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There Is No Alternative to Advani

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: October 19, 2004 04:36 IST
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Finally, it was a case of the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor at work for the Bharatiya Janata Party when it decided to fall back on the tried and tested in its bid to find its feet after yet another electoral loss.

For want of a better alternative, it has been forced to bring back former deputy prime minister Lal Kishenchand Advani at the helm for the third time.

Its efforts at grooming a younger generation of leaders seem to have got unstuck at the final stage as first Bangaru Laxman and then M Venkaiah Naidu failed to deliver electoral victories. One of the reasons is that both do not enjoy mass appeal. Same was the case with Laxman's immediate predecessor Jana Krishnamurthy.

Also, the second rung of leadership was seen as a divided lot, divided over who be the leader among them. Their infighting has led to bizarre situations.

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Recently, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti and Naidu had engaged in a well-publicised and clumsy showdown when it appeared like the former was getting mileage after her arrest and subsequent release in connection with the tricolour controversy.

In such a scenario, it is being felt that Advani, despite his 75 years, is the best bet. His stature is such that he can keep the second leadership in check and also put their disparate skills to collective use.

Incidentally, almost all the second-rung leaders are Advani's protégés.

His appointment satisfies a major demand of the BJP's state leaders who were asking for leaders who can win elections, at least in their own constituencies, to hold the post of party president and general secretaries. The cadre is not enthused by leaders who sit in the Rajya Sabha and don't adopt a pragmatic approach while tackling the party's problems.

There is also thinking in the party that the 'Hindi, hardliner' party can't have a south Indian leader in these depressing times. Naidu, an Andhraite, was made the party president when Hindi-speaking Atal Bihari Vajpayee was leading the country.

Vajpayee and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were sounded off about the proposal to appoint Advani as party chief. Vajpayee readily agreed but asked party leaders to take former party chief and senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi into confidence. Joshi 'grudgingly' agreed.

Advani enjoys mass appeal, has led the party to electoral victories and is an acknowledged strategist.

However, at the same time, his image is that of a hardliner, a Hindutva hawk. This is cited as the reason for his inability to lead a coalition government.

He sought to counter it during his tenure as Union home minister. He failed, but in the bargain, he also lost his following the hardliners.

As party president, he is expected to get an opportunity 'to repair this damage'. A staunch RSS worker said, "After becoming the Union home minister, he was caught in two minds."

According a senior BJP leader, "After the 1999 election, Advani was following Vajpayee, like a loyal soldier. But now, he will lead from the front as he did after the disaster of 1984 (when the BJP won only two Lok Sabha seats under Vajpayee)."

It is to be seen what agenda Advani sets for the party. In this context, it is to be seen what he has to say about Hindutva.

A senior BJP leader in Delhi said, "Hindutva is not our political weapon but a deep conviction. We, including Advani, forgot that and paid a heavy price losing election after election."

Another issue being debated within the BJP is: the limitations of the politics of alliances. Some believe that the BJP should develop patience and not go in for alliances during elections. It should contest elections only on the Hindutva ideology and build up its base gradually.

And whenever it comes to building or rebuilding the party base, it seems the BJP turns to only one man: L K Advani.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi