Note: This is my translation of Pratap Simha’s column 18 May 2013 column in Kannada Prabha.
An incident comes to mind. The incident is recorded in Shanti Bhushan’s autobiography, Courting Destiny. The incident occurred sometime in 1978.
Morarji Desai had completed an year as Prime Minister. He began to face threats to his chair. The powerful Janata leader and Home Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh was eyeing Prime Ministership from the beginning. Another leader, Babu Jagjivan Ram too had Prime Ministerial ambitions. Rebellion was brewing at a steady pace. There were whispers of an overnight “revolution” against Morarji Desai.
In these circumstances, a Cabinet Committee comprising four ministers was formed to bring in electoral reforms. The committee included the Home Minister Charan Singh, Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, Information and Broadcasting Minister Lal Krishna Advani, and another Minister, Dr. P.C. Chander. It was decided that the Committee would meet at 11 A.M. Everybody was present except Charan Singh. Neither could the rest of the members begin the meeting without a senior leader like Charan Singh. So they waited. Charan Singh finally arrived and was embarrassed that he had kept them all waiting. And so he remained standing behind the chair and begged everybody’s forgiveness for his latecoming. The other ministers were touched by this gesture coming from such a senior leader and requested him to take his seat.
However, Charan Singh refused to sit, “I’ll not sit until you’ve all forgiven me,” he insisted. And then he explained the reason for his latecoming. “I left home rather early but a journalist accosted me. He asked me if I was eager to become the Prime Minister. I was furious. I told him it wasn’t a great sin to aspire to become the Prime Minister. I asked him if he didn’t desire to become the Editor of a big newspaper if he had the opportunity?” Charan Singh then revealed the inner meaning of this, “I definitely aspire to become the Prime Minister of this country one or the other day. However, I am not indulging in any conspiracy against Morarji Ji. Morarji ji is aged and will die some day. Then I’ll definitely become the PM.”
Chaudhary Charan Singh sat down.
The same afternoon, Shanti Bhushan met Prime Minister Desai with a view to pacify him saying that Charan Singh had no intention of unseating him. However, he didn’t want to use the words of Singh who was confident of his turn after Morarji’s death. Instead, Bhushan said, “Charan Singh told us that it will be his turn on the PM’s chair after it is vacated.” However, Desai was an astute judge of character. He said, “What’s the guarantee that Charan Singh won’t die before me? Although I’m aged, my health is much better than his. Besides, astrologers have told me that I will lose two ministers by the end of this year.” In other words, he was pointing at the exits of Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram!
Which party, which Government would survive if its own people begin ceaseless bickering and indulge in mutual sabotage? The same fate met the Janata Parivar. If we observe the present condition of the BJP Central leadership, we cannot but help be reminded of this incident.
You really want to ask why?
The 2014 General Elections are some 9-10 months away. Now is the perfect time to boot out the UPA, which is mired in a whirlpool of scandals and scams with new dirt coming out everyday. The Congress party has no face to ask the people of India to vote for it again. However, are these reasons enough for the BJP to ride on the wave of victory? Post Emergency, the Congress was in an even worse condition. However, the same anti-Congress forces that had branded the RSS as the killer of Gandhi got together under the vast umbrella called the Janata Parivar and fought the 1977 elections. The reason was simple. Leaders of the various anti-Congress parties realized that individually none of them could capture power riding on the anti-Congress wave that was pervasive throughout the nation. Which is why they teamed up together and scored a stunning victory.
However, despite having this instructive example in front of them, despite knowing the consequence of having numerous Prime Minister aspirants, what is the behaviour of the current BJP Central leadership today?
Earlier this Wednesday, in an interview to Times Now, the BJP’s drama queen Uma Bharati declared that “Being a crowd puller does not make any one a prime ministerial candidate.” In an interview in 2010, when Sushma Swaraj was asked if Narendra Modi would campaign for the Bihar state polls, she said, “It is not a given that Modi’s charisma will work everywhere.” Late last year, when Nitin Gadkari had to resign as BJP president in the wake of allegations of a scam, senior RSS leader M.G. Vaidya quipped, “Modi’s hand is behind the allegations levelled against Gadkari.” Elsewhere, he also said that declaring Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate would help the Opposition parties. And then we have K.N. Govindacharya who seems to open his mouth solely to cast aspersions on people of his own party. This was the same person who famously called Atal Bihari Vajpayee a “mask.”
Amidst all this. we have the curious phenomenon of some sections in the BJP clamouring for the elevation of a youth named L.K. Advani, aged 86 years, as the next Prime Minister of a country in which 65% of the people are 35 years old. This selfsame L.K. Advani could attract less than 2000 people for his rally during the recently-concluded Karnataka elections. Yet, while a Sushma Swaraj claims that “there is still opportunity for L.K. Advani to become the next PM,” L.K. Advani declares that “I am reminded of Vajpayee whenever Sushma Swaraj makes a speech.” And thus proceeds the grand charade of mutual back-scratching. Not to be left behind, Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha sway their respective heads, joining in this Advani-bhajan.
Exactly who are they fighting against? What is the intent, the goal behind such statements? Instead of working to unseat the Congress, why are they behaving as if the sole aim of their lives is to prevent declaring Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate? What message does this send out to the Opposition parties?
The time when people entered politics with the noble and the only intention of serving people has passed long ago. However, does that mean that everybody has the automatic right to aspire for the highest post in the country? Before even dreaming the dream of becoming the PM, have the BJP leaders even considered whether they deserve it? Writing in Firstpost, R. Jagannathan lists out the BJP’s 7 Deadly Sins. He observes that the BJP
lacks any kind of central leadership. Its real leaders are all in the states – Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Sushil Modi, Vasundhara Raje, Raman Singh and Manohar Parikkar, probably in this order of importance. The headquarters generals are people with bloated egos. They can bark before TV cameras, but cannot win a single seat on their own – from LK Advani to Sushma Swaraj to Arun Jaitley.
Don’t you feel that the assessment is accurate?
Let’s take the example of Sushma Swaraj who aspires to become the Prime Minister and is attempting to outsmart rivals in her own party. What are her qualifications? What is her ability? After the BJP lost Delhi thanks to the feud between Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma, the BJP Leadership realized that it would be tough to win back the state. And so it brought in Sushma Swaraj, an import to the BJP from the Janata Parivar, and fought the 1989 state polls thinking that they would win on the strength of her charisma. The result: the BJP lost Delhi and since then, has never been able to recover it. You cannot find even one more example of this occurrence in any of the states that the BJP has ruled. In the recent Uttaranchal elections, the BJP entered the fray by declaring B.C. Khanduri as the CM candidate at the last moment. It might have lost the elections but there’s a difference of just two seats that separated it from the victorious Congress. However, the party was humiliatingly routed in Delhi under the stewardship of Sushma Swaraj. Additionally, Swaraj who was elected to the Lok Sabha from South Delhi abandoned it in 1998. In 1999, she contested against Sonia Gandhi from Bellary and lost. It was during that campaign that she met the Reddy Brothers (and Sriramulu), who’re now in jail. After her loss in Bellary, she entered the Rajya Sabha in 2000 and was subsequently given the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Besides, what exactly are her contributions as I&B Minister and Health Minister? Even today, people take the names of B.C. Khanduri, Sunil Prabhu, Ram Naik, Arun Shourie, and Jaswant Singh with respect, recognizing their signal contributions to the nation. Nobody even mentions Sushma Swaraj. When she wanted to contest for the Lok Sabha again, she chose Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh after the seat was vacated by Shivraj Singh Chauhan who became the Chief Minister of the state. Why? Why didn’t she contest from South Delhi again? Simply because she knew that Vidisha is the impregnable stronghold of the BJP. What does the fact that a Prime Minister aspirant seeks safe seats indicate? Had Shivraj Singh Chauhan not become the Chief Minister, had he not provided good governance in the state, had Madhya Pradesh not been with the BJP, had Digvijay Singh not vowed not to return to Madhya Pradesh for 10 years, which other safe seat Sushma Swaraj would have been forced to seek out some other safe seat! Besides, isn’t Sushma Swaraj from Haryana? What exactly is her value there? Does she at least have the courage to contest from South Delhi for she has made Delhi her home for a number of years now? And do we have even one instance where she has displayed maturity? When the Congress won the 2004 elections and Sonia Gandhi was all set to become Prime Minister, this selfsame Sushma Swaraj thundered that she would tonsure her head, wear white clothes, and eat grains. Is this how a so-called political activist and senior leader behaves?
Now for Advani. Nobody can point fingers at his capabilities. This was the man who built the BJP from scratch. He was largely instrumental in taking it to power from its paltry 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984. Anybody who disagrees with this assessment is either ignorant or ungrateful. However, should we still tolerate his unquenchable prime ministerial ambition, which is what is proving to be disastrous to the party only because he built up the party? Should we tolerate the Advani-for-PM faction in the party which is busy giving out statements in the media via remote control? In case Advani still seriously believes that he deserves to be the PM, what are the steps he’s taking to fulfill it? Any leader whatever his misgivings, must jump into the battlefield with at least a show of supreme confidence that he/she will win. Isn’t it his responsibility to motivate his people that “victory will be ours” and then fight with such an attitude? Advani began blogging during the run up to the 2009 General Elections. However, what is the impression one gets upon reading the blog posts he’s written in the last one year or so? A few months ago, he had written a post that said that there is a possibility that a non-Congress and a non-BJP Government would come to power. Speaking at Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh On 3 April, he said that no Government could be formed without the support of the Congress or the BJP. What does this mean? Doesn’t it mean that he admits that the BJP would not come to power in 2014? If that is the case, why isn’t Advani willing to let go of his PM ambition and make way for any leader who is ready to lead the BJP to electoral victory?
Advani must decide whether he wants to be a journalist or a politician. If he tries to be both, this will be end result. Advani has also indulged in giving sermons on corruption keeping Karnataka specifically in mind. One result of sermonizing was the fact that it was Yeddyurappa who paid the price. However why has he done nothing to unseat the Congress which now resembles the nation’s of Corruption HQ? Indeed, Advani, Sushma Swaraj, and Ananth Kumar have done nothing to shake the Congress, have done nothing to corner it despite an avalanche of more than 20 scams that have tumbled out. We have the example of an Arun Shourie whose expose resulted in the resignation of A.R. Antulay. We have heard of a Feroze Gandhi who used to corner his own father in law Nehru, in the Parliament. And we also have the example of how the entire Parliament would wait and listen in silence when Vajpayee used to speak. What has Advani who wrote reams on corruption done about the corruption in the Congress Government at the centre? In fact, it was Anna Hazare who led a movement against corruption and not the principal Opposition party, the BJP. Back then, the BJP was in such a deep slumber that only Varun Gandhi went over to Jantar Mantar and showed solidarity with Anna.
When the BJP lost in 2009, it dubbed the Electronic Voting Machine as Election Winning Machine. However, did it pursue the issue? It is Subramanian Swamy who has pursued every scam from 2G to the EVMs. Why does the entire leadership of the BJP lack the guts that this one man has displayed? The long-winded speeches that Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj make in the parliament increasingly appear to be stage-managed exercises in eyewash. They have no impact or consequence beyond the TV talk show of that evening. Indeed, the Congress handed over gargantuan scams like the 2G and Coalgate on a platter to the BJP. Did the BJP need issues bigger than these to bay for the Congress’ blood?
Recently, my friend Sandeep Balakrishna who interviewed Arun Shourie recounted how Shourie told him that “Parliament has become a stage for drama.” Do you need an example of the truth in Shourie’s words? In last year’s Monsoon Session of the Parliament, L.K. Advani launched a fusillade against the UPA, calling it an illegitimate Government. As if on cue, the Congress party’s Mother India, Sonia Gandhi, displayed anger on her face. Her loyal MPs fell on Advani. TV shows debated this episode endlessly. Advani apologized. What however was carefully buried was the crucial discussion on the Assam violence thanks to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. How’s this for drama where everybody protects everybody’s back? Why was it necessary for Advani to call the UPA an illegitimate Government in a session where he had to actually raise the important issue of the Assam violence? This is a classic example of what Arun Shourie terms as the homogenization of the Indian political class. Both the ruling and the opposition parties are now hand in glove.
Dear Advani, Jaitely. and Sushma: this is the reason that there’s a nationwide clamour for Narendra Modi to become the Prime Minister.
On the other side, most politicians are opposed to Modi becoming the PM because that event would expose their true colours and threaten the existing power structure. People might criticize Modi for the Gujarat riots. However, there’s no denying that he’s perhaps the last hope for this country. An ill-informed Uma Bharati who spouts a statement that “Being a crowd puller does not make anyone a prime ministerial candidate” needs to recall the 1990s where the BJP called for electoral reforms so that Indian elections could be modelled after the US-style Presidential system. Why? Simply because Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani were the most popular leaders back then. Their rallies used to draw lakhs of people. And then there was the typhoon of the Ayodhya movement. Despite its success, the BJP’s seat tally didn’t cross 120 in 1991. Thus, if a US-style system of polls were implemented in India, there was every chance that Vajpayee would become the Prime Minister based on popular mandate.
Today, if there is any leader in the BJP who can deliver 180-200 seats, it is none other than Narendra Damodardas Modi. Equally, today, people do not vote merely for a political party—they vote based on the leader who is projected as the face of the party. If the face of the party projected as the Prime Ministerial (or Chief Ministerial) candidate is a strong, capable, and impeccable leader, they vote for the party even if the MP or MLA candidate of the party in their constituency isn’t all that capable. Which other leader in the BJP apart from Narendra Modi has these qualities?
Dear Mr. Advani: you have been projected as the BJP’s PM candidate once. We’ve seen the outcome. Enough. Else, the lust for gaddi that you and your sycophants have might swallow the party. Beware!