What does Advani know that Congress doesn’t?

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The Congress — where everyone mutinies, but few desert the ranks. And the BJP, where everyone has one foot out the door or is on the verge of a mutiny or a tantrum… What other explanation can there be for a man of the stature and perspicacity of Lal Krishna Advani writing a blog that rules out a Congress or a BJP government from coming to power at the centre in 2014, two years from now.

What was behind the blog? A deliberate attempt to provoke? Or an honest admission that he, Advani, prime minister in waiting for eight long years, was never going to be able to claw his way back from the precipice and make it as prime minister? That his party, given its disastrous implosion in states as divergent as Rajasthan and Gujarat (let’s wait and see) and of course Karnataka, and its patent inability to tap into the anger of the middle-class, can ever hope to come back and once again rule India?

Or, that if he, Advani, was not going to be made the face of the BJP when it goes to the polls, then they could not win it? Apres moi, le deluge..., Dwaraka redux, if they run with the effective but divisive Narendra Modi as the party’s prime ministerial nominee?

A true reading of the electoral tea leaves by a seasoned politician?

But Advani’s uncharacteristic and wrong-footed attack on the Congress’ so-called ‘illegitimacy’ brought back nagging questions that wont go away over whether the sharp-tongued orator of yore was gone forever. And in his place, the BJP was left with not just an angry old man, but a forgetful, muddle-headed angry old man who would be of little use in a party woefully bereft of a second string. Why Advani had not brought up the illegitimate issue before, is a mystery. What a rallying cry it could have been, something the BJP could have milked to its last drop. This was about three years and three months too late!

In fact, Advani’s meltdown, if it can be called that, mirrors the deep vacuum within the party that under Atal Bihari Vajpayee actually came into its own as a credible counter to the all powerful Congress.

With Advani all but saying, a comeback would be an impossibility — and don’t forget he’s written the Congress out of the script too — where does that leave the many political parties in the run up to upcoming state polls, and of course, the biggie in 2014?

What are we to expect? Another bout of weak minority governments run by today’s facsimiles of Charan Singh and Chandrashekhar — Nitish, the bashful; Or the tough lady from the south. Puhleezz! Indeed, one has to look no further than Karnataka for an insight into the many deals and alliances that must be at work across the nation. This state is the petrie dish of politics in the laboratory of the south. Ripe for change, ripe for the picking.

The steady stream of leaks on Lingayat strongman B.S. Yeddyurappa cavorting with the Congress behind closed doors is no accident. Yeddyurappa has not had one, but three secret meetings that we know of, and others that are only being whispered about. If the BSY camp is to be believed, the meetings have taken place at the Congress’ instance; which, of course gives the meeting a wholly different context than if the BJP leader was the one who had initiated the lien.

What is BSY’s game? Simple, really. One, he may have no intention of giving up on the BJP and joining the Congress at all. If he did, it would make him a very uncomfortable square peg in a round hole. Not a good fit, when all he probably intends to do, is show the BJP high command — which has treated him with scant respect after the corruption cases started piling up, and been less than enthusiastic about giving in to his demand to be given charge of the state unit - that he cannot be taken lightly. That he has other options, other suitors.

The other more realistic assessment — BSY, a cog in a larger, grander plan by the Congress, which is revisiting this state, post the debacle in the north, to ascertain whether it can be won back from the BJP’s clutches. It was obvious, even before the first viote was cast that Uttar Pradesh was a lost cause. Losing Punjab, was the shocker, a state that the Akalis, with their track record in governance should have lost. Karnataka, under the Janata Dal (S) and now the BJP could probably be, the Punjab of the south.

So here’s the thing. BSY, master of doublespeak, may or may not be talking to the Congress but the last thing the Congress wants — surely — is to embrace the very man they pilloried and will use as a target, as the epitome of corruption when they go out to canvass for votes.

In fact, if BSY does play ball, the Lingayat leader becomes a useful tool in a post-poll arrangement that sees him bringing up the rear, making up the shortfall if the Congress wins even, let’s say 60-80 seats, way below the half-way mark. For that, Yeddyurappa has to decide where he’s going to lay his hat. Is he serious about wanting to be the leader of his own party which anoints him once and for all, as the undisputed leader of the Lingayats, making him a force to reckon with, outside the BJP; together with his confidante Shobha Karandlaje, as putative Vokkaliga leader, he could become the ultimate power broker, with a foot in both communities, so to speak?

Or will he linger on in the BJP, in a party, actively attempting to widen its own base, go beyond its Lingayats backers and bring in the Vokkaligas and Kurubas. The Congress is well aware of the erosion of its voter base, state-wide. It lost the confidence of the majority community a while back. It is also in full retreat in the face of the Janata Dal (S) and the father-son-daughter-in-law triumverate who have a hold over the Vokkaliga community, and are steadily strengethening their presence in the Old Mysore area. The last thing the Congress wants is the JD(S) as their junior partner in government. No Mamatas of the south, thank you. But the MLC election and defeat of the Congress’ Muslim candidate was a gift the JD(U) gladly accepted.

Indeed, the Congress, long known as the party for whom the Dalits, backwards, SC-ST as well as minorities Muslims and Christian vote en masse, now sees the curious case of the KPCC leader holding his own SC-ST rally, the moneybags of the party, Shamanur Shivashankarappa insisting – publicly – that the post of state party leader should go to him, the leader of the majority community, the Lingayats, and a group of like-minded Vokkaliga leaders holding a strategy session with S.M. Krishna, former Chief minister to ensure he stays engaged.

Can the Congress pull all of these competing elements together? A working president in Shamanur, a chairman in SMK. And will this magic formula win the confidence of the electorate?

After all, a Lingayat seer did tell a Congress leader “even if you appoint a Lingayat as party chief, what guarantee you will consult us on all matters as the BJP does. You will go to leaders of other faiths.”

Number crunchers know the difference between victory and defeat in Karnataka has always been wafer thin. Dharam Singh, after all, lost by 38 votes! As poll preparations gather momentum, ‘it may be that the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong’.. but secure Karnataka this coming poll — with or without BSY — and maybe, the Congress could even begin to reverse Advani’s prediction. Or not!

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