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The Kandahar Effect

– by SANJAY JHA

It sounds like a surprising surrender half-way ( almost literally ) in the election sweepstakes by the once-vaunted LK Advani, and more importantly, by the usually burgeoning with scathing over-confidence , BJP. First, their usually reticent and much-calibrated intellectual Arun Shourie makes a “ private” disclosure—Narendra Modi for PM ( at an unidentified moment in the future). Then as if on a subtle nudge, the other Arun ( Jaitley) dutifully follows—Modi for PM. As the we-want-Modi chorus threatens to over-take BJP election propaganda, it manifests the party’s rising discomfiture, if not simmering discontent with it’s Prime Ministerial choice whatever the external façade shows on TV screens.

As I have frequently pointed out before, the BJP considers LK Advani like an old, tired horse best reserved for hill-station rides for unsuspecting tourists , not for winning the prestigious Derby— for that they had rather have their “young” stud machine Modi instead. As the cola ad goes, the choice is clear. What is also evident is the virtual internal assessment of the BJP is that the 2009 race for Advani is practically over.

What Jaitley and Shourie are trying to frenetically muster up as a last ditch effort is to say –Vote BJP because it would be more a referendum for Modi than Advani. In the miraculous event that the NDA does make that magical 272 mark ( which is like expecting Mayawati to head Pepsi’s corporate governance board tomorrow) rest assured, Modi will carry his Samsonite northwards. With a bullying Modi at the helm, all “secular forces” will choose to go conveniently blind and “ developmental economics” —which means inviting idiotic industrialists for saffron ice-cream will become the point of convergence. Established turncoats like Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik,( even Mr Farooq Abdullah had forgotten BJPs RSS link, remember? ) etc will conclude a mutually rewarding settlement with the untouchable party. To give the devil their due, the BJP can be credited for effective handling of coalition partners. Regrettably for BJP however, none of the above seems remotely plausible and is at best coffee-table conversation reserved for a brunch at 360*. Truth be said, the BJP and LKA have realized the game is up. That’s why the Modi plan for 2014 is already unfolding. Or earlier, in the event of mid-term elections, should Congress not get a sizeable single party aggregate.

So why the sudden mid-way catapulting of the frenzied challengers ? It has a lot to do with Advani’s major sales spiel crafted by BJP ad-marketing professionals. “Leadership and decisiveness” are the two much touted slogans accompanying Advani’s distant gaze as he looks philosophically into some captivating space . Unfortunately for him, those are the very two qualities on which Advani was found woefully short when India faced it’s litmus test; Kandahar.

The Indian Airlines hijacking was not just about the 170 passengers taken as hostages; it was a decisive moment which tested India’s national character itself. In a crisis, a country’s leadership is not judged by empty rhetoric and patriotic mumbo-jumbo, but by the quality of it’s response, and by it’s sense of judgement. Advani was the Home Minister then , but instead of being the central trouble-shooter , he seems to have chosen to play a peripheral role, almost willfully. It is Advani’s almost standard business-like approach to the Kandahar that has revealed his Achilles heel ; when confronted with a challenging conflict; he bungled, instead of being the commanding officer. He could not create consensus, nor prevail on what he thought was the judicious step to be taken. Worse, he seemed so sidelined he did not even know about Jaswant Singh’s flight plans with the dreaded terrorists in them into Taliban territory ? It is so preposterous that I wonder if he thought being a Home Minister meant he had to handle HDFCs home loan targets instead of national security? By a noticeable coincidence , the traumatic hijack drama occupies only a few measly pages in his autobiography. I wonder why.

The fact that the Congress has relentlessly attacked Advani on Kandahar, and forced him to make further contradictions, amply confirms our worst apprehensions about him. It is thus quite puerile on the part of the BJP to appear lachrymose and deeply hurt by PM Manmohan Singh’s retaliatory attack on being called “weak” by Advani. Is that the pot calling the kettle black?

True leaders know what it takes when they say, the buck stops here. For Mr Advani, at the time of Kandahar, the buck did not even pause there. I agree with the BJP spin-doctors; India does deserve better.


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