'Spent iron man' Advani a liability for BJP now?

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While the ruling alliance is busy entertaining the nation with all its silly acts ahead of the presidential polls, the opposition camp is struggling to come in terms with its own domestic chaos. And guess who has played an instrumental role in aggravating the BJP's inner turmoil? It's none other than the Pitamah of saffron politics, Lal Krishna Advani.

Advani-Gadkari

The 85-year-old leader of the BJP recently wrote in his blog that his party had failed to capitalise on the failure of the ruling UPA and people were disappointed with its role in the national politics. He was disappointed with the party's result in the UP elections and a tainted member of the BSP joining the BJP in the state. As a senior leader, Advani has every right to express his views and reflect on any shortcoming of his party, but the timing of his writing was not at all conducive for the BJP. It came just after the party's National Executive in Mumbai and on the day when the NDA was leading a reasonably successful strike all over the country against a steep hike in petrol prices by the Centre. Advani also happens to be the chairman of the NDA.

The BJP leader, along with Sushma Swaraj, had skipped the customary National Executive rally in Mumbai last month and also gave a miss to the party's core committee meeting at party president Nitin Gadkari's residence on Wednesday evening. As with the last instance, party sources said Advani could not attend the meet owing for he had left for Tamil Nadu, a trip that was decided 'much earlier'.

Things are definitely not okay for BJP and surely for the veteran leader. Either the party stands deeply divided or Advani has gone obsolete and could not keep in terms with the changing times and the oragnisation, its values and nature. Unfortunate or not, that is very much the case today.

The BJP, today, has come a big distance from 1984, when it had just two seats in the Lok Sabha, one each in Gujarat (candidate AK Patel) and Andhra Pradesh (CJ Reddy). The party has seen a manifold increase in size and diversity. It is no more confined to the days of the duo, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, either. It seems Advani is at pain to digest the reality. But if we turn back the pages of history, dissent in the BJP is not something new. Vajpayee did not approve the BJP's involvement in the hyper-active Hindutva movement, the heydays of the saffron party. Yet, he did not find much support in his party and Advani was the more popular choice for the Hindutva nationalists. There was not media frenzy either in those days that could have projected the inner dissent in a broad way.

Today, the BJP has evolved into a moderate political party from the leader of a social movement. The transformation is not without an expense. The more the outfit has engaged itself in governance and with public life away from lofty ideals, the more it has fallen prone to day-to-day hassles of politics, the greater has become the need for a sound decision-making role. Fortunately though the party was away from the woes of a dynastic political culture, but at the same time, it never really succeeded in formulating a collective decision-making mechanism. The problem became all the more pressing ever since Vajpayee's exit from the scene. The BJP's crisis in one state after another exemplifies this aspect.

Advani, who always played the second-in-command in the Vajpayee government that lasted its full tenure, never succeeded in fitting himself in the shoes of the prime minister. He was always looked upon as a mentor, a respected leader, but never had his words as the final call made by the party. In fact, as said above, none of the top voices in the party seems to be in cohesion with another and Advani's stature began to sink somewhere amid personality clashes. Besides, the infamous Jinnah controversy of 2005 also dealt a blow to the leader's image among his partymen.

Another key factor which undermined the grand-old man's stature is his untiring ambition to become the country's prime minister. After the failure in 2004 polls, he had left no stone unturned to chase his dream in 2009 when he launched a campaign generally found in presidential elections and attacked the government on various issues, including the black money or a 'weak' PM in Manmohan Singh. But he failed and ever since, Advani has been looked upon much as a spent force.

Advani might have shown a genuine disgust with the struggling UPA government but still can not do much to discredit it for he has been pushed among a minority by his own party. He does not have much more than an ornamental value and just a mask of the BJP. It is indeed an irony that the 'iron man' was once projected as BJP's actual face while Prime Minister Vajpayee as its mask. A helpless Advani took resort to blogging to convey his frustration but it has won him little friends in the party, apart from several curious visitors from the media and observers of politics.

The BJP is at the cross roads today. Despite all its squabble, the party has shown a positive intent in two aspects at the Mumbai meet. One, that it was trying to find a new leadership, which would give it a stability in the post-Vajpayee (and also Advani?) era and two, to try to give prominence to its regional leaders besides the national ones. It is not that it has come out with flying colours in both accounts, but at least the intent is necessary. A person like Advani can act as a positive catalyst to help the party's cause at such juncture. Advani is the party's only link to the past and can reflect on its transition in a way that nobody else can do among the current lot of BJP leaders. But the old man, it seems, is more concerned with his personal prime ministerial ambition, something which has already taken hard beating.

Advani will be 87 in the next Lok Sabha polls and given his current position, where he has lost the confidence of the RSS, it would not be much more difficult then for him to reinvent his political career. The number of prime ministerial candidates in the BJP will also be quite a few. People like Narendra Modi would overtake, in fact already has, Advani in terms of popular prime ministerial candidate from the BJP. In fact, Advani's last Rath Yatra, which he thought would have renewed hopes as it did in the past, also failed to deliver while Modi's sadbhavana fast ended up in a bigger occasion. One can also recall the day when VHP members were found distributing sweets on a road in Gandhinagar, Advani's electoral forte, after he resigned from the post of the party chief. Nothing can be more cruel than politics.

A man, who once was compared to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, is too feeble today to regain any authority, even in his own party. He is struggling to keep himself relevant but for how long?

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