The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Party primacy lesson for Atal
- Naidu takes hammer to personality cult

Mumbai, June 22: The trouble with the BJP is that it needs Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its mascot but does not want his stature to outgrow the party’s ideological confines.

It was not surprising, therefore, that while paying left-handed compliments to Vajpayee’s leadership, party president Venkaiah Naidu in his inaugural address to the BJP’s national executive strongly argued that no individual was bigger than the party.

“The virus of individualism has to be got rid of,” Naidu thundered. He reminded those present of the party’s slogan: “Nation First, Party Next, and Self Last.”

Over the last 10 days, Vajpayee has thrown the BJP into a tizzy with his on-again, off-again statements on the impact of the Gujarat riots on the party’s electoral fortunes and the wisdom of letting Narendra Modi continue as chief minister.

Vajpayee and the party are in opposite corners over whether Modi’s brand of highly divisive and disruptive Hindutva is an electoral asset or liability. What gives this the colour of an acute crisis is that there are barely three months to go for the Maharashtra Assembly elections where the BJP-Shiv Sena combine sees a real prospect of power. Assembly elections are also due early next year in Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh.

Naidu said: “The question of going back to Hindutva does not arise because we never left it, nor will we ever leave it.”

The immediate crisis over the Modi ouster issue was partially overcome during the weekend after Vajpayee ostensibly dropped it. But an attempt is still on to get the former Prime Minister to toe the party line.

Driving home the point that no one was above the party, Naidu said: “Each one of us must realise that we are what we are because of the party. It is the party consciousness, party personality and party identity with which we should align our own individual consciousness, individual personality and individual identity.”

If Vajpayee was in any doubt, Naidu’s setting out of “three guiding principles of introspection” ought to have convinced him where the discussion on the election debacle was headed and where it could go if the Gujarat issue was pressed too hard.

“Analysis (of election results) cannot be only for finding out what went wrong,” Naidu said. His homily was that criticism should always be “positive and constructive.”

Enunciating the second guiding principle of introspection, Naidu said the BJP was not a personality-based party and did not believe in finger pointing. “We believe in the principle of collective responsibility — both in victory and defeat,” he said, after seeking votes in Vajpayee’s name barely two months ago.

That political parties are unforgiving in defeat was evident when Naidu said: “Collective responsibility does not preclude the need for individual accountability. Each one of us, at an individual level, has to examine our own decisions and actions and weigh their contribution to the overall outcome of the election.” If Modi was to blame, Vajpayee should also carry the can for the debacle, he seemed to suggest.

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