Monday, December 12, 2011

Long Road Ahead

TOI Mumbai


BJP seems in too much of a hurry to arrive at centrestage

The BJP may have prematurely rejoiced sometime ago when it erroneously claimed that the Supreme Court had effectively 'exonerated' Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the case related to Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri's killing. Thus buoyed, Modi appeared to plan a leadership pitch in national politics. But he seems to have run into fresh trouble. A confidential report, authored by the Supreme Court's amicus curiae, lays grounds for renewing a probe into his alleged role in the post-Godhra riots. According to it, top police officials, including Sanjiv Bhatt, who was till recently in jail courtesy the Modi administration, should be cross-examined. Police testimonies, it reportedly suggests, can help to throw light on 2002's tragic events.

The development couldn't have been more ill-timed for the Gujarat dispensation and the BJP, main opposition party at the national level. Given the damage potential of the report which contests many of the Special Investigation Team's conclusions, Modi's apparent national ambitions will encounter resistance, both within and outside his party. The Congress will undoubtedly try to leverage the issue to its advantage, while Modi's acceptability to many in the NDA will be in bigger doubt.

Several state elections are due next year. The BJP seeks to use this period to refurbish its image. Projecting a clean and viable alternative to the beleaguered Congress-led UPA tops its agenda. In this context, the party's performance in recent byelections has been touted by its leaders as indicating favourable electoral trends. The issues of corruption and governance deficit have put the Congress on the backfoot; the BJP construes this as an automatic leg-up for it in the popularity charts. The truth, however, is that both national parties need to reinvent themselves.

The BJP can't deny its own share of in-house squabbles or tainted leaders. L K Advani has been quoted as saying it'll be difficult for the saffron outfit to fight the Congress on the anti-graft plank if it didn't clean up its own house, presumably a reference to Karnataka. Moreover, internal leadership contests seem to be getting messier by the day. Various leaders – Advani, Modi, Arun Jaitley, Yashwant Sinha and, now, Nitin Gadkari – seem to be signalling they are prime ministerial hopefuls. With general elections slated for 2014, that's surely jumping the gun, since the BJP has to first perform in many prior state polls. Before thinking of stormingNew Delhi's citadel, it must show that its anti-corruption campaign is based on more than rhetoric. It must also urge the Gujarat government – which it often holds up as a governance model – to cooperate with due processes meant to deliver justice in the 2002 riot cases.


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