Despite its occasional posturing — usually only after sustained prodding from the permanent residents of the RSS HQ at Nagpur — the BJP leadership admires Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Given the retirement of A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani can be cast as the "CP" (Congress President), while Arun Jaitley would — aspirationally at least — fit the role of UPA Heir Apparent Rahul Gandhi, leaving Sushma Swaraj to play the role of the attractive Priyanka Vadra. Informal briefings to friendly newspersons invariably refer to the troika in the regal tradition of the Third Person, and to their being the "BJP High Command". We all know that despite the frequent sightings of a Digvijay Singh or the invisible presence of an Ahmed Patel, it is Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka who alone comprise the "Congress High Command". The rest are, in the words of satirist Aubrey Menen as applied to the Indira Gandhi period, "either clerks or peons". While clerks have the right to make notings and even to proffer advice when asked, peons are there only to carry out orders made from On High.
Even in the 1950s, a period when Jawaharlal Nehru was making mincemeat of the RSS and its philosophy of Hindu primacy, Atal Behari Vajpayee was an admirer of the then Prime Minister, modelling himself on him in a manner that was obvious. This feeling of awe towards the Nehrus was extended to Indira Gandhi, who too was treated with deference and attention by Vajpayee. Although the current father figure of the BJP did not evince much reverence for Rajiv Gandhi, like many others who were turned off by Rajiv, he has become an admirer of his widow. Vajpayee has not hidden his regard and respect for Sonia Gandhi, neither to this columnist nor to others. Not surprisingly, during his time, the effort by Murli Manohar Joshi to enquire into the functioning of the "cultural trusts" headed by Sonia Gandhi resulted in Joshi losing the Culture portfolio. The protective hand of Vajpayee, reinforced by the ministrations of the formidable National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra, and the charming son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya, extended over the Congress president for each day of Vajpayee's term as PM.
If L.K. Advani objected to such solicitude shown to an individual who has never deigned to hide her antipathy to saffron, he would have done so in silence or in his sleep. The record shows that Advani and Heir Apparent Arun Jaitley were as attentive to the concerns of the formidable occupant of 10 Janpath as was Vajpayee. As for Sushma Swaraj, although she once threatened to make a fashion statement by trimming her locks, while in office (even as I&B Minister), nothing was done that could disturb the sleep of the Congress supremo and her progeny. Indeed, cosy personal links were formed between the "BJP High Command" and the "Congress High Command", although the intensity of feeling on the side of the Congress troika seems to have dimmed after the party came to power in 2004, and their factotums entered South and North Blocks in a triumph that seems these days to be fated to end in tragedy.
Practically the entire effective leadership of the BJP has followed the hallowed example of the Congress Party in making Delhi their home (in the case of the national leaders) and respective state capitals where regional satraps are concerned. When the BJP's own versions of the Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka trio travel outside the National Capital Region, they do so in the stately way of the three who form the Congress High Command. Admirers wait at airports, and at each event, adulatory speeches are the norm. Given the heady nature of such a brew, is it any wonder that Advani, Jaitley and Swaraj have fallen into the trap of believing that they actually are saffron versions of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka? In the Congress Party, even the most adhesive of satraps get prised from their perches at a nod from The Family. Why should the BJP, that party which has been modelled by Vajpayee to approximate the Nehru-era Congress, be any different? Once he heard a click of the fingers of his High Command, it was expected that Karnataka's inimitable Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, would follow the Congress — sorry, BJP — script and lay down his post in the manner of Aubrey Menen's clerks. Or was it peons?
Sadly for the BJP High Command, BSY too fancies himself the clone of a noble child of Indian politics. Not Ashok Chavan or Shashi Tharoor, both of whom quit without a murmur when commanded to fall on their talwars, but Laloo Prasad Yadav, the beloved "Lalua" who was clear in his mind that the only replacement for him as Chief Minister was Rabri Devi. In Yeddyurappa's view, that position has been filled completely and delightfully by Shobha Karandlaje, a minister in his Cabinet who is well known to him. It needs to be said that although Ms Karandlaje has her detractors, those aware of her work as Minister for Mysore say that the lady is effective and hard-working, and when not raising funds for the BJP, can actually do some good to her voters.
Dropcap OnYeddyurappa knows that he has enemies in the BJP, including a close confidant of L.K. Advani, Ananth Kumar, not to speak of the Reddy brothers. It is an irony of fate that the Chief Minister, who was specifically prevented two years ago from going after the Reddy brothers the way he badly wanted to, has been asked to quit by precisely the same BJP leadership who then protected the Reddy brothers and their Bellary empire from Yeddyurappa's wrath. It is equally strange that Justice Santosh Hegde, who was asked to examine irregularities in the mining trade for the past decade, focused almost entirely on Yeddyyurappa and only very tangentially on his predecessor, H.D. Kumaraswamy. He has totally ignored previous Chief Ministers, presumably because he regards them as Simon Pure.
If the Karnataka episode carries any lesson for the BJP, it is not only that the party needs to ensure that people other than expert fund collectors get rewarded with positions of power. It is that Advani, Jaitley and Swaraj — despite their considerable finesse and charm — are a far cry from Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. Maybe now the BJP will move away from the Vajpayeean fascination for the system of governance found in the Congress Party. Maybe.