Print edition : August 14, 1999

As the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections begins, the BJP is beset with troubles. The unethical telecom bailout package has whipped up a controversy, the party's relations with some of its allies are strained, and it is faced afresh with faction feuds.

THE euphoric aftermath of the Kargil conflict has clearly unhinged political calculations in certain quarters. Yielding to the perception that the Lok Sabha elections to come will be a triumphal romp for the coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, politicians of infirm convictions have beaten a path to the doorstep of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking its patronage for the contest they will soon be engaged in. Vajpayee's own flock is less than amused at the spectacle of the neo-converts to the cause of the BJP. But the Prime Minister is proving rather more indulgent. He undoubtedly sees in a greater diversity of political allies an opportunity to keep truculent elements within his own brood in check. As the BJP and its partners get their campaign off to a rocky start, there is much amused comment about the state of their alliance. Having negotiated his way through the conflicting demands of his various allies, Vajpayee may well find that the most tenuous linkage within the ruling coalition could well prove that between him and his own party.

At the same time, a mood of effrontery seems to have taken hold in quarters close to the Prime Minister, a willingness to risk public opprobrium in what may be considered smaller details of policy. The tacit calculation is that the political capital earned in Kargil will sustain a few reckless gambles in the cause of building up the electoral war-chest of the Prime Minister and his party. The nation is thus treated to the spectacle of a Cabinet Minister being divested of his charge by a caretaker Prime Minister, for a very specific purpose. This happens in the midst of a war situation, when the political leadership should perhaps be focussing its attention elsewhere.

Leader of some of the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance at a meeting in New Delhi on July 31. The BJP has been disturbed by the need to work out a new set of relations with its allies.-V.SUDERSHAN

This is followed in quick time by a departure from established policy of such serious moment that it invites probing queries from the Head of State. The ruling coalition responds with little regard for the niceties of political engagement, with selective leaks to the media, oblique suggestions of bias and a stubborn resistance to any form of accountability.

The basic norms of functioning in an electoral interregnum have been overturned by the BJP-led coalition. In the process, it has also called into question the delicate system of constitutional separation of powers. Union Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam is still quite the neo-convert seeking to earn his spurs within the BJP's political universe - a domain that was completely alien to him till just two years back. His bumptious suggestion that the President of India can function as a watchdog over affairs of state, provided he does not bark or bite, surpasses even the standards of crudity set by the likes of Bal Thackeray and Murli Manohar Joshi.

Since they suffered defeat in the Lok Sabha in April, the BJP and its allies have targeted the President with a certain lack of refinement that suggests grim events in the future, should they return to power. The questions posed by the President on telecom policy changes were deflected by rote repetition that the new directions were worked out before the Vajpayee Ministry was defeated on the floor of the Lok Sabha. This, as various political parties have shown, is clearly not the case. The policy changes, introduced just hours before the Election Commission brought into effect the model code of electoral conduct, depart significantly and questionably from the recommendations that the Government received from the expert bodies it consulted.

Union Ministe Rangarajan Kumaramangalam.-V.SUDERSHAN

In working out its policy package, the Government clearly drew ideas and inspiration from sources other than the duly constituted authorities. Opposition spokesmen have, with growing insistence, urged a thorough investigation. It is clear that the Prime Minister himself has been the principal motivating factor behind the policy changes. How far his party and its political allies subscribe to his belief that whatever has been done is for the better remains unclear.

WHAT is evident is that the BJP has been rather disoriented by the need to work out a new set of relations with its allies. A faction of the Janata Dal insists that it will be part of the BJP-led coalition, the National Democratic Alliance. Sections within the BJP are equally insistent that it will have nothing to do with the discredited rump of a party that now exists only in name. Influential figures within the NDA, such as George Fernandes and Ramakrishna Hegde, are sponsoring the new political alignment with the obvious intention of securing greater bargaining power within.

The rocky relations with allies apart, the BJP is also confronting a fresh eruption of factional turbulence within. Two prominent figures - Sushma Swaraj in Delhi and Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh - have opted out of the electoral fray in obvious disdain at the dominant cliques within the party. And the effort to clinch fresh alliances with influential regional parties in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh seems to have run aground. Orissa presents another picture of bitter animosities within the BJP's principal ally, the Biju Janata Dal.



BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati, who have opted out of the electoral fray owing to intra-party tussles.

The BJP needs to sustain the euphoria of the Kargil triumph to divert public attention away from its multiple sources of anxiety. But the aftermath of the Pakistani withdrawal from the Kargil heights has been bloody. A new phase of warfare has clearly commenced, with armed intruders abandoning fixed positions in favour of guerilla-style attacks against the Indian Army and paramilitary forces.

Concurrently, there is mounting pressure from newly won friends overseas to open talks with Pakistan on all contentious issues, including Kashmir. There is a measure of sympathy for the reality that a caretaker government cannot engage in meaningful negotiations with external interlocutors. But the guest militants sponsored by Pakistan are unlikely to respect these niceties. With every armed strike they carry out on Indian targets, they underline the reality that Kargil was far from being an unqualified victory. Much still remains to be done to consolidate on that achievement, both on the political and military fronts. The BJP and its allies are yet to convey credibly the impression that they have the intellectual and political resources to do so.

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