It was the turn of party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani to tell the BJP leaders assembled at Surajkund on the Delhi-Haryana border a few home truths.
He said if they wanted to oust the Congress from power at the next general elections, the party would have to enforce self-discipline, show unity of purpose, and get its act together on corruption. To get the party battle-ready, he asked president Nitin Gadkari to start identifying candidates. According to Advani, elections will happen much earlier than the scheduled time of April-May 2014.
It was clear from Advani’s tone and tenor that he spoke in the capacity of a mentor and family elder. The reactions of most party leaders suggested that his “guidance” was taken in the right spirit. For the last three days, Advani had been quietly listening to party colleagues who thundered against the ruling Congress and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Advani’s speech was scheduled to be the “concluding remarks” at the close of the National Executive and Council meeting.
Like his colleagues he also targeted the Congress and Manmohan Singh for being the “weakest Prime Minister ever…who transferred his authority to 10 Janpath (Sonia Gandhi)”. But, more significantly, he did not mince words when it came to telling his own colleagues to put their own house in order to “show the people that the BJP was a credible alternative for power”.
He started by saying that “the people are angry with the current UPA regime and they are itching for change. Unlike post-emergency in 1977, when the anger against the Congress was limited to north and east India, this time around it is spread across the nation”.
Citing conversations with many people who had asked him if the BJP was capable of wresting power from the Congress, he said, “There is a big opportunity before us. It is for us to prove to the people that we are a credible alternative.” He seemed to be mindful of the fact that the BJP could no longer claim to be a “party with a difference,” so he chose a different route to convey the idea to them.
“While we should remain unrelenting in hitting the Congress hard on corruption, we need to be equally tough on any corruption issues within our own party and in states ruled by the BJP. The BJP had not been conceived as an ordinary party but it was born out of a movement to serve a purpose. On corruption issues, the Congress often retaliates by accusing us also of the same – that gives rise to some kind of perception that all parties are the same when it comes to public probity. We need to make a different impression through our conduct.”
Incidentally, Advani wanted to have BS Yeddyurappa removed as Karnakata chief minister when charges against him had first surfaced but, for some reason, a decision on the subject was delayed. It was also against his wishes that the party had inducted tainted BSP leader Babu Singh Kushwaha before the UP elections. He had earlier voiced his protest on such issues at a closed-door joint meeting of BJP and RSS.
But his tough talk at the party’s National Council meeting, attended by over 1,500 members, had different connotations for the party. If BJP chief Nitin Gadkari spoke of showing large-heartedness and working collectively to achieve the party’s purpose, Advani’s thrust was on enforcing discipline on dissenting voices. “We should be conscious that all leaders should speak in one voice. There should not be multiplicity of voices emanating from the party.”
He made the meet end by adopting a resolution where all members present read out an oath that the BJP would fight democratically to rid the country of Congress corruption and misrule.
The real test for the BJP lies ahead. It remains to be seen whether the temptation to somehow grab power from the Congress is too great to bother about internal course corrections.