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Factionalism in BJP

New Delhi, August 29, 2009 (ANI)

IT has always been Team Advani vs Team Vajpayee. And now as former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is too ill to intervene in the bloodletting in his party, he watches his former team has got together once again to wage that final assault on their perpetual enemy, Lal Krishna Advani.
Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie, Brajesh Mishra and Yashwant Sinha have a common cause. To oust Advani. And their Brahmastra is the Kandahar hijacking episode. Did Advani know or not that Jaswant Singh was accompanying the released terrorists to Afghanistan and bringing back the hostages with him?
Advani had said on several occasions that he was unaware of the details. Team Vajpayee says he knew everything. Isn’t there any note taking that happens at these meetings?
The Team Advani vs Team Vajpayee war has been on for more than 15 years. This city was divided into two camps. Not just the BJP. There were journalists who were loyal to one or the other, bureaucrats too. They just had to make the choice and there was no option.
If you were a beat journalist during the years Mr Vajpayee was Prime Minister, it was an unstated rule that you either got your story from Team Advani or Team Vajpayee. The families and team members saw to it that journalists and bureaucrats who visited the office or residence of Advani had no access to Vajpayee’s. There were just two or three editors who were received graciously in both camps. Otherwise, mutual suspicion was so great that loyalty had to be proved.
Team Vajpayee had that master craftsman and the Chanakya of Indian politics, Brajesh Mishra, as the Brigade Commander. It was an open secret in the Capital that in the latter years of Vajpayee’s tenure, Mishra acted as de facto Prime Minister. A more shrewd, credible and efficient deputy is unimaginable. He had no personal agenda. Vajpayee trusted him and had great respect for his skills.
And then there was Jaswant Singh, who wasn’t very popular with journalists, but was loyal to the king. A true Rajput. Then the word master Arun Shourie. Another person who wasn’t really in the core team but Vajpayee trusted him implicitly simply because he knew Shourie had no personal agenda.
Yashwant Sinha and Vasundhara Raje went back and forth from camp to camp, but today they are firmly in camp Vajpayee. There is no Commander-in-Chief, but they have the Sena on their side.
During the years that Vajpayee was Prime Minister, his team always looked upon Advani with suspicion. Never quite sure when he would try to pull the rug from under the carpet of their poet Prime Minister. A man who they thought was too soft to ever wage an all out war, but shrewd enough to know that Advani was never comfortable being No 2. He was supposed to be the Prime Minister candidate in 1995 but then the Jain Hawala scandal erupted and hey presto it catapulted Vajpayee onto the scene. Team Advani, always on the look out for conspiracy theories hinted at a pact between Rao and Vajpayee, which might have been the reason why Advani was out of the reckoning. Another of those unsolved mysteries of Indian politics.
Team Vajpayee held together even when out of power. But Team Advani which seemed like a well-oiled machine during the election campaign of 2009 came apart. Advani as prime ministerial candidate was unacceptable to the people of India and that was something most BJP leaders knew even during the campaign but so many of them in private conversations would express their helplessness.
Nobody had the courage to tell Advani to step down. The constant refrain was “if only Vajpayee was there”. Without Vajpayee, his team loosely hung around in the periphery of the BJP maharathis like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Ananth Kumar who it seemed had no option but to be in Team Advani as there was nobody else.
But when Advani refused to step down despite the electoral defeat in 2009, and stayed on as Leader of the Opposition and then a month ago said he would stay beyond December 30, 2009, it really was too much to bear. If many thought Advani’s announcement was a blow to the BJP, think again. It was that one rallying point for Team Vajpayee to make that final assault on the man, they had wanted to do for so long but hadn’t because their boss wouldn’t let them. They want his scalp and will not rest till they have it. And they can smell victory.
There is no Team Advani. The bureaucrats fled from the scene the day the government fell in May 2004. The journalists who hung around were only the “bite reporters”. There was no story worth chasing here. Not one BJP leader, nay worker, is speaking out in defense of Advani. Not even “Master Anant Kumar” as Arun Shourie referred to him in that scathing interview he gave to Shekhar Gupta.
Will Advani fade away from the political scene like Richard Nixon did, on an untruth told to a nation? Will he confess, own up that he misled the nation? Or will he gather his forces and fight back? The case is getting curiouser and curiouser.
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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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