/11. NDA government’s operation parakram got huge attention and diplomatically pakistan’s evilness was exposed. A trigger happy government is never good, BJP showed military strength with restrain and with fierce diplomacy tarnished the enemy.

History proves that great leaders too have made grave mistakes in their lifetime just shows that they are human.

Mr.Advani's contrubitions are immense and no it cannot be negated just because the party has lost, just because there is crisis in the party which all the political parties go through at some stage, just because some wisecrack journalist are indulging in Advani and bjp bashing.

Creating an alternative to the corrupt congress party is no small achievement and if we cant give his due please do not tarnish his image. Its totally unacceptable.

Manoj said...

Are they going to appoint a new party president or will there be an election in some democratic form? I'm curious... The road to recovery for BJP is to restore true democracy within party.. otherwise there is no hope whatsoever.. they can install anybody in chair, nothing will change...

Arjun said...

Thank you for the update. The only comment I have is on your take on Modi's role. The RSS clearly is not thinking of any changes here as an interim arrangement. Your comment on Modi seems to be what you might want to see but I dont think is reality.

Indian Nationalist said...

2012?. BJP will not survive in politics till then.

I had predicted the complete defeat of BJP in march 2009 when Advani was made the PM choice for BJP.

BJP got away with less humiliation with managing 115 seats.

If they delay making Narendra Modi the leader of the party/Cum President of the party like Sonia Gandhi is -(she is both president of Congress and leader of Congress is Lok Sabha), I will predict the end of BJP by end of next year i.e; 2010.

The sequence of events will be - utter rout in Maharashtra, haryana and arunachal elections.

Similar routs in next years elections.

Modi might be dictatorial and assume complete control of the party.

But the need of the hour is for a dictator in the BJP to assume complete control of the party.

The nation also needs a dictator to assume complete control.

Indian Nationalist said...

If Graduates from "IIT" had brains then India would have been the center of Technology like Germany or Japan or even China, Not the Back office of Technologically bankrupt U.S.A.

The thinking is all wrong here. Who said a graduate of IIT has "BRAINS". Anyone can mug up English langauge and clear the IIT exams.

Indian Nationalist said...

The idea is to think ORIGINAL and something NEW to capture the imagination of Hindus across the length and breadth of India.

Hindutva was that Original thinking given by Savarkar and Golwalkar.

Similar to that, there should be a new and something which will once again ignite passions of unity even among the most selfish of the Hindus.

Modelling yourself with the Republic party of USA or some other center of right party like Mr. Offstumped suggests does not work in a country like India.

Firstly modelling or copying is called Second hand and anything Second hand is bound for disaster.

Second, India is not USA or UK or any other western country.

India is STILL a land of Villages where 70% of its population lives.

India is STILL a religious country where religion plays the most important role. Go and ask any Muslim or Christian to vote for BJP and come back and tell me the response.

1 or 2% of English speaking population working in Callcenters, Software companies , Finance or Media does not comprise India.

Indian Nationalist said...

Even considering so called "Advanced Cities" where the English elite lives namely,

Delhi,Mumbai,Bangalore,Hyder,Madras,Ahmedabad,Bhopal,Calcutta,Chandigarh,Pune.

Their combined population is 200 Million.

India is a country of 1.2 Billion people. There are 1 Billion Indians living in the TOWNS and VILLAGES of India who have nothing to do with English language or centre of right thinking.

They are deeply religious irrespective of whatever religion they belong to. (Including Hindus).

Dhruv said...

Regarding Kandhahar, the BJP Govt then took the decision in favour of protecting the life of
aam-aadmi in that plane...

Look at the options the Govt had then ....

1) The Indian forces were not capable of executing an Israel type operation to rescue the passengers ...
2) The opposition and the media were actively encouraging the daily tamasha by the relatives of the passengers ...None of those cowards now appear in front of the camera to justify that act ...
3) There was no concrete national security policy on such issues ...

Kandhahar is a basee stale issue.
High time the cunning English media discard the Kandahar issue and move-on ....

Also high time not only for BJP but also India to choose the right leader ....
Across all party lines there is only one leader capable of leading India .. Narendra Modi !!

Indian Nationalist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

BJP is a brain-dead party being led to slow death by its own selfish leaders. There is no example of this in any histroy - may be, Labour in 1978 - 84 phase (when it was led by M Foot to almost death). Whatever good Advani did for BJP has been totally washed out by his actions or non actions since 2004! He has now become a totally shameless man, very much like his counterpart on arkari benches - M Singh. Both amoral neta who mouth big things but believe / practice nothing of the sort.

Beq said...

I'm curious Kanchan. What makes a man of your erudition right wing?

Kanchan Gupta said...

@beq My fatal flaw!

Subhashita Manjari said...

Well written!

A man is known by the company he keeps and enemies he makes!