Verdict 2009: Jaswant questions BJP leadership

New Delhi, June 11: Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh has called for making it a “current party” and admitted that it had failed to effectively convey its message to the masses, leading to its election debacle.

“There is a need for ideological distillation of thought. The BJP has to be a current party. It can’t be a party of yesterday. I think there’s lack of clarity on what Hindutva means,” the former central minister told a news channel in an interview on Wednesday.

“We had to reflect what we are trying to address ourselves to come back to the issue that the party must be current, that it addresses today as well as tomorrow and doesn’t continue to be living in yesterday,” he said, reflecting on the Lok Sabha election results.

Asked if the BJP was “living in yesterday”, the newly-elected Lok Sabha MP said: “Perhaps people didn’t perceive but we didn’t succeed effectively in conveying what we were trying to do. Failure in conveying (our) message… ended up with diminished electoral support.”

In a two-page letter written in Hindi, which was circulated at a meeting of senior BJP leaders, Jaswant Singh has questioned the party’s new leadership structure.

“What did we do in 2004 and now? Have we fixed responsibility?”, asked the former central minister. BJP leader Avani asked Jaswant Singh to take back the letter, saying all issues would be addressed.

At a meeting of senior BJP leaders on Monday, the issue of fixing responsibility and carrying out a thorough post-mortem was raised forcefully by former minister Arun Shourie who pointed out that BJP’s scale of defeat could not be wished away. It presented some tough and searching questions that needed answers if the BJP was to chart its future course. Leader of Opposition L K Advani supported Shourie’s demand.

BJP president Rajnath Singh, who has shown no appetite for any sort of soul searching, said a “samiksha (assessment)” could be carried out if necessary. When it was argued that this could hardly be avoidable, he said that a small committee of three had been tasked to speak to state units and gather inputs on what had gone wrong. He is understood to have justified the secrecy as being necessary to thwart factional viewpoints.

This led to the obvious counter-point that if leaders did not know who comprised this committee how could they offer any views to begin with. Some leaders like Arun Jaitley, Yashwant Sinha and Sudheendra Kulkarni had written or spoken of what they felt to be the factors that went against the BJP but this did not mean that nothing more was required. It was pointed out that a report on the loss in Rajasthan’s assembly poll last year had been commissioned but nothing was heard of it. State unit of Uttar Pradesh has not bothered to go into the reasons of its continuing slide.

Advani, in discussions with party colleagues after the poll result, had backed suggestions that a thorough de-construction of the campaign and the reasons for its failure needed to be gone through. But so far, the official faction has shown no interest in doing so while there are strong suggestions Singh may want to stay on as party chief.

It was also argued that asking state units for their views was hardly useful beyond a point as the campaign was run from national headquarters of the party which also funded it. The introspection needed to be carried out by the central party to examine various factors — why BJP did not connect with the youth, lost in urban centres or came across as stentorian and divisive.

Sources said such a discussion would have an important bearing on how BJP moved ahead but Singh had apparently, at an earlier meeting, offered a fairly simplistic explanation for the defeat. He said the BJP’s 2004 tally was 138 and it expected 22 more seats to take it to 160. But the opposite had happened and BJP slid to 116. He also argued that party needed to move ahead and focus on coming challenges, for instance Maharashtra polls.

The BJP’s ostrich-like attitude at a time when CPM and even regional outfits like RJD were preparing to introspect in depth has surprised some of its leaders. They point out that the situation was more dire than in 2004 when it was felt that UPA was an unstable structure. Even then there had been no real stock-taking with the then leadership throwing up red herrings like “back to basics” at its meeting in Mumbai