Last fortnight, this column predicted that L.K. Advani's party rivals would ensure that "he is so distanced from the Bihar campaign that his continuance, even till December, becomes untenable". It identified Uma Bharati as the likely agent provocateur to make this happen. Subsequently, she did go into action as expected.
The current crisis offers proof that no BJP leader is genuinely committed to any ideology. The name of the game is power, for which aspirants woo the RSS to succeed. The Sangh leaders themselves are bereft of ideology. Otherwise why should Narendra Modi and the VHP develop hostility when both ardently propagate Hindutva? They merely exploit hatred to garner communal support. They lack conviction. They're entirely opportunistic. They cannot even be dignified by the epithet communalist!
Though immersed in a naked power struggle, the real dilemma facing the BJP is one of agenda. Only by resolving it could the party regain coherence and a sense of direction. The choice before the BJP is simple: Does it want to revert to the Jan Sangh and acquire limited strength? Or does it want to reinvent itself as another Janata Party and bid for power?
After its conference last week in Chitrakoot, the RSS leaders made clear where they stood. The RSS deputy leader Mohan Bhagwat informed the press that BJP president Advani would be asked to clarify his remarks about RSS interference. Advani's successor would have to follow the RSS ideology. To ensure that, Bhagwat added ominously, "We have our swayamsewaks there."
The RSS leaders misinterpret the BJP's history. They wrongly assume that the Ram temple movement brought BJP national relevance. In fact, there were two occasions when the party made a quantum leap in strength. First, when, as a constituent of the Janata Party in 1977, it won over 90 seats. After the Janata split, the BJP was formed. Contesting alone in 1984, it dwindled to two seats.
Then again in 1989, it joined forces with other parties under V.P. Singh. Once more it made spectacular gains. The gains coincided with seat adjustments and not with either the Ram temple movement or Advani's management. This misinterpretation caused enormous damage to the party's progress. It derailed the BJP from the direction in which it should have moved.
The BJP's discipline is crumbling. It is approaching oblivion. It must quickly decide: Should it become a revived Janata Party or the old Jan Sangh? If the BJP leaders don't think fast, their party may not merely split. It could even disintegrate.
(Puri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)