The politically affable Mr. Singh found prime candidate
The task of expanding the four-party National Democratic Alliance has been entrusted by the Bharatiya Janata Party to its veteran leader Jaswant Singh.
In a statement, BJP President Nitin Gadkari said Mr. Singh has been given “the task of maintaining continuous contact” with and engaging in “relationship-building” with all political parties.
Ever since the NDA's grand electoral victory in the Bihar assembly polls, the BJP has been toying with the idea of expanding the NDA with an eye on the Lok Sabha polls due in 2014. More recently, some party leaders expressed the view that the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance may even come to an abrupt end and that the party should prepare itself for a mid-term poll.
Party leaders are acutely aware that with just the four parties that currently constitute the NDA — the BJP, the Janata Dal (United), the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal — the alliance does not stand a chance of winning the next Lok Sabha poll as it is practically non-existent in States and regions that send about 200 MPs. In the late 90s, when it was in power, the NDA had some 20 parties — big and small.
In the South, the BJP has a good presence in only Karnataka while in the East — except in Bihar and Assam — its presence is negligible. In the Western States — Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan — it has a strong presence, as also in the Hindi heartland States. In the North, it has a partner in the Akali Dal in Punjab. The leadership is also aware that it has to improve its position in Uttar Pradesh, which, in the late 90s, was its strongest State, sending more than 50 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
The leadership felt that after Mr. Singh was taken back into the party, about six months ago, his services needed to be utilised better, hence the new task given to him. The period of estrangement between Mr. Singh and the party lasted for about 10 months from August 2009, when he was expelled for views expressed by him on Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his biography, till the summer of 2010 when he was taken back into the party without being forced to express any regrets.
A senior party leader indicated on Monday that the BJP needed a “soft face” to approach would-be allies. The clear indication was that it needed a leader who would not put potential friends off by presenting a hard Hindutva line. Mr. Singh apparently fits the bill as he has a reputation for maintaining good relations with a number of Opposition party leaders, including J. Jayalalithaa of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Party leaders also indicated that the BJP needed its own senior leader to approach potential allies as it was not enough for NDA convenor and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav to do so, although earlier the BJP had formally announced that Mr. Yadav had been asked to bring in more parties into the BJP-led anti-corruption plank being used to create a climate antagonistic to the Manmohan Singh government.
The view was that somebody with authority from the BJP was needed to talk to would-be political partners. Mr. Singh, who is close to the NDA's working chairman L.K. Advani, was found to be the most suitable.