Sunday, Dec 22, 2002
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THREE DAYS ago at a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, the coalition partners of the National Democratic Alliance and its supporting parties congratulated him on the Bharatiya Janata Party's handsome electoral victory in Gujarat. That was expected.
But the allies have become acutely aware of their vulnerability and increasing weakness in the face of the BJP's perceived resurgence after a string of defeats and suspicious that Gujarat has uncorked the Hindutva genie which would finish what is left of them.
"The allies have become zeroes and they know that," said a leader of a parliamentary party friendly with the BJP. "They admit it, they talk about it in the Central Hall of Parliament," he added. In fact, even before Gujarat their decline had set it, now it has gained further momentum.
The fact that almost all the allies command a percentage of the Muslim votes in their small pockets of influence is another reason for their worry over Gujarat.
The allies had dictated the new Government's agenda when the NDA Government was born in 1999. The NDA document setting out the tasks before the new Government was proof that it was the BJP which had been forced to abandon its favourites in the Hindutva agenda, including top of the chart, Ram temple. Now, the allies fear, even if they do not voice these apprehensions publicly, that the BJP will bring back the not-so-hidden agenda. There is a view that even on the Ram temple issue the Government may try a trick or two before the Lok Sabha election of 2004.
Earlier this year, ahead of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's `Ram shila poojan' event in Ayodhya (which was converted into a `shila daan' programme), Mr. Vajpayee had asked the Law Ministry (at that time headed by Arun Jaitley) to look into the legal aspects of handing over some of the land acquired by the Central Government around the disputed site to the trust led by the VHP. It is now known that Mr. Jaitley had conveyed to the Government that this could be done, that the acquired land, other than the 2.2 acres of the demolished Babri Masjid complex, could be handed to the VHP trust. In fact, some very senior BJP leaders have privately admitted that if the VHP had not made the mistake of issuing ultimatums to the Centre and indulging in unnecessary drama during the `shila poojan' programme, Mr. Vajpayee would have done what the VHP wanted him to, completely ignoring the allies.
It seems that this may be tried once again before the Lok Sabha election, and this time the allies are expected to go along silently.
The leaders of the BJP's coalition partners seem only interested in keeping their jobs as Ministers, and on this Mr. Vajpayee has been willing to oblige them.
The Samata Party (at one time the biggest ally) is divided and its leader, George Fernandes, is struggling to get the Tehelka muck off him, while a defeated and demoralised DMK has had to watch the BJP openly flirting with its rival, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.
The Trinamool Congress' humiliation is complete, its leader forced to wait patiently for an invitation to join the Cabinet; the Janata Dal (United) leader, Sharad Yadav, had to swallow his pride when he was unceremoniously stripped of the Civil Aviation portfolio and sent to Consumer Affairs, while Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti walked out of the NDA after the Gujarat massacres.
The Akali Dal and the National Conference have both been trounced in their States and the Biju Janata Dal is preoccupied with factionalism. None of them is in a position to protest if the BJP carries forward its communal agenda.
The Telugu Desam Party (supporting the NDA from outside the Government) is the only "healthy" friend of the BJP. Its chief had demanded the sacking of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, after the prolonged rioting in the State and the view within the party is that he may find it difficult to go along if the Gujarat experiment is replicated in other States by the BJP. N.V.
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