New Delhi: Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was coming to terms with its resounding defeat in the 15th general election that saw its tally drop below what it had won in 2004, the party faced a fresh storm with its star campaigner and prime ministerial candidate offering to quit as the leader of Opposition in Parliament, owning moral responsibility.
Owning responsibility: BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
While the party was quick to reject the offer, it was clear, said analysts, that the BJP would have to sooner, if not later, effect an overhaul of the party and possibly transition to a new leadership.
According to a senior party functionary, who didn’t want to be identified, this process had already been initiated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of the BJP, appointing a three-member team—Madan Das Devi, Suresh Soni and Indresh Kumar, all key functionaries in the RSS—to look into the post-poll scenario vis-a-vis the party and submit its findings to the RSS leadership in Nagpur.
BJP, which expected to cross a tally of 160 on its own and emerge as the single largest party, had won, or was leading, in 116 seats as of 8pm on Saturday, far below its 2004 tally of 138 seats.
“He (L.K. Advani) expressed his desire to step down as the leader of the party (in the Lok Sabha), which the party rejected,” party general secretary Arun Jaitley told reporters after a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board.
But analysts believe that change was imperative.
“The results should...force BJP to rethink its leadership and issues they think (would make) people stand by them,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor, department of political science, Delhi University, while arguing that leaders such as Advani would give way to others.
In this, the focus will inevitably be on Advani, who was stoic in his defeat and restricted his engagements to close aides. It was consistent with his oft-repeated claim during the campaign: “I prefer (to be a) recluse when I am upset.”
According to party functionaries, Advani along with family members and close aides followed the election results at his residence and silently watched them being aired by television channels. He also held discussions with the party’s top brass twice to analyse the defeat, they said, requesting anonymity.
“The natural tendency of a party like BJP would be to promote someone like Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to Central (national) politics, but by doing this, they would be again repeating the same mistake what they did in this election. Indian voters are now mature enough to differentiate between issues that matter to the nation,” Delhi University’s Chakrabarty said.
Any talk on change in leadership would focus on the next rung of senior party leaders Sushma Swaraj (elected from Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh), the present leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh (elected from Darjeeling, West Bengal) and party chief Rajnath Singh (elected from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh) as possible successors.
It is widely expected that the party would also come under pressure to elevate Modi, the party’s star campaigner and Gujarat chief minister, to the top job. Officially, the BJP has declined comment at this stage.
“Both L.K. Advani and party chief Rajnath Singh would sit down and discuss on the future course of action in terms of any change in the party,” general secretary Arun Jaitley told Mint.