The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) stalling of Parliament by its aggressive insistence on the Prime Minister’s resignation in the so-called coal scam may be rooted in the belief that it had been unable till now to exploit the government’s seeming weaknesses.
Apart from LK Advani mentioning this inability in his blog, it was felt that the BJP had been playing second fiddle to the civil society activists, Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, and even trying to hitch a piggyback ride on their campaigns.
Earlier, the BJP was unable to invite its chief ministers to its anti-corruption rallies lest the tainted presence of BS Yeddyurappa, who was then Karnataka’s chief minister, made a mockery of its show.
Now, at last, what the media calls the coalgate issue has given the BJP an opportunity to launch an anti-government offensive without any ifs and buts. But, even then, there are several difficulties. One is that the party does not seem to have considered the consequences of such an uncompromising stand. Since it cannot seriously expect Manmohan Singh to resign simply because of the adverse implications of some of the 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 party is fully supportive of its stand. Although some of them do join it in the well of the house to disrupt the proceedings, at least some of their leaders maintain that they will prefer a debate to a prolonged disruption since it gives a bad name to the politicians and to the 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 suffered by the exchequer - an estimated Rs 1.86 lakh crore - has been called “notional” and “presumptive”, 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 the private players. The argument is that it is not for the CAG to prescribe government policy. It can only check the accounts.
Furthermore, since the BJP had followed a similar policy when in power at the centre and its governments in the states opposed auctioning, the party will clearly be at a disadvantage if there is a debate on the subject in parliament, as 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 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 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 to gain primacy 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 although at least one senior leader, Yashwant Sinha, wanted the party to support Mukherjee. As a result, the BJP chose a sure loser in PA Sangma (after APJ 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.