It was in deep crisis mode that the Bharatiya Janata Party went to Shimla last week. There were so many problems plaguing the party that the Chintan (thought) Baithak might have been more appropriately called a Chinta (worry) Baithak. Consider the line-up of miseries: Vasundhara Raje’s rebellion, the Jaswant Singh expulsion fiasco, and more vexingly, the virtual quit notice issued to the party’s leadership quartet — Lal Krishna Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, and Sushma Swaraj — by the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh supremo, Mohan Bhagwat. Then came Arun Shourie’s ‘Alice in Blunderland’ literary fireworks, call for ‘bombard[ing] the headquarters,’ and appeal to the RSS to take over the party, which sounded very much like a cry for extreme unction. The BJP will no doubt adopt the posture that individuals are wholly dispensable, yet its leadership must ask itself whether its conduct has not been spectacularly akratic — especially after the 2009 general election debacle.
To the consternation of its cadre, the party rewarded central campaign managers with key posts while punishing defeated State leaders. Mr. Rajnath Singh refused to acknowledge that the Shimla meet discussed a critical internal report, which he claimed did not even exist. The needless obfuscation and the rumours it fuelled gave the Shimla proceedings a cloak-and-dagger air, causing further damage to a party that once boasted of openness and inner-party democracy in contrast to the dynastically led Congress. The RSS of course has acted in character: declining Mr. Shourie’s invitation to take over the BJP, and insisting it had no role to play in the party’s internal affairs. But who can forget that Mr. Jaswant Singh was ordered out of the 1998 Cabinet by a midnight decision of the Sangh, which later oversaw Mr. Advani’s resignation from the party chief’s post and his subsequent elevation as shadow Prime Minister? Mr. Bhagwat has gone further down this road, suggesting that the BJP’s leadership quartet should vacate its posts in favour of candidates made available by the Sangh. Lest the ideological overlord’s message should escape the party, Mr. Bhagwat let it be known that he has an army of 70 loyalists to choose from. Clearly, the day of reckoning cannot be far away: the BJP must either take the Sangh bull by the horn or drift along without hope of political advancement, making a Jhandewalan takeover a fait accompli. India needs a strong and credible opposition at the national level. As matters stand, unnerved by defeat, a mentally and morally confused BJP is caught between its ‘core’ and a hard, indefinable place — a trap from which escape seems way beyond the capabilities of its present leadership.