Old lion roars again as BJP takes the poll lead
By Pratul Sharma - NEW DELHI
Published: 01st Sep 2013 08:47:10 AM
There are no permanent ups and downs in politics. The Grand Old Man of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), L K Advani who had chosen to stay in the political background over Narendra Modi’s elevation to the national scene amidst growing clamour for him to be named the party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014, is back with a bang. While Modi was spending time contemplating his next big move, the ageing lion roared again. Sensing the mood of the nation that has lost faith in the UPA Government, Advani decided to hit the PM where it hurts the most—corruption and economic chaos and challenged him to seek a fresh mandate. While other leaders had not pressed for mid-term polls, Advani himself took the initiative and invited the old guard and both leaders of the Opposition in Parliament and unfolded his strategy. Yashwant Sinha was summoned from his constituency, and requested to draft the memorandum to be submitted to President Pranab Mukherjee. It would include asking Mukherjee to advise the PM to go for an early poll.
Even before the UPA Government could pat itself for getting the BJP’s support to hustle through the first hurdle of getting its two key election-friendly aam aadmi legislations—the Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill—passed in the Lok Sabha, the BJP planned to spoil the party. Advani used his personal equation with Mukherjee to secure an early appointment. After the BJP took on PM Manmohan Singh in both the Houses over statement on economy, they went to Rashtrapati Bhawan at 2 pm on Friday. Advani led the delegation. Those who were chanting the Modinama were conspicuously missing.
Sources said idea to reach out to the President came about when Finance Minister P Chidambaram blamed his predecessor (Mukherjee) for the economic mess during his speech in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. Sources say, there was “unease in the UPA as well” and senior Cabinet ministers, including Sharad Pawar, expressed surprise and disapproval. The BJP veteran advised his parliamentary party to work on this fault line within the government. Advani is learnt to have discussed the idea with his senior party colleagues to play out on the wedge between Mukherjee and Chidambaram, as the president could not have reacted on the charge. Emerging from the meeting, Advani said, “If the country is rid of the present government and people are given a fresh opportunity to elect a new government it would be in the best interest of the country.”
The carefully crafted memorandum hit the nail on its head. “The country can ill-afford at this moment of crisis a government which is paralysed, a Prime Minister who never speaks, a Finance Minister who wrongly blames his immediate predecessor who is unable to defend himself, a supreme leader who does not care about where the money will come from and a bureaucracy which is frozen and unable to act. The Ministers of this government are unbridled and working at cross-purposes. The relationship of the Government of India with the State Governments, specially the non-UPA ruled states and with the opposition parties, is at its nadir,” it said.
Though the BJP’s move urging Mukherjee did not have constitutional backing as President cannot ask for early elections, deputy leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, later explained: “Through this we hope the President would advise the government. This is up to the government to accept it or reject it.” Party sources said it made sense to reach out to Mukherjee as he would be the key person after results to 2014 elections are announced. In case of a fractured mandate, Mukherjee’s role would gain added significance.
Party sources also said Advani has been pushing for cornering the UPA. After Chidambaram’s statement in Lok Sabha on Tuesday giving 10-point formula to revive the economy, the party decided to press for PM’s statement on the state of economy, and stalled the House on Thursday, after it met after Janmashtami break on Wednesday. It was decided that the party would stage a walkout after PM’s speech on Friday and not let him take all the glory. When the PM himself did not wait to listen to Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj’s reply after his speech, the BJP staged a walkout.
The current Parliament session has been seeing Advani’s increasingly reinvolvement in BJP’s parliamentary strategy. The broad contours are decided at the parliamentary party meeting held every week before the session begins. Until now the party has been able to embarrass the government on the issue of poor economy, Telangana, national security, and missing coal files. This session has witnessed an upbeat Advani, breathing fire in the House as of old. His experience as a parliamentarian and former deputy PM came handy after Defence Minister A K Antony euphemistically stated in the House that attack on Indian jawans were by people dressed in Pakistan army uniforms. In case of the food bill discussion, Modi had tried to set agenda by writing to Manmohan asking for discussion with the chief ministers before taking up the bill. However, in Parliament, the party adopted a slightly different strategy reportedly conceived by Advani. Instead of being seen stalling the bill, it supported it to avoid the anti-poor tag. However, during the discussion on the bill, the BJP leaders stuck to the point of selling the Chhattisgarh model of food scheme as a better model that the food bill.
The BJP circles may have been abuzz with Modi’s likely announcement as prime ministerial candidate ahead of the elections to the five states—Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram—Advani has not shied away from reminding everyone that propriety should still hold. When Modi’s chose Independence Day to attack Manmohan, many within the party felt uneasy. Only Advani articulated it publicly as he said solemnity of the day should have been respected.