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BJP lags behind, but Rajnath races ahead

May 29, 2009 15:43 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party has been given a severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha election. The party was gasping for breath while trying to retain a paltry 10 seats in Uttar Pradesh -- pathetic performance, to say the least, for a national party that had set out to stake prime ministerial claims.

This was only to be expected. I had forewarned the BJP in a column titled UP could well be the BJP's Waterloo as early as January 9, 2009.

BJP chief Rajnath Singh, who hails from UP, managed to win his Ghaziabad seat. Ahead of the poll, he had been bragging and talking tall, but after the results he had no sensible and plausible excuse for his party's dismal performance both in UP and across the country.

He added insult to injury by saying that the results were not as expected.

In fact, there was hardly any systematic or determined campaigning in the state by him. Also, the BJP/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh/Vishwa Hindu Parishad cadres were ill-organised and suffering from very low morale.

Contrast this with P L Punia of the Congress. Punia visited almost each village in his sprawling constituency of Barabanki and slogged it out relentlessly to eventually register a thumping victory margin of 170,000 votes.

That was the fighting spirit, which was sadly missing in the BJP candidates/cadres. This was visible to everyone in UP, except perhaps to the BJP ostriches.

Banking on Gorakhpur MP Mahant Adityanath's vote-catching capacity was okay. But his unpredictability, impulsive outbursts and gimmicks could not be seriously expected to pull the BJP out of the UP mess and morass.

The ongoing tiff between BJP General Secretary Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh did little to unite the cadres to fight strongly. The Sudhanshu Mittal snub (Mittal's appointment as sah-prabhari for the northeast had caused a major row between Rajnath and Jaitley) to rival Jaitley was given by Rajnath who defiantly added Rajasthan to Mittal's portfolio.

The cadres were confused and bewildered, and found absurd excuses to stay indoors in the scorching summer heat.

The Varun Gandhi effect was stunningly electrifying. Youthful Varun had a point of view. He articulated what many Hindus felt -- nothing wrong in that.

The opportunistic RSS/BJP bosses were in two minds. Mark their initial reactions and the subsequent ones. They wanted to reap positive benefits flowing from his statements and, yet, they were neither honest nor supportive for Varun when he faced criticism.

The unpalatable truth is that the Varun effect went a very long way in boosting the sagging BJP morale in UP. But for him, the BJP would have got fewer seats than the 10 they eventually got.

Their ambivalence was unbecoming of a national party. And now making a scapegoat out of poor Varun by the party-men is still worse. It does not redound to the character and maturity of the seniors in the BJP. It smacks of dishonesty, unfairness, and short-sightedness.

Several meetings are being held these days to trace the causes of the BJP's defeat in UP. As usual, these are mere sops for public consumption. Membership drives and other hackneyed tricks like atma-chintan (introspection) will not work. The outcome will be a big zero.

The man solely responsible for the BJP's humiliating defeat is Rajnath Singh. He was the party president with unfettered powers. And, he has very badly let down the BJP. Lame excuses can no longer fool anyone.

The field marshall leading his forces has to be given full credit for victory in war. Similarly, discredit for defeat has also to be fixed squarely on that field marshall.

Shifting the responsibility for the BJP's all-India failure on Narendra Modi and cunningly escaping accountability by the national president is a move in that direction.

Rajnath is a highly ambitious and ruthless leader in a hurry. A pensive L K Advani owned up moral responsibility and refused to act as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Rajnath was thrilled. He thought the decks had been cleared for him to take on that important role.

Unfortunately for the ambitious Rajnath, in comes his senior Murli Manohar Joshi. Rajnath's dreams got crumpled for the time being. Hastily, he rushed to Advani and manipulated things to keep Joshi out. A shattered 82-year-old Advani was a safer bet than Joshi.

Had Advani become prime minister, the wait would have to be for five long years. Now, with Advani eclipsed, Rajnath is eyeing for, and inching towards, the top slot. With Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani out of the reckoning, there is room at the top in the BJP.

Of course, at the moment the BJP is nowhere near grabbing power. Revival and re-emergence are an uphill task. It may take years. But the show must go on. Vajpayee and Advani's slots will have to be filled up, sooner than later.

And Rajnath will not be found lagging behind. Even though his party fared so badly, the wily Thakur is cunningly racing ahead. He wants to be head and shoulders above his possible rivals/competitors like Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, and Joshi.

Rajnath Singh's salvos against Narendra Modi and others have been subtly fired. Will the wise men in Nagpur see Rajnath through? Or will they see through his ambitious game-plan? Will they hold him squarely responsible for the BJP's debacle? And cut him down to size?