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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June, 2005, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Is the BJP's leader a lame duck?

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

LK Advani after laying a wreath at Jinnah's mausoleum
Mr Advani after laying a wreath at Jinnah's mausoleum
The way India's most prominent opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani has withdrawn his resignation to remain as the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) proves two things.

First: India's oldest Hindu nationalist organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), continues to hold a vice-like grip over India's main opposition party.

Second: Mr Advani, once called the "iron man" of the BJP, has for now been reduced to a virtual lame duck leader who has to almost kowtow to the dictates of the RSS if he is to stay on as the party's helmsman.

"This is a major disaster for Mr Advani," says political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

Mr Advani, a former deputy prime minister, had offered to step down after describing Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah as "secular" and causing a furore in his party and outside.

Mr Advani's statement was seen as almost blasphemous in a country where Mr Jinnah is reviled as the architect of the bloody partition of 1947.

'Course correction'

But he had stood firm as he rode into the controversy saying he would not retract his statements made in Pakistan.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Jinnah 'led a communal agitation' says the BJP statement

Enthusiastic analysts raved that the hawkish Mr Advani was trying to cast himself as a pan-Indian leader at home and a forward-looking, peace loving leader abroad.

This would, they reckoned, boost his chances of becoming the next prime minister if a BJP-led coalition again came to power and the middle-of-the road allies would be comfortable with him.

They also said that Mr Advani had turned into a pragmatist and was trying to reinvent the BJP as a modern right-wing party, especially at a time when Hindu nationalism was not fetching electoral dividends in India.

Thus, analysts said, Mr Advani was embarking on a "course correction" for a party, which seemed to have run out of fresh, appealing ideas to voters.

They were all proved wrong by the Big Brother - the RSS, the 80-year-old ideological fountainhead of various Hindu groups including the BJP.

Uncompromising

The near-strident and uncompromising tenor of the statement put out by the BJP even as Mr Advani withdrew his resignation echoed the RSS viewpoint.

The state [Mr Jinnah] founded is theocratic and non-secular, the very idea of Hindus and Muslims being separate nations is repugnant
BJP statement

The statement begins with a nod to Mr Advani's "path-breaking" Pakistan journey - but not for his encomiums for Mr Jinnah or for recognising Pakistan as an unalterable historical fact.

Instead, the party says it is happy to note that Mr Advani "raised the issue of cross-border terrorism" with the Pakistani president and "impressed upon him the need to immediately dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and bring cross-border terrorism to the end".

"Mr Advani's visit to Pakistan is now being called path breaking by his party for all the wrong reasons," says Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

The party also said that it appreciated the Pakistan government's invitation to Mr Advani to the inauguration of a restored Hindu temple, and hoped that that Pakistan would continue to restore more such Hindu and Sikh places of worship in the future.

Then it launched into a broadside against Mr Jinnah's vision of Pakistan, which is only a reaffirmation of the RSS view on the founder of Pakistan and the division of India.

"..the state [Mr Jinnah] founded is theocratic and non-secular, the very idea of Hindus and Muslims being separate nations is repugnant to [the BJP]...

"...there can be no revisiting the reality that Jinnah led a communal agitation to achieve his goal of Pakistan, which devoured thousands of innocent people in its wake and dispossessed millions of their homes and livelihood", the party said.

Hardly a sober tenor considering that Mr Advani's trip to Pakistan rode the hype and hoopla that has come to be associated with the ongoing season of peace with Pakistan.

"This only shows that the RSS's power over the party has not abated," says Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

'Back in sync'

Other analysts like Chandan Mitra say that the crisis in the party brought about by Mr Advani's resignation is over for the time being.

"Mr Advani and the BJP were running in different directions. Now they are back in sync. And it has reinstated the BJP position (on partition and Jinnah)", he says.

"But whether this episode that weakened or strengthened Mr Advani only time will tell."

Mr Mitra says that the BJP had suffered "enough damage" due to the crisis, and it will take some time to undo it.

What he possibly means is that the way Mr Advani seemingly wanted to steer the party to a relatively moderate course turned out to be more of a shock to an ideologically committed party and confused its cadres no end.

Any "course correction" for ideologically committed, cadre-based parties has to well thought out, extensively debated, and put down on paper.

For example, when the Communists in Bengal moved away from their avowed policy of avoiding foreign capital to boost the economy in the early 1990s, they came out with a fresh industrial policy spelling out the change and discussed it with their cadres.

Analysts agree that Mr Advani's staying on prevents a short-term crisis in the party.

"After all, he is the party's most pre-eminent leader, isn't he?" says Chandan Mitra.

So will the wounded strongman strike back again and try to break free from the RSS shackles?

Analysts like Pratap Bhanu Mehta are already writing Mr Advani's political epitaph.

"No way," he says. "This will destroy Mr Advani."




SEE ALSO:
BJP's Advani offers resignation
07 Jun 05 |  South Asia
'Demolition man' to build bridges
31 May 05 |  South Asia
Profile: Lal Krishna Advani
07 Jun 05 |  South Asia



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