The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) stalling of parliament by its aggressive insistence on the prime minister’s resignation in the so-called Coalgate scam may be rooted in the belief that it has been unable to exploit the government’s weaknesses. Apart from L.K. Advani mentioning this inability in his blog, it is felt that the BJP has been playing second fiddle to civil society activists Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, and even trying to piggyback on their campaigns.
In the past, the BJP was unable to invite its chief ministers to its anti-corruption rallies lest the tainted presence of people like B.S. Yeddyurappa, then Karnataka’s chief minister, made a mockery of the show.
Now, at last, Coalgate has given the BJP an opportunity to launch an anti-government offensive without any ifs and buts. But there are several difficulties. One is that the party does not seem to have considered the consequences of an uncompromising stand. It cannot seriously expect Dr Manmohan Singh to resign based on the adverse observations of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the allocation of coal ‘blocks’. It should have had a Plan B, but at the moment, it doesn’t seem to have left itself any escape route.
Another hitch is that no other political party is fully supportive of the BJP’s stand. Although some of them do join it in the well of the Lower House of parliament to disrupt proceedings, some leaders maintain that they will prefer a debate to a prolonged disruption since it gives a bad name to the lawmakers and parliamentary system.
The BJP’s case has been further weakened by the fact that the CAG’s report is not foolproof. It isn’t only that its calculation of the losses faced by the exchequer — an estimated Rs1.85 trillion (Dh122.37 billion) — are ‘notional’ and ‘presumptive’, but the auditors have also been accused of exceeding their brief with their expressed preference for auctioning of the coal ‘blocks’ instead of official allocations to private players. The argument is that it is not for the CAG to prescribe government policy. It can only check accounts.
Furthermore, since the BJP had followed a similar policy when it was in power at the Centre, and its governments in the states opposed auctioning, the party is clearly at a disadvantage in the event of a parliamentary debate, which is what the Congress wants.
However, since an indefinite stalling of parliament tends to be counter-productive after a while, the BJP has been indulging in other dramatics as well, such as storming out of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the telecom scam.
Besides, there have been vague threats by the BJP about boycotting other parliamentary panels and, as a final step, even asking all its MPs to resign in a bid to force a general election. What is obvious is that the party’s inflexible tactics carry the danger of forcing it to take extreme positions.
The seeming absence of a mellow and accommodating decision-making process in the BJP points to leadership deficiencies at the top. It is not impossible that an element of competition among the present set of leaders comprising, in the main, Advani, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, is behind the BJP’s present rigidity.
This tendency was seen during the presidential poll when the BJP became adamant about fielding a candidate against Pranab Mukherjee simply because it did not want to give the Congress an easy run. At least one senior BJP leader, Yashwant Sinha, wanted the party to support Mukherjee. As a result, the BJP chose a sure loser in P.A. Sangma (after A.P.J. Abdul Kalam refused to contest) and then gracelessly distanced itself from him after his defeat.
The same propensity to back a lost cause is again evident. It is difficult to say who is favouring such stubbornness. Since Modi rarely ventures out of Gujarat, the usual suspects are Advani, Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. Of the three, Advani has displayed a certain restlessness of late.
Apart from his comment about the BJP’s inability to take advantage of the Congress’s governance and ethical deficits (which was mainly a dig at the BJP president Nitin Gadkari), Advani is also convinced that the next prime minister will not be either from his own party or the Congress.
Such an attitude denotes either a mature, uncluttered appraisal of the future scene or a peevish rejection of everyone from the two major parties since Advani himself does not stand much of a chance to be prime minister.
Since the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) dragged him kicking and screaming from the party president’s post in 2005, he is unlikely to be its favourite for the prime minister’s post. But, whoever is the BJP’s current tactician, he or she is painting the party into a corner.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.