Sandeep says that the Vajpayee succession issue isn’t settled in Advani’s favour after all, and it could be – heaven help us – Joshi the lunatic. Well I agree that Joshi is a strong contender after Advani, but after Vajpayee? No way.
I want to explain why I am saying this, and also want to make a few complicated points, so bear with me as I go on a detour.
The first point is this: Vaypayee’s charisma is overrated.
If you don’t believe me, just think through this. Can Vajpayee’s popularity be compared to Nehru’s or even Indira Gandhi’s? At the height of her popularity, Madam Gandhi could pick up a person at random and get him to stand for elections, and he would win because people used to blindly vote for the panja. Can you think of any constituency where Vajpayee can win without attention to candidate selection and without using the BJP’s name or machinery? (I have to make this distinction because Indira and the Congress were synonymous. We can’t say the same about Vajpayee and the BJP.)
I’ll go so far as to say that most of Vajpayee vote is BJP vote, i.e. most of those who consider Vajpayee their leader do so because they support the BJP. Which means that they will transfer their support to any leader the BJP comes up with (not any leader of course. Anyone within reason)
But the additional 3% or-so Vajpayee-charisma-vote is really crucial. This is the funny thing about democracy. You don’t win by pandering to your hardcore supporters. By definition, your hardcore supporters will vote for you come rain or shine. It is the undecideds that swing the election. This fact makes the RSS very unhappy, because you see, it thinks that the BJP is just its political arm. It thinks that the moderate stance that the BJP has adopted is a temporary shabby compromise. One day, it thinks, the BJP will come to power on its own, and then it won’t need Vajpayee and his compromises. But that day will never come. The compromises are permanent.
Vajpayee can manage the compromise. He can keep the RSS under control. He can play the game of caste-based politics. He can manage his allies.
Can Advani do the same? Yes. Despite his image, he is pragmatic enough to do all the things that Vajpayee has been doing. He may lack charisma, but he does have sufficient stature to keep the RSS under check.
After Advani? That’s where we come across problems. The BJP’s popular leaders (Uma Bharati, Narendra Modi) are extremist enough to scare off many people. The BJP’s second rung national leadership isn’t popular enough to keep the extremists at bay. (Imagine, if you will, Prime Minister Pramod Mahajan facing a rebellion from Narendra Modi and his posse of Gujarat MPs). To avoid infighting, the BJP may turn to the RSS which will see a golden opportunity to put its political wing back on the “right track” And it will impose Joshi, and it will be downhill from then on. But all that will be after Advani, not before.