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BJP looks to cool off in Shimla as book controversy heats up

BJP looks to cool off in Shimla as book controversy heats up
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First Published: Tue, Aug 18 2009. 10 58 PM IST

Road ahead: BJP leader L.K. Advani arrives in Shimla for the party’s ‘chintan baithak’. PTI
Road ahead: BJP leader L.K. Advani arrives in Shimla for the party’s ‘chintan baithak’. PTI
Updated: Tue, Aug 18 2009. 10 58 PM IST
New Delhi: Fresh trouble surfaced in the country’s main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Tuesday, with former party president Murli Manohar Joshi and general secretary Vinay Katiyar demanding action against senior leader Jaswant Singh for his views on Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
In his book Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, Singh says Jinnah was “demonized” by India while it was the belief of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister and Congress leader, in a centralized system that had led to Partition. The book was launched on Monday.
The new bout of discord within the BJP comes ahead of a three-day introspection meeting for its top leadership in picturesque Shimla, following weeks of infighting and defiance from its state units.
Road ahead: BJP leader L.K. Advani arrives in Shimla for the party’s ‘chintan baithak’. PTI
Joshi and Katiyar, speaking separately to reporters before leaving for Shimla, said Singh’s views were against the party’s stand on Jinnah and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the country’s first home minister, and called for action against those who do not follow the party line.
BJP president Rajnath Singh has also stated “complete disassociation” of the party from the views expressed in Jaswant Singh’s book.
This is not the first time the BJP has taken on its top leaders over Jinnah: L.K. Advani, the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the just-concluded general election, had to resign under pressure from the post of party president after he called Jinnah a secular leader during his tour of Pakistan in 2005.
But the recent spate of infighting and criticism against a top BJP leader is only the latest since the party’s debacle at the general election in April-May. The exercise in introspection also comes soon after Vasundhara Raje declined to resign as legislative leader of the party in Rajasthan.
Also See BJP: the crisis within (Graphics)
The party claims its introspection meet, or chintan baitakh, in the capital of BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh will help chalk out its future course. Party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi says the meet will focus on three main issues: the party’s expansion into new territories, organizational revamp and ways to face future political challenges.
Analysts say the conclave may prove counterproductive to the party.
“More dirty linen would be washed and more infighting would surface in the public eye during the meet. It could do more harm than good for an organization like (the) BJP,” says Prafull Goradia, political analyst and former member of Parliament from the party. “The immediate challenge for the party is to rein in the state units and clearly define its future course rather than waste time in conclaves.”
Many BJP leaders, too, are privately of the view that the exercise could prove futile as the “road ahead” document chartered in a brainstorming exercise after the 2004 Lok Sabha defeat hasn’t been implemented.
The conclave is to be attended by senior leaders including Advani, Rajnath Singh, Jaswant Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and state chief ministers from the party, but excludes Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, who have been vocal in the media, demanding the party look within after its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
Party members, who didn’t want to be identified in the story, said the leadership has cut the number of participants for the meet to less than 20 from a planned 25. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, the BJP’s parent organization, would be represented by party general secretary (organization) Ramlal Agarwal.
Advani said recently that the meeting would not be an analysis of the poll defeat, but would discuss the road ahead for the party.
The party members said there would not be a detailed discussion on the causes of the defeat. But the Bal Apte committee, set up after demands from within the BJP for identifying causes for its poor poll performance, was likely to present its report during the conclave.
One session during the meet would be dedicated to the party’s strategy for the coming assembly polls, including in Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in an interview to news channel Times Now on Tuesday said that a generational change was imperative for the BJP, but the modalities had to be decided by the party itself. Election to the post of BJP president is due in January.
The Shimla meet, originally planned to be held in Mumbai, had to be shifted on the request from Maharashtra, which wanted to “avoid distraction” while preparing for the assembly elections.
Amid all the gloom, a silver lining for the BJP may lie in the venue of the meet: Hotel Peterhoff. That venue had proved lucky for its rival Congress, which had held a brainstorming session there in 2003 and stormed backed to power a year later.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
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First Published: Tue, Aug 18 2009. 10 58 PM IST