During my college days in the late 1960s, if the event organiser of a debating contest, who invariably was also the literary society’s secretary, was not able to come up with a good subject for the debate, the motion would be “It’s better to love and marry than marry and love”. The English teachers who judging the event would nod with approval given it had already been well-argued in the past years by students.
A proposition that is similar in nature is being debated between the Narendra Modi's supporters in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which presently appears to consist of most of the party, and those of Lal Krishna Advani. Their debate, however, is over whether it is better to have political allies presently given they would be harder to find later.
In Ahmedabad, Modi told Pratapsinh Jadhav, the proprietor of the Marathi daily Pudhari, that “if the party did well” on its own account, “it would find friends” when the numbers are tallied for forming the next government in New Delhi.
Modi cited how the BJP was alone in 1996, the time when it flirted with power for only days, but later found 23 political parties supporting it, and forming the alliance called the NDA. Its second stint was brief, but the third lasted an entire term, but lost the polls to the Congress. Modi’s apparently thinks he needs to help the party get a strong victory, even if not a decisive win. The party, in its present state, seems unlikely to get there had it persisted with Advani’s leadership.
It is obvious that Modi does not want the party to bend backwards to accommodate allies presently. In short, love later. If need be, marry thereafter.
Advani who has suddenly emerged as a moderate, only in comparison to Narendra Modi, has already cited the views of Shyama Prasad Mookerji, the founder of the Jan Sangh which later morphed into the BJP, about the importance of allies to beat the Congress, easily the most dominant and enduring political outfit in India. Modi thinks otherwise, and has said so in so many words.
By talking about it now, after his sulk, resignation and later withdrawal, Advani continues to harp on how the BJP ought not to paint itself into a corner when elections are just a shout away. He seems to suggest that BJP has weakened because the party has been losing friends steadily – from Trinamool Congress to Janata Dal (U) and others in between, like the National Conference.
Advani’s substantive point, using the college debate motion as a measure, is that it is better for the party to love and also marry now itself, so that the other suitor could be denied the favour of being voted to power by voters. As per Advani’s argument, this would make it easier to get back to power, given the strong anti-Congress mood in the country. But it remains to see if the voters see the Opposition as a viable option to replace the rulers.
Both BJP party president Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu, its former chief, were present when Advani spoke of the need to find and keep friends to challenge the Congress. However, according to reports, Singh ignored Advani's statement, and Naidu said that Modi’s choice as campaign chief had “overwhelming consensus” within the party.
The party's adamantly pro-Modi stance is clear. For good measure, Naidu drove home the point that the consensus “should be evident to everyone”. And then, the same day, Modi said elsewhere that friends would come later if need be. Modi’s view, as reported in the Pudhari, is not underpinned by a belief that the BJP would regain power on its own. He has kept the possibility of needing alliances to be dealt with later.
Advani and allies like JD(U) think the Gujarat model of development is not replicable in the rest of the country given it is a model in a state which has seen a single party's rule. They don't believe Modi is likely to be able to take the party to a result where it can be done on a national scale.
Soon after the BJP’s 2004 debacle, its oldest ally, Shiv Sena’s chief Bal Thackeray had said something similarto what Modi has said. If a party like the BJP, which has shown the ability to be the single largest national party after Congress in recent decades, is out of power, the National Democratic Alliance weakens and the parties scuttle away to pursue their own agendas. Once it is within sniffing distance of power, they all return.
Thackeray was underlining how politics works in India. Power was the flypaper to which smaller parties are attracted, but for a price. That price can sometimes cost the major parties power. The way political parties change their stances and are viewed, explains how it has little to do with ideology.
Virtually every party with which BJP – except the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena – had married and later walked out, and now, the JD(U) has, too. Thackeray's cynical – actually realistic – perspective requires a strong BJP with the numbers enough to make it a forceful leader of a pack. The BJP seems to think Modi is one who can ensure that, for with a lower numerical strength in Parliament, the party would be worse off in a multi-party alliance.