Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government ought to be hanging on by a thread -- faced by an unending train of corruption scandals, runaway food prices, slowing economic growth and security lapses. But even though Singh's Congress party has probably sunk to a new low in popularity (India doesn't hold incessant US-style opinion polls), he can rest easy. Things are nearly as bad for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Reportedly, the party's cadaverous senior statesman, Lal Krishna Advani, thinks early polls are in order as soon as 2012 (Singh's official term ends in 2014), so he is set to dodder out on another whistle-stop "rath yatra" -- "chariot pilgrimage" -- in a bid to set himself up for another doomed run at the prime minister's post. But nobody in the party or its big brother the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wants him to run, and he's going to have to beat down the party's most popular leader if he wants the top job.
As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi puts the finishing touches on the supposed whitewash of his image (tainted by allegations he stood by and fiddled while Ahmedabad burned in 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots), Advani appears all too willing to throw a monkey wrench into the party's poll plans, the Times of India reports.
Apparently, after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat told that the party's octogenarians should leave elections to the "youth" (in their 60s), Advani decided his ouster had been orchestrated by Modi. So now, Advani has decided to boycott party functions -- especially Modi's.
The Times of India reports that Advani will skip a traditional visit to Gujarat -- where he launched his first rath yatra, which ended with the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodha, nationwide rioting, and the BJP's first ascension to power over the central government. This has left Modi with egg on his face, since he had planned a huge rally to coincide with Advani's visit.
Worse still, as far as the BJP's hopes for an early election go, Advani has instead decided to launch his 2011 rath yatra from Bihar, where BJP ally Nitish Kumar has already said his JD(U) party would withdraw from the National Democratic Alliance coalition rather than accept Modi as its PM. Because Kumar himself is a darkhorse PM candidate for the NDA -- based on a good record in fighting corruption and a clean image as far as Hindu-Muslim prejudice goes -- it's a healthy slap in the face for Modi.
Describing Advani's refusal to attend the rally in Gujarat as "very symbolic", the Times of India quoted an Advani aide as saying, "I don't think the old man will give up so easily. In 2014, when the next elections will be held, he will be 86. He is very fit and there is likelihood of possible allies like Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu, Ajit Singh, Om Prakash Chautala, Jaganmohan Reddy and others accepting him as a leader than anyone else."
Given that most poll watchers consider Modi the BJP's best candidate, as far as garnering votes (if not in terms of cobbling together a coalition afterward), that means the party will continue to limp along despite the everyday pratfalls of the Congress.