Advani's party

Print edition : July 20, 2002

The reorganisation of the party apparatus in effect marks the completion of the process of L.K. Advani's takeover in the Bharatiya Janata Party.

THE new team of office-bearers chosen by Bharatiya Janata Party president Moppuvarappu Venkaiah Naidu was, at its first meeting at the party's central office in New Delhi on July 13, addressed by a special invitee who, under the terms of the party's conventions and constitution, had no specific role to perform there. But the privilege extended to that lone special invitee was a reflection of the clout he enjoyed in the party's changing power structure. He was none other than L.K. Advani, who was recently designated Deputy Prime Minister. Advani accepted Venkaiah Naidu's request to visit the office once every week. He said he would act as a link between the party and the government, the lack of which is seen as the reason for the party's debacle in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab and the municipal council elections in Delhi.

It was at the National Executive meeting in Goa in April that Advani unveiled his plan to strengthen the party at all levels, if necessary by inducting in the party hierarchy some of the "talented colleagues in the government" . He said: "We should also comprehensively strengthen the party in the States, especially in States that will go to the polls next year. If necessary, there should be deterrent action in cases of gross indiscipline."

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu addresses a meeting of the new office-bearers in the presence of L.K. Advani.-

As the Telugu Desam Party's demand for the removal of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi overshadowed other issues at the Goa meet, the National Executive could not debate the specifics of the Advani plan. That was, however, a blessing in disguise for Advani loyalists. They faced little resistance to their plans from a party that was mortified by electoral debacles.

The original plan, as Venkaiah Naidu revealed later, did not seem to aim specifically at a generational change in the leadership. He was willing to work only under Advani and none else. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, apprehensive of the possibility of an Advani-led party organisation emerging as an alternative power centre and eroding his authority as the leader of the government, refused to relieve Advani of his ministerial responsibilities.

As the subsequent events showed, Vajpayee accepted as a compromise some "mid-course correctives", including the elevation of Advani as Deputy Prime Minister, the handing over of the party presidentship to Venkaiah Naidu and the appointment of Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh as general secretaries. All the new office-bearers are close associates of Advani and are expected to follow his style of functioning.

Advani's ascendancy in the party and the government has led to apprehensions that he may wield unprecedented influence on both fronts without corresponding accountability. This, some observers point out, could be a serious lacuna in a party organisation, which is at least nominally democratic.

The new team sought to legitimise its takeover of the party apparatus by launching a veiled attack on the preceding regime of Jana Krishnamurthi. At a press conference on July 11, Venkaiah Naidu said his party had not been able to communicate effectively to the people the government's policies, programmes and achievements. There could be no better communicators than the party workers, he said. Similarly, he added, no entity could give a better feedback to the government about its shortcomings than party workers, who had their ears close to the ground. The party organisation, Venkaiah Naidu claimed, had by and large not been geared to perform this task, and correcting this shortcoming would be among his top priorities. According to him, the government has provided good governance and it is for the party to sell its achievements to the people.

The implicit reproach of Jana Krishnamurthi was reflected in the composition of the new team too. According to Venkaiah Naidu, the team is a blend of experience, dynamism and youth. The average age of his 21-member team, he said, was 52 plus. Nevertheless, many observers wonder how a "youthful" party could sell a government consisting of leaders belonging to an older generation.

Among the five general secretaries who perform key functions in the party, Venkaiah Naidu retained only Sanjay Joshi, a young Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak from Gujarat. He is in charge of the organisation and his continuance was not in doubt. Venkaiah Naidu dropped three general secretaries who were in the Jana Krishnamurthi team - Sunil Shastri, Sangha Priya Gautam and Maya Singh. Shastri continues to be a spokesperson of the party. The four new general secretaries are Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Mukhthar Abbas Naqvi and Anita Arya. The appointment of Anita Arya, former Mayor of Delhi and a Dalit, as general secretary, and former vice-president Madan Lal Khurana as the Delhi unit president is dictated by the fact that Assembly elections in Delhi are due next year.

Rajnath Singh has been rewarded for his perceived role in arresting the BJP's slide in Uttar Pradesh. This despite the fact that the BJP suffered an ignominious defeat in the Assembly elections and is now trapped in a potentially damaging arrangement in which it plays second fiddle to the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Naqvi was one of the seven secretaries in Jana Krishnamurthi's team. His elevation to the powerful post of general secretary appears to be an exercise in tokenism in the context of the BJP's increased alienation from Muslims after the Gujarat pogrom. Similarly, two Muslims have been incorporated into the National Executive - Shahnawaz Hussain, the Union Minister for Civil Aviation, and Nafiza Muzaffar Hussain, the wife of a Muslim journalist sympathetic to the Sangh Parivar.

Venkaiah Naidu retained only Kailashpati Mishra and Gopinath Munde as vice-presidents. The new vice-presidents are Dilip Singh Bhuria, a former Congress Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh who belongs to a Scheduled Tribe, and Karuna Shukla, Vajpayee's niece, from Chhatisgarh.

Two of the seven secretaries, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Thawar Chand Gehlot, are from Madhya Pradesh where the Assembly elections are due next year. Jas Kaur Meena, a Scheduled Tribe MP from Rajasthan, another State that will have Assembly elections next year, has also been appointed a secretary.

Two leaders from the Tamil Nadu unit of the party - L. Ganesan and Lalitha Kumaraman-galam, sister of the late Rangarajan Kumara-mangalam - have been appointed secretaries, perhaps to assuage the sentiments of party members who are hurt by the unceremonious removal of Jana Krishnamurthi as party president. However, Sukumar Nambiar, who was appointed as treasurer by Krishnamurthi, has been replaced by Ramdas Agarwal, MP from Rajasthan. The removal of K.N. Govindacharya, an Advani loyalist and a former ideologue of the party, from the National Executive is perhaps a small price the Advani group had to pay for its leader's total control over the party.

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