PM’s Achilles heel
The Rajnath factor
The sensational disclosure on March 13, 2001 by tehelka.com of corruption and bribery in Defence deals in the NDA Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee named by the portal ‘Operation West End’, exposing the loot and plunder in name of strengthening India’s Defence, was clearly aimed at destabilsing and eventually forcing Vajpayee out. But Operation Westend exploded only three years after Vajpayee assumed office.
Without casting any aspersions on the integrity of tehelka’s two remarkable and bold former editors Tarun Tejpal and Anirudh Behl, it was obvious that the whole operation was designed at and focused on shaking the very foundation of Vajpayee and leave him virtually without the crutches to run the country.
The main targets of that sting operation were first and foremost, the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and a close confidant of Vajpayee Brajesh Mishra, though somewhere down the line the idea of attempting to bribe him appeared too risky to the main trouble shooter Samuel Mathew currently heading the tehelka magazine. Second in the line of fire was the newly appointed president of the BJP Bangaru Laxman, an educated erudite Dalit face of the BJP/RSS who fitted well in Vajpayee’s grand scheme of building around his projected liberal image, one more rainbow coalition a la Congress, of Brahmin, Muslim and Dalit vote bank, to rule India in perpetuity. The third person Mathew aimed at was Union Defence Minister and then NDA convenor George Fernandes and since the tehelka team feared that George may catch them, they opted for a little more gullible, the then Samata Party president and a close confidant of George, Jaya Jaitley.
From all appearances this operation had the covert approval of the then Home Minister not yet the Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani. Its outcome was that Vajpayee’s plans of coopting Dalits was abandoned with the disgraceful exit of Bangaru Laxman for taking bribe on camera. Vajpayee’s political trouble shooter George Fernandes, disgraced by the expose, had to step aside as Defence Minister even for a couple of months. But Vajpayee stood firm resisting all attempts to sack Brajesh Mishra and finally Advani camp had to back off. Had Advani succeeded in removing Mishra, Vajpayee would have been left without crutches and might have been forced to quit, vacating the seat for Advani, which the Home Minister and his patrons in the Sangh, starting from the then Sarsanghchalak K S Sudarshan so immensely desired.
A year later, August 2002, it was Vajpayee’s turn to fix his Sangh detractors with the Indian Express expose of Sanghis of all hues from top to bottom climbing over each other to get a petrol pump or a gas agency allotted from the then Petroleum and Natural Gas minister Ram Naik who, when questioned on his indiscretion in using his discretionary powers, blamed it all on Advani.
However within no time even that matter died down and by 2003 Advani was preparing to showcase the achievements of the NDA Government through his India Shining Rath Yatra putting up the semblance of a united BJP going into the 2004 general election mode. It is worth recalling all this for two reasons. One, that it took at least three years for the war between Advani and Vajpayee camp to come to the fore and even then most people could not really put these two exposes in context.
Second, the camps were clearly demarcated then and there was no migration from Advani to Vajpayee camp. Third, that the entire exercise was still very subtle and Vajpayee being the Prime Minister still managed to project an image of an elder statesman, above petty party politics.
Compare that with the current situation in the first BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is only the thirteenth month of Modi government and this time it appears an all-out war with guns booming from all directions. The control freak known for keeping all the levers of power in his hands in the 13 years he ruled Gujarat, whose boast of firm, efficient and corruption free government was happily lapped up by the gullible profit oriented Gujarati trader, appears lost in the maze conjured up by his namesake Lalit Modi, the proclaimed absconder.
Besides it is so apparent from the salvos being fired from different directions how the Prime Minister is actively backing those aiming at her bete noire Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje. After all who is this R K Singh? The former Home Secretary of Government of India who only rode the crest of Modi wave to enter Parliament, dare not open his trap without an assured patronage. And who is he addressing? A fellow Thakur Rajnath Singh who has dug in his heels in support of Sushma and Vasundhara saying no way would any minister go, Lalit Modi and his escapade be damned. Simultaneously Nitin Gadkari went to Jaipur to address the media with Vasundhara sending across the message that “Don’t you fear Modi, we are with you.” Narendra Modi and his Man Friday Arun Jaitley looking for a Thakur voice to counter Rajnath found only R K Singh.
It seems that Rajnath is emerging as the South pole rallying all the anti-Modi forces around him including Advani, one time bitter critic of Rajnath.
In the meantime Advani has gone out of his way to warn against arrogance and authoritarianism of the ruling clique on the specious plea of recalling Emergency and expressing fear that it could be re-imposed. On his part Jaitely did attempt to dispel the impression. But the way Namo has been targeting his critics, like Teesta Setalvad, Greenpeace and anti-nuclear activists, no right thinking honest person can disagree with Advani’s forecast.
But Advani isn’t sitting idle after firing his first salvo. The world knows that Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun, the BJP MP from Sultanpur was admitted to the party by Advani, promoted by Advani and still enjoys the patronage of Advani. If Varun goes to Bijnor and blames the local BJP MP for the suicide of a farmer, calling it a murder, is it too far-fetched to assume that it is all aimed at shaking the foundation of Modi’s impregnable fortress of all the places in UP which sent 71 out of 81 MPs to the 16th Lok Sabha. Perhaps that is why Modi decided to not invite Advani to the official function to mark 40th anniversary of Emergency. To cap it all is the unguided missile Lalit Modi openly threatening to expose all, starting from Jaitley to Rajiv Shukla to Amit Shah and even Narendra Modi, if the Indian probing agencies dare touch him. And if you dare not touch Lamo, how can you justify acting against Sushma and Vasundhara?
But if you don’t sack them, how do you go to Bihar elections attacking Lalu Yadav as corrupt and try to shine in comparison? The Prime Minister is caught in a Chakravyuh of his own making. It will be interesting to see how he gets out unscathed. Even Abhimanyu couldn’t.