Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SACKING OF KHANDURI: CAUCUS DESTROYING BJP

The BJP is heading into Nowhereland. Despite its disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha elections, no leader has been man enough to stand up, take responsibility for the failure and step aside. Like small children not willing to part with the toys they have got, no matter what, everyone has started taking pot shots at each other while hanging on to their posts, as if everyone else but them is to blame. The icing on this rotten cake is the "collective responsibility" drama being played out now. That is actually is a no-one-is-responsible shame designed to shield, among others, the twice-failed, Teflon-coated master strategist and TV-studio-only leader who was disdainfully holidaying in London when the party was meeting to debate its debacle.

If that was not bad enough, the party has now made a mockery of even this stand and fired one more shot into its bleeding foot by finding a solitary scapegoat on whom blame has been placed squarely. Uttaranchal Chief Minister BC Khanduri has been sacked for the party's failure to not win even one of the five Lok Sabha seats in the state. Is that result any different from what the party has done in neighbouring Delhi, UP and even Rajasthan? Then why has only Khanduri been held accountable and not Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh?

It appears there is much more than is visible behind Khanduri's sacking. Some powerful TV studio leaders and journalists who claim to be the official-sympathisers-cum-unofficial-spokesmen of the BJP are manifestly already looking ahead to the 2014 elections and want to make sure that by then they have either hijacked or destroyed the party completely. Anyone who is likely to pose a challenge to their leadership in the party by then will be sidelined systematically. And the process has begun with Khanduri.

By now there is little doubt that there is a very serious crisis of leadership in the BJP. It has no leader, other than Narendra Modi, who can lead the party in the next elections. Modi, as we all know, has been chained by Gujarat 2002 and is still under investigation. It is possible that by 2014, he might be given what will effectively be a clean chit by the Supreme Court. But, it is equally, if not more, likely that his opponents, including those in the BJP, will try every dirty trick in and out of the book to ensure that does not happen. If they succeed, then who does the BJP have to project as its Prime Ministerial candidate?

Let us look at other BJP CMs who are arguable doing a reasonably good job and are therefore potential PMs. Karnataka's Yediurappa, Madhya Pradesh's Shivraj Chauhan, Chhatisgarh's Raman Singh and Uttaranchal's BC Khanduri are the ones who can stake a claim for the top post. Who is easily the best and most acceptable one out of the lot?

Yediurappa, Raman Singh, Shivraj Chauhan and other similarly good leaders are the Amol Palekars of Indian politics, as Shekhar Gupta had once described them. They are not stars who can light up the BJP's sky nationally and help it win 2014. At that time, most probably the Congress will go into the elections under the leadership of an uninspiring Rahul whose individual shortcomings will be more than made up by his surname and the massive support that people-like-him in the media will extend to him and the Congress party. To beat that formidable combination will take some doing, led by a challenger who can bring to the table something that no leader of the BJP, save Vajpayee, has been able to till now.

Other than the controversial Modi, BC Khanduri is the only leader who is capable of taking the fight into the Congress camp. He has not only done a good job as CM, but had also earlier performed exceptionally well as Vajpayee's Surface Transport Minister. It was under his leadership that the Golden Quadrilateral, and the North-South and East-West Nation Highway projects were executed at an unprecedented pace without any scandals. Before he got going, India had been building an average of just 11 kms of new roads per year, since Independence. He ensured that the country started building 11 kms every day, a stupendous achievement by any standard and one which the UPA government simply could not replicate even by a long shot.

Khanduri is also a retired general. His military background gives him a huge pan-national trust and acceptability advantage that no other BJP leader can hope to achieve in the next five years. Every single survey in the past many years has shown that the Army is the only remaining government organisation that India's middle class across the whole country trusts and has respect for. In a sea of discredited politics and politicians, Khanduri stands out both as an honest and dependable politician and as a respected Army man who has proved that he can deliver with badly needed honesty and without discrimination.

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the BJP's biggest leader, many people voted for the party because they trusted him and his brand of Hindutva. They also knew that he did not have a hidden agenda. And they could sense that he had a national vision that transcended petty party politics. With him no longer on the scene, and no similarly trustworthy and tall leader in sight, a serious trust deficit has arisen among most communities and that has cost the party heavily in the 2009 elections. This deficit has to be made up before the BJP can even dream of getting back to power.

BC Khanduri's background provides the best possible canvas on which the BJP can re-write its increasingly out of sync Hindutva without fear of it being rejected by the people. The soft, inclusive Hindutva mantra that BJP leaders are chanting now will be better accepted by wary voters belonging to both the majority and minority communities if it is presented with a trustworthy military face like Khanduri who people will believe does not have a hidden agenda. All other national BJP leaders who have been on the scene for long will be viewed with varying degrees of suspicion. Notwithstanding what anybody might say, in normal times, hard Hindutva whose voice is often against other communities, is not going to help the party attract additional Hindu voters, much less voters from minority communities.

The sacking of Khanduri as Chief Minister of Uttaranchal, therefore, raises a serious apprehension that a powerful but rootless caucus in the BJP is maneuvering to position itself as the party's next face that will lead it in the 2014 elections, should Narendra Modi get enmeshed in the huge net that his opponents have laid out for him out of mortal fear, knowing that if he gets through it, he will most likely be the next PM of India.

One has long suspected that the bunch of journalists and studio party leaders that the BJP has chosen to project itself to the people, have done it incalculable harm. Taking only one example, can anyone miss the furtive, approval-seeking glances that Swapan Dasgupta gives to other Congress-supporting panelists in every discussion? Does he not always make it appear as if he is their poor, backward cousin who has to keep defending and unsatisfactorily justifying BJP's indefensible ideology and actions to them? The BJP's battle is lost in the minds of most viewers the moment he opens his mouth. There are others too who have harmed and are harming the party similarly.

One cannot shake the feeling that it is this very group that is now busy hijacking the party completely.

The sacking of Khanduri, who is one of the BJP's priceless, untainted and nationally acceptable assets, shows that the party has learnt nothing from its defeat. If things continue like this, as it appears they will, the party may well be decimated in 2014. Don't be surprised if some of those working to so destroy it are in reality Fifth Columnists who have tasted success in the recent elections. Unless they are quickly identified and removed, the BJP will disappear like the once mighty Janata Party did.