Wednesday, November 18, 2009

THE RSS SURGERY: WILL IT HELP REVIVE BJP?

A few months back, senior BJP leader Arun Shourie had asked the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) to bombard the headquarters and take over the BJP. Being an insider who was privy to the steep decline in values and principles which once differentiated the party from the Congress, he could see better than most that there was no other way of saving it from the clutches of unprincipled and greedy individuals who had seized control and were not letting go, despite the general election disaster .

The RSS has evidently listened to him, if reports are correct that Rajnath Singh, that unmitigated disaster of a party president, is being booted out and replaced by Nitin Gadkari.

RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat had also said sometime back that the BJP needed chemotherapy. At that time, however, he believed that it was for the party, and not the RSS, to decide what medication it should take. But after the recent by polls in UP, where BJP candidates lost their security deposits in nine out of 11 seats, it was clear to everyone that the coterie that was ruining the party would have to be surgically removed, without further delay, so that the party could begin the process of resurrecting itself.

Nitin Gadkari is Bhagwat's choice. Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar, Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj, the famous Dilli4 stars about whom much has been said and written in the last few months, have been summarily brushed aside. Swapan Dasgupta, not surprisingly at all, is livid at this turn. In a lively discussion on CNN-IBN's Face The Nation program, he openly called this development a "military takeover" by the RSS. My namesake from Hindustan Times who belongs to that core group of politically committed journalists whose affiliations are clearly visible behind clever smokescreens, was also upset at the development and 'advised' Dilli4 to not take it lying down.

There may well be a Mahabharat in the BJP in the coming months, even years, before a 'new and improved' party emerges, if at all. Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the old leaders and master strategists who contributed directly to the party's poor image and performance in the last Lok Sabha elections will have to either accept the new realities or quit the party. Perhaps the latter will be better. Remember how in the middle of the election campaign, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley had a disgraceful public row, with the latter openly showing his arrogance by keeping away for two weeks? That spat exemplified the rot of lack of discipline and commitment to the party that has overtaken the BJP at the highest level. No party that wants the people to believe that it is capable of governing the country can afford to let such immature petulance and defiance go unpunished.

Is a relatively unknown leader like Gadkari the right choice as party President? Wouldn't a big leader like Narendra Modi, for example, been better? Is the control of the RSS going to help the party get more votes or is it going to marginalise it even further?

This perhaps is not the right time for a big leader to take control of the party Gadkari may be a relatively - not physically - light-weight leader but he carries no baggage. And that is saying a lot for a man who has been Maharashtra's PWD minister, a 'wet' portfolio that most lust for. What the BJP certainly does not need are leaders who appear much taller than they are because of what they say in TV studios, to which they are always dying to rush at the slightest opportunity with multiple objectives, many not becoming. Nor does it need media sympathisers who actually harm it since they look and behave like poor cousins of the many media friends of the Congress and, as a result, almost invariably wind up inadequately 'defending' the BJP against the aggressive terms of discussion laid down by their opponents.

If the BJP wants to emerge successfully from the intense, painful but inescapable churning that is now beginning to gather speed, it will need to do much more than appoint a new party president. There are many issues that it will have to fully address well before the next general elections in 2014. Some of these, in my view, are:
  • The RSS must limit its intervention to life-saving surgery and amputation only. It should not thereafter succumb to the temptation of running the party full-time.
  • Leaders of proven integrity alone should form, to begin with, at least the core of the party's leadership.
  • Lumpen elements of the Sangh Parivar must not, under any circumstance, be patronised or encouraged in any manner.
  • Criminals must not be given party tickets, no matter what the immediate cost. Definition of 'criminal' must not be dishonestly legalistic; it must be based on the perception of voters - it is their trust that needs to be won, not just in one constituency but across the country.
  • Dynastic practices should be firmly banished. Not more than one member of a family should be allowed to contest elections at any level.
  • The party must find, as Sagarika Ghose puts it pithily, "a modern leader rooted in the traditional idiom".
Will the BJP be able to do what is needed to pull itself out of the swamp it has got itself into? Will it re-emerge as a party that does not see power and values as being mutually exclusive? Will it be able to convince millions of Indians who once voted for it because it promised to be "a party with a difference" that it will not break their trust again?

At this point of time, skepticism is fully in order.