Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Grace in defeat is a rare quality. Perhaps it is futile to expect it from politicians. Yet, given the stature of L.K. Advani in Indian politics, there was the expectation that he would adhere to the highest standards of public life. The Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Mr Advani has suffered a defeat in the general elections. In fact, it had been defeated in the previous general elections also, but this time round its performance was worse than that of 2004. Immediately after the results came to be known, Mr Advani expressed his desire to step down as the leader of the Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha. This was as it should be. But Mr Advani — very characteristically, his critics would point out — failed to stick to the decision that he had taken. For reasons best known to him, he back-tracked and is, in fact, the leader of the Opposition in the new Lok Sabha. The official explanation for this is that the party prevailed upon him not to resign as the leader of the Opposition. If this explanation is to be accepted, then a more important question inevitably crops up: does Mr Advani consider requests from his party colleagues to be more important than the highest standards of public life in a parliamentary democracy? Mr Advani, in fact, should have stood by his original decision and quit. That he failed to do so is a sad comment on him and on the standards that prevail in Indian public life.
Mr Advani’s unfortunate failure to be resolute about his decision and his party’s request to him to carry on as leader of the Opposition are both related to a crisis within the BJP. India’s saffron party has no acceptable leader after Mr Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This lack is, in turn, related to the existence of factions within the party. Each faction has its own aspirant for leadership. The factionalism is again a function of the fact that the BJP is in the throes of an identity crisis. There is a gradual and belated recognition within the BJP that its ideology of Hindutva will not enable it to rule India. But the party cannot abandon Hindutva because it remains tied to the apronstrings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. A combination of these factors should produce in the BJP a mood of reflection. But it has engendered in the party a desire to stay with the old and the familiar. Thus Mr Advani stays when decency demands that he quits. He had the opportunity to be an exemplar — but he floundered. (Ediorial-3rd June, The Telegraph)

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