LK Advani: Bheeshma Pitamah must lie on his bed of arrows

What the BJP faces is the sort of dilemma Sharad Pawar imposed on the Congress in 1999, when he asked Sonia Gandhi to renounce prime ministership. Ashok Malik

hidden June 10, 2013 21:29:11 IST
LK Advani: Bheeshma Pitamah must lie on his bed of arrows

By Ashok Malik

Is the BJP seriously in its "worst ever crisis"  - to quote enthusiastic television reporters, anchors and studio guests? Is the extraordinary sympathy for LK Advani from vast sections of Congress politicians and media commentators who have never voted for his party, and are never likely to, really pointing to a "split down the middle" in the BJP?

For most of the afternoon, since the release of Advani’s resignation letter, there has been much talk of hurt and sorrow, of a sense of betrayal and an overriding arrogance, of personality cults and ideological beliefs. Depending on who you support, these phrases and descriptions have been used for either Advani or Narendra Modi.

LK Advani Bheeshma Pitamah must lie on his bed of arrows

LK Advani. Reuters

Such tearjerker analysis is fine for filling air-time and newsprint but politics follows a different logic — and is a cold, ruthless enterprise. In its wisdom, a vast section of the BJP, its functionaries, its state and national office-bearers and its national executive, have decided to elevate Modi to the chair of the party’s election committee. This makes him the BJP’s mascot for the 2014 Lok Sabha contest and its prime ministerial candidate - or at least its presumptive candidate.

This decision may be right or may be wrong. That is beside the point. The nub of the issue is an overwhelming majority of the party believes Modi is unmatched among his peers in the appeal and curiosity he generates, in the crowds and interest he draws, in the poll ratings he gets – as trustworthy as these ratings may be – and in respect of an incremental vote he could earn for the BJP. This is the view of a majority. It is not the view of Advani; fair enough. However, by insisting on having it his way is he not as “concerned … with personal agendas” as the unnamed “leaders” he attacks in his letter?

What does it boil down to? Will Advani withdraw his resignation or will Modi be unappointed as it were? The second course is suicidal for the BJP. To take a decision that its spokespersons said just a day ago was representative of the hopes and wishes of its workers and of the happy tiding members of the national executive would take back to their states would be to make a laughing stock of the party.

It would completely confuse the BJP worker and sympathiser down the line. It would cripple the party and make it lose credibility in the eyes of ordinary voters, potential allies and, most important, its committed support base.

The analogy may not be perfect, but what the BJP faces is the sort of dilemma Sharad Pawar imposed on the Congress in 1999, when he asked Sonia Gandhi to renounce the prime ministry and essentially hand over authority in the party to others. The fault-line of course was Sonia’s foreign origin. If you ignore the background noise, the fact is the Pawar revolt left the Congress with the same sort of challenge as the Advani rebellion has thrust upon the BJP. If Sonia and the Gandhi dynasty had lost their nerve then, and backtracked, the Congress would have been left bereft of its central pillar and organisational principle.

This is a similar moment of truth for the BJP. It is likely Advani has misjudged and overestimated the sympathy for him within the party. This is not 2005, when his unilateralism and quixotic formulations on Jinnah were not enough to override the affection and reverence the BJP’s second generation had for him. Indeed, it was Modi who backed Advani during that battle, not because he agreed with him on Jinnah but because he didn’t want the RSS to step into the vacuum Advani’s sudden removal would cause.

In 2013, things are very different. Advani has encashed all his IoUs. Bheeshma Pitamah has made his bed of arrows; now he must lie on it.

Contact the author at malikashok@gmail.com

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