New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) senior leader L.K. Advani plans to criss-cross the country to meet party workers, seeking to lift their sagging morale and rebuild his own image after back-to-back general election defeats.
Advani’s meetings with the party rank and file nationwide could also help define his future role in an organization that is considerably restive after its reverses in the April-May elections that returned the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power for a second term.
“This programme is intended to reassure the cadre and instil confidence for a greater role (for the party) in the future. This would begin after the budget session,” said Advani, 81, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Repeat show: A file photo of BJP leader L.K. Advani during his rath yatra from Somnath temple to Ayodhya in September 1990. Santosh Gupta / HT
The yatra (journey) is a tactic that Advani has used with success in the past to connect with and rally the party’s supporters. His first journey on a specially designed rath (chariot) in September-October 1990 to campaign for the construction of a temple on the site of a disputed mosque in Ayodhya pitchforked the BJP to the forefront of national politics.
That journey began from Somnath in Gujarat and was supposed to culminate in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh after traversing 10,000km, but was cut short when Advani was arrested on the Bihar border. The BJP then toppled a centrist coalition government by withdrawing its support.
This time, however, Advani will not be addressing public meetings, and plans only to meet the BJP’s political rank and file. The schedule and mode of the programme are yet to be finalized.
The BJP projected Advani as its candidate for prime minister in the 15th general election. The main opposition party won just 116 seats in the Lok Sabha, 90 less than the Congress, which led the UPA back to power with a bigger majority. The defeat led to questions over the future of the 30-year-old party and Advani’s role in it.
Advani chose to see the verdict of the 2009 general election as a “big new opportunity for the BJP” and said the poll outcome, while “a setback, is certainly not a rout”. He said that the electorate had rejected regional parties and favoured a bipolar polity.
“The 2009 polls have in fact ascertained the maturity of Indian democracy,” Advani said. “People voted for a stable government and (the) BJP could not avail the opportunity because we lacked a presence or a partner in many states and hence people chose (to vote) in favour of Congress. This result has an inbuilt opportunity for (the) BJP and the cadre needs to be conveyed this message.”
The BJP had projected that it would win more than 160 seats in the general election. An in-house analysis by the party shows that of the 427 seats it contested, its candidates were runners-up in 113. In 45 constituencies, the margin of defeat was less than 10% of the votes cast, while in 25 seats the margin was less than 5%.
Party officials say that Advani’s meetings with the BJP cadre could be used to induct new blood.
“It is too premature to say but the meetings would also have the essential element of a sort of talent hunt for the organization,” said a senior BJP leader, who didn’t want to be named.
The meetings would also be an extension of the party’s brainstorming exercise at a formal three-day meeting of its top leadership in Mumbai, starting 17 August. An official announcement of Advani’s programme is expected soon after the meeting.
“It would be a tour of rejuvenation. The idea is to go across to the partymen and to listen to them more than telling them something,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a BJP national executive member. “He will come back with a lot of inputs and ideas to work towards a better future. The idea is to reach out to the masses and cadre who swear by the party ideology.”
Analysts are not impressed, given the lack of clarity about the party’s approach.
“Advani is pressing hard to live beyond his time. The question is—what would he tell the party workers when he meets them?” said Jyotirmaya Sharma, a professor in the political science faculty at Hyderabad University.
Advani has to decide between toeing the “hard Hindutva” line of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a moderate line that factors in the change in popular preferences since his 1990 yatra, Sharma said.
“There could be a constellation of factors which come together to influence a revival plan but clarity is essential for it,” he added.