The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP awaits Advani healing touch

New Delhi, Oct. 26: The last national council saw the BJP on the ascendancy, basking in the glory of three victories and (misplaced) anticipation of another big one in the Lok Sabha polls.

But the one starting tomorrow finds the party in the shadow of two successive defeats and at the crossroads on the political path it should take: ideology or governance.

The eight months between February and October not only deprived Atal Bihari Vajpayee and .K. Advani of a third innings at the Centre, but also a victory in Maharashtra. For the BJP, Maharashtra was key to a serious attempt to destabilise the Congress-led coalition at the Centre.

Instead, the defeat deepened the fissures in the second-rung leadership and hastened the exit of president M. Venkaiah Naidu. As Advani formally takes over the party reins for the fifth time tomorrow, he is expected to elaborate his 'vision' for the BJP in the presidential address he is drafting himself.

A source said he would introspect on why things went so wrong for the party, the correctives required and look ahead with a pep talk to the cadre on how the party will be back on track, thanks to the 'confusion' in the ruling United Progressive Alliance.

So far, the BJP has avoided coming to grips with defeat in the two major sessions held after the elections: the Mumbai national executive and a chintan baithak in Goa. The source claimed Advani would do a reality check.

The political resolution to be adopted by the council has two parts, said the source. The first will harp on the UPA's failures, with a focus on national security which the BJP thinks is the Centre's Achilles' heel.

It will 'expose' the lack of a coherent policy on internal and external security, citing the escalation of violence in Manipur and Assam as examples. Kashmir and the recent political attacks and murders will also be highlighted.

To sharpen the thrust on security, the party today fielded former foreign minister Jaswant Singh on domestic issues as well as US policy. Singh, who will speak on these topics tomorrow, too, went hammer and tongs at the US state department. He virtually accused secretary of state Colin Powell of lying when he reportedly told a US paper that he had facilitated the peace initiative Vajpayee began with Pakistan in April 2003.

Singh is often perceived as the author of the pro-US tilt in foreign policy. So his allegation is being interpreted by BJP sources as another manifestation of the RSS' 'growing influence' in the party.

Since Singh is counted as a member of Advani's core team, including Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, the sources said it is imperative for him to shed his 'pro-US' image and speak out on security.

The resolution is also expected to give the party 'ideological direction'. It would emphasise Advani's line that there is no need to be apologetic about ideology. At the same time, ideology would be spelt out as 'nationalism' and not Hindutva for two reasons: the perception that issues like the Ram temple had outlived their novelty and electoral utility and two, nationalism was acceptable to the NDA allies.

Jaitley, and Vasundhara Raje and Narendra Modi, the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Gujarat, respectively, will speak on the resolution. Naidu, who will move the resolution, and Vajpayee will also address the council.

Advani, who held the final consultation on his team with Vajpayee today, is expected to announce the names by the end of the week.

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