The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani band-wagon off the ground

New Delhi, Oct. 19: Ashoka Road was littered with the remains of firecrackers. Outside the BJP headquarters at No. 11, a band belted out popular film numbers. The sprinkling of Muslims and Sikhs among party workers was among the other props of the spectacle mounted for television at the anointment of L.K. Advani as BJP president today.

But the effort to 'co-opt' the minorities and prove that Advani was not the Hindutva hardliner he was made out to be backfired when Anwar Ul Haque, a minority leader who had crossed over from the RJD before the Lok Sabha elections, resigned in protest.

Behind the joyous front, BJP workers admitted that the party was going through one of its worst phases after losing the general elections, the Maharashtra polls and several crucial byelections.

Some asked if it was worth the time and energy having the 'band baaja' and 'ladoos' to 'celebrate a defeat' when the imperative was to win at least one state from the Assembly polls that lie ahead.

'All we did was change the person on top. Let him prove his worth first,' said an activist from Uttar Pradesh where seven of 13 BJP candidates lost their deposits and the party was pushed to fourth or fifth place behind the Congress in most constituencies.

But optimists felt shows of this kind were necessary to signal through the media that the BJP is 'alive and kicking' despite the reverses.

Even Advani seemed to interpret it in a similar spirit. 'Today when I came to the BJP headquarters, I saw how our workers had lined up to greet me. I am grateful to them and the representatives of TV channels. Five times before, I was party president but never have I seen such a halla (fanfare). TV has had an influence on the political culture of democracy not only in our country but world politics. For instance, I had to be offered a ladoo not once but many times for the benefit of TV,' he said, addressing party workers.

The Congress feted the Maharashtra victory for a few hours on the day the results were announced and then got down to business, with a series of meetings on the question of the next chief minister and an organisational revamp. But the BJP appears to have decided to sustain the 'euphoria' over Advani's appointment for some time.

He will address his first news conference after taking over on Thursday, followed by a lunch. The BJP national council will formally ratify the takeover on October 27, not October 29 as was earlier announced.

Spokesperson Arun Jaitley said the meeting will be enlarged into a mega event at Talkatora Stadium open to not just council and national executive members but MPs, MLAs and MLCs, BJP district presidents, zilla parishad and municipal corporation chiefs and state-level office-bearers. Sources said the move was to demonstrate to the RSS ' a section of which had reservations about Advani ' that the entire party had rallied behind him.

After reconstituting his team of office-bearers and the national executive, Advani is likely to embark on another 'yatra' before the year ends to resuscitate the party, sources said.

He is likely to begin consultations for reorganising his team tomorrow. Sources said he will speak to Atal Bihari Vajpayee ' who was missing today ' and the RSS. Murli Manohar Joshi, too, did not show up as he was in Allahabad. Among those who were active were Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad while Maharashtra-bitten Pramod Mahajan kept a low profile. Naidu's lieutenant Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi bustled around ostensibly to show he mattered even in the new dispensation.

Pak visit

Advani will visit Pakistan after the winter session of Parliament. 'I have conveyed to them (Pakistan government) that the visit would be possible only after the winter session of Parliament,' he said.

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