India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is in turmoil and only a leadership overhaul coupled with infusion of young blood can re-energise it, say many within and outside the party as they point to its dismal election performance followed by bitter infighting.
Whatever is happening in the BJP -- the second largest party after the ruling Congress -- is symptomatic of the crises it is suffering from, says Pralay Kanungo, political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
“A leadership crisis coupled with a generational gap kept the BJP away from the aspirations of young India, which led to its election defeat. And then the top brass began passing the buck and nobody, including senior leaders, had the courage to own up the failure,” Mr. Kanungo told IANS.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, the party’s national executive member, said the BJP needs a leadership revamp and only young blood can make up for the losses the party inflicted on itself.
“The party is well aware of its crises and has decided to undergo a generational transition. The need to evolve with young leaders was discussed at the chintan baithak (leadership meeting) in Shimla last month,” Mr. Rao told IANS.
“The party under the leadership of L.K. Advani is drawing up a plan for its revival and we are hopeful we will bounce back,” he said.
The BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi agreed that young blood was the need of the hour. Mr. Naqvi told IANS: “Yes we need more of young blood in the party to reorganise the structure and more new ideas to revive the ideological soul of the party.”
Even the members of the youth wing opine that the party needs to take into account the “inspirations and ideas” of the young.
“Party should provide a platform to the students from the youth wing so that their energy can be utilised and an interaction channel established to get a feedback for the aspirations and the ideas of the youngsters,” said Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s (JNU) media advisor Saurabh Dubey.
Other scholars also echo the opinion that along with young leaders, the party of the ideological right also needs new ideologies. “Politics of symbolism and identities is becoming irrelevant in the present times. Policies and ideas embedded in 18th century are not going to help the BJP. It has to become more receptive of 21st century generation and inclusive to broaden its vote base,” Delhi University’s political research scholar Pradeep Singh told IANS.
An unprecedented turmoil has shaken up the BJP, which in May suffered a huge defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP’s tally fell from 130 in the 2004 polls to 116 this year. The Lok Sabha has 543 elected members.
This was followed by senior leaders like Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha criticising the party leadership and asking it to fix responsibility for the defeat.
The party suffered more trouble after it sacked Jaswant Singh for praising Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah in his controversial book -- “Jinnah: India-Partition, Independence”.
Mr. Singh’s expulsion was questioned by senior party leaders like Mr. Sinha and MR. Shourie who even called the BJP a “kati patang“(adrift kite). Former chief ministers Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan and B.C. Khanduri of Uttarakhand also denounced the party for forcing them out of their positions in their respective states.
Sacked from the party, Mr. Jaswant Singh told IANS that if the party wants to remain relevant in contemporary politics, it has to come out of its “19th century obsolete ideas”.
“The BJP should not come across as a 19th century organisation raising obsolete issues. In politics, perceptions are just as important if not more important than reality. Ram Setu and Babri Masjid are non-issues for people now,” he said.
Mr. Kanungo is of the view that the party ideologues “have to change their view...they should be more futuristic” and not stick to history, which is of no relevance outside academic interests for youth.
“To appeal to youth that form a majority of India’s population, the party needs to come up with ideas like better education, employment opportunities.
“Today’s youth talk about future without caring about the burden of history,” he pointed out.
The party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is now seen as playing a key role in helping rejuvenate the BJP. Asked by the RSS to oversee a transition in party leadership, Advani is set to launch a countrywide tour by Sep 15 to interact with cadres and search for young talent that can be inducted into the party, party sources said.