THE BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY GATHERED for its twenty-fifth national executive meeting in the very last days of 2005, at Mumbai’s Bandra Reclamation Ground—the very place where the party was launched a quarter-century ago. To mark the jubilee, three days of grand celebrations were planned to follow the two-day meeting.
Yet an air of gloom hung over the run-up to the event. The BJP had lost national power after a shock defeat to the Congress in the previous year’s general election, and, more recently, it had performed below expectations in state elections in Bihar, Haryana and Jharkhand. The party’s two main leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, were ageing, and there was a sense that they no longer appealed to an increasingly young electorate. Advani was also facing the ire of the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for his comments on a recent trip to Pakistan, where he praised Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founding father, as a “secular” figure and an “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.” There was widespread talk of a change at the top, and infighting was rife among the younger crop of party leaders.