Colonel Sona Ram surely doesn’t belong to GenNext. At 71, the former Congress Jat general has been chosen by Team Modi to replace 76-year-old BJP Rajput warhorse Major Jaswant Singh. For the BJP, former finance, external affairs and defence minister is a loser. But Sona Ram who lost his Assembly election as a Congress candidate from Rajasthan just six months ago is suddenly an asset. It is true that he has excelled himself in acquiring assets. As a Congress MP in 2004 from Barmer, Sona Ram’s election affidavit revealed assets worth Rs 1.53 crore which had, presto, risen to Rs 3.11 crore when he filed his nomination as the Congress candidate for the Baytoo Assembly segment. As a member of the ruling Congress, his assets saw a behemothic rise when he was re-nominated in 2013, having zoomed vertically to Rs 17 crore. Next, let’s take Jagdambika Pal, a Congress defector from Uttar Pradesh to the saffron bandwagon. He was elected from Domariyaganj twice in 2004 and 2009. His assets were just `10 lakh in 2004 but crossed almost Rs 5 crore in 2009. He holds the world record for being the only UP leader to have perched briefly on the chief minister’s seat for just 24 hours. Ironically, both Atal Bihari and L K Advani had sat on dharna in front of the Rashtrapati Bhawan against his midnight installation as chief minister.
The dilemma of debate begins here. Does the BJP’s hearty welcome extended to Sona Ram and Jagdambika Pal punctures its claim of a Modi wave sweeping the country? Or does it signal its growing acceptability among various sections of the political spectrum? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Accepting defectors from the Congress does betray the BJP’s tremulous state of confidence, since this would mean it is not sure that its own trusted and loyal workers would ensure a win in these constituencies. Already, the party has bolstered this impression by letting its leaders choose ‘safe’ seats for themselves at the cost of even replacing those who had earlier won these constituencies. Now the race is on to hug, kiss and make up with anyone and anybody. The BJP’s witenagemote is snooping around to sniff out for any form of dissident and disgruntled elements in other parties and admitting them into their fold. Horse-trading and party hopping is unfortunately de riguer on the eve of every election. Since the Ruling Party of India (RPI) is perceived as a sinking ship, many of its members are making a beeline to the BJP headquarters—former diplomats, army officers, senior retired civil servants, culture vultures, cine stars and opinion writers; all expecting some crumbs in case the saffron flag comes to fly over Delhi. Most of them have been the UPA’s megalomaniacal megaphones and have competed to paint Modi as the monster for most of the past decade. It is because of the choreographed entry of fair weather birds that the original development thrust of the Modi-for-PM campaign is getting diluted. On top of it, the BJP is now even brokering electoral weddings with those parties which are opposed to its ideology of nationalism and a united India. Even committed party cadres feel sandbagged by the recent decision to align with five Dravidian parties, which have been associated with the LTTE. But in its endeavour to erase its stigma of untouchability, the BJP leadership doesn’t mind embracing them to prove its adversaries wrong. Undoubtedly, the party cannot expect to win a single seat in the south unless it finds a credible confrere. The party won both in 1998 and 1999 because L K Advani was able to add trustworthy allies like the DMK or AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha and TMC in West Bengal. Later, the BJP also forged alliances with Ajit Singh’s RLD and JMM in Jharkhand. It was for the first time that over a dozen regional parties with formidable local clout accepted Vajpayee’s leadership and unconditionally supported his government.
In its desperate search for winning friends and influencing people, the BJP appears to be changing both colours and contours. For the first time, it is undergoing a massive metamorphosis. The new BJP would not be a party led by ideology-led leaders. It is facing a serious threat of a takeover by those who had no connection with the Sangh Parivar. The speed with which former Congressmen are being admitted in the BJP, the day is not far when people may find it difficult to tell one from the other. So far, only economics had erased the difference between the two national parties. Soon, they will also physically look alike. The BJP sees leaders like Advani, Jaswant Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Kalyan Singh, Arun Shourie, Uma Bharti and more as liabilities, while defectors like Sona Ram and Jagdambika Pal are perceived as the most productive assets. The party has sidelined many veterans in various states to accommodate opportunists. Even an indirectly favourable statement made by Mehbooba Mufti, a highly vociferous supporter of separatist tendencies thanks to her political compulsions, is interpreted as an endorsement for Moditva. A few inaudible and disjointed words spoken by M K Alagiri, Karunanidhi’s rebellious son, are projected as rising support for the saffron party. These are good omens for the BJP but it also means that it doesn’t mind making deals for the sake of acquiring power at any cost at the Centre. The art of making compromises was so far the monopoly of the Congress. It did not hesitate to strike an accord with Sharad Pawar, who had resigned from the Congress over the issue of Sonia’s foreign citizenship. It welcomed the DMK, which was accused of supporting Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins. The Congress, however, has never been as liberal in admitting BJP leaders to its fold as the BJP appears to be, getting tainted and infamous Congress leaders into its clasp. It is now time for Modi to assert himself. Does he want a party of committed cadre, which believes in his development agenda and decisive leadership? Or will he allow the party to admit anyone who would pose a threat not only to Moditva but also challenge the authority of Modi himself.
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