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NEW PRESIDENT OF THE BJP: PM Vajpayee has his way.

Paper No. 136

by  R.Upadhyay

So long the BJP or its earlier incarnation the BJS was in opposition, it was headed by the leading light of Sangh Parivar, who had firm roots in the organisational structure of the RSS. But now while in power, the induction of Bangaru Laxman, a relatively low profile leader as the "unanimous" choice of the party for the post of president does not fit in with the traditions of the BJP. When charismatic and senior party leaders like A.B.Vajpayee and L.K.Advani are in the government, will Bangaru Laxman be able to command and guide the party for an independent role?

The objective of the BJP according to its constitution is –

* " The party is pledged to build up India as a strong and prosperous nation, which is modern, progressive and enlightened in outlook and which proudly draws inspiration from India’s ancient culture and values and thus is able to emerge as great world power playing an effective role in the comity of Nations for the establishment of world peace and a just international order "

* The main role of the party president is to provide direction to its cadres for expanding the ideological base of the party with an aim to achieve its political objective.

But the first priority of the new president is said to be " to further strengthen the coordination between the party and the Government"   which is nowhere near the ideological objective of the party. 

Secondly, " consolidating the gains of the 1999 electoral mandate should be the new ‘Mantra’ of the party in the coming days and years " is the new President's other priority. ( BJP TODAY Dated- August 16-31 ). Everyone knows that the BJP hardly had any gain in 1999 election. The party won the same number of 182 seats as in 1998.  It was in fact a gain for the other constituents of the NDA. The performance of  BJP  in UP and Karnataka in 1999 Lok-Sabha election, was also poor.

With the shifting of balance of power from the Congress to the BJP led coalition, many cadres and supporters of the party are under the impression that the BJP is no more a party with difference. They think that the Prime minister-centric tradition of the Congress has also been inherited by the BJP after it came to power.   Laxman’s main objective therefore, is allegedly not to guard the Government against the ideological shift if any but to convince the party cadres about the realpolitik of Vajpayee Government.

Predecessors of the president-elect of the BJP were A.B.Vajpayee, followed by L.K.Advani, Dr.M.M.Joshi and Kushabhau Thakre who were nationally known Swayamsevakas of the RSS.  Appointment of Bangaru Laxman to the top post of the party on the other hand, who is relatively unknown as a mass leader has caused surprise among the party cadres and its supporters.  A law graduate from Osmania University of Andhra Pradesh, he was a Swayamsevak of RSS since his school days but did not ever figure significantly in its organisational structure.

After resigning from Government service in 1969, Bangaru Laxman participated in trade union movement in his state, where the BJS or the BJP was known as a north Indian party of Hindi belt.  He unsuccessfully contested against former Congress Prime Minister Narsimha Rao from Andhra Pradesh in 1991 and Buta Singh from Rajasthan in 1999 during Lok Sabha polls. Later, he was accommodated in Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. He was also inducted in Union Cabinet as Minister of State.  He was neither known as a mass leader nor has made any significant contribution for the growth of the party’s base as a Dalit leader even after heading the All India Scheduled Caste Morcha of the party for seven years.

Elevation of Bangaru Laxman to the presidential post of the party does not therefore convincingly satisfy the cadres and supporters of the BJP. If a leader of such a political low profile was elevated to the highest post of a party in power, the observations of some political observers branding this move of the BJP leadership as a political tokenism deserves some merit.

Before the announcement of the name of Bangaru Laxman for the post of party president, the names of Party’s Vice-President Jana Krishnamurthy and the high profile General Secretary Venkaiah Naidu were doing the rounds. Whether Bangaru Laxman was the unanimous choice of the BJP or the exclusive decision of the Prime minister as projected in the media may be a debatable issue, but the statement of the latter - " even before we could consider Mr. Naidu’s name, Shri Venkaiah Naidu informed me and other senior colleagues that he did not wish to be presently considered for party’s presidentship" (Hindu dated August 6, 2000) – proves that Mr. Laxman was not the first or the only choice of the party. 

The BJP leaders are now trying to derive political mileage by projecting Bangaru Laxman as a Dalit to widen the party’s base among the weaker sections and also to shed its image as a Hindi belt party.

Contrary to the spirit of  democracy, the policy of appeasement has gradually made its deep roots in Indian polity. No political party in India can survive without this ingredient of political chemistry in its agenda.. The projection of Bangaru Laxman as a Dalit leader to the highest post in the BJP is therefore a psychological attempt to appease the Dalit section of population on one hand and to counter the anti-Dalit image of the party by its opponents on the other.

With a view to counter the Mandal politics of former Prime Minister V.P.Singh, the RSS floated an organisation known as Samajik Samarasata Manch (Social Harmony Front).  Even after 10 years of its inception, the front has hardly made any significant achievement on this count. The reason is not that Sangh Parivar is casual on this issue, but they are helpless due to the on going politics of political appeasement being played by all the parties including the BJP.

The basic problem for the Dalit segment of population is that the vast majority of them are still being exploited even by the leaders of their own community, who too consider them as "vote bank only".  Dalits belonging to different castes are not united under the leadership of any single party or leader. The two prominent Dalit castes namely Jatavs and Dusadhs in north India are the vote banks of Mayawati of BSP and Ram Vilas Paswan of Dalit Sena ( presently in JD-U ) respectively.   The voters of these two castes are not ready to understand the language of any other Dalit leaders. Dalit status of Bangaru Laxman therefore, may not derive any political mileage from this segment of voters in Hindi belt so long the BSP and Dalit Sena play their own political game.

The other upwardly mobile backward castes and Dalits are politically exploited regularly by their respective caste leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav, Mayavati and Ram Vilas Paswan. Thus, the possibility of the BJP, which is known as the party of urban traders, middle class and of upper castes to make any break through in the backward and Dalit segment of voters through a low profile party president even belonging to Dalit community and that too from south is very remote. The Sangh Parivar could not protect Kalyan Singh, who remained associated with the ideology of Hindutva for over forty years against the virus of caste politics. How can it therefore, expect common voters belonging to backward and Dalit communities to be influenced by its new president?. Dalit leaders in the BJP are being ridiculed by their counterparts in other parties as stooges of the ‘Manuvadis’

The past record of Bangaru Laxman does not support the theory that being a leader from south he will be able to expand the ideological base of the party in southern states. Though, the BJP could manage to win a few Lok Sabha and Assembly seats from southern states except Kerala through tactical alliance with regional parties, it is still known as a party of Hindi belt. Jana Krishnamurthy, a senior Vice President of the party with RSS background was also projected in media as a likely candidate for presidential post. But his name was reportedly not considered because of his problem with Hindi language.  Many Southerners say that this only confirms that the BJP is a "North Indian Party".  Thus South Indian card in favour of Bangaru Laxman may not also derive any significant political gain for the BJP.

It is a well - known  that with the on going tussle between the RSS and Vajpayee Government on a number of issues, confusion is prevailing among the party cadres. The organisational leaders of the BJP like Kushabhau Thakre, Govindacharya and others deeply rooted in the ideology of the RSS are known to be not comfortable with a number of policy decisions of Vajpayee Government. In 1998 Kushabhau Thakre had criticised the Word Trade Organisation in conformance with the position taken in the manifesto of the party. This caused embarrassment to Vajpayee Government. Similarly Govindacharya had attended the recently held meeting of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch in which resolutions were adopted against the global liberalisation policy of Vajpayee Government.

 The RSS chief K.S.Sudarshan as quoted in the media (Hindu dated August 11) had told Karan Thapar’s Hardtalk India programme for the BBC that " As things stand today, we do not feel it (BJP) is acting as a party with difference. We understand their compulsions.  In the present set of circumstances, they have no other option but to work under some constraints."

In the backdrop of  differences in perception between Vajpayee Government and the puritans of Sangh Parivar on many issues, the suspicion is that any strong leader with commitment to RSS ideology may not have suited Vajpayee.   Bangaru Laxman with two important qualifications of being a Dalit and a junior in the RSS heirarchy was therefore the right choice for the Vajpayee Government under the present political situation.

But will it work for the party?