Why Advani’s resignation is the ‘black swan’ that can hurt the BJP

BotanicSwans11Vivek Kaul
All swans are white.
Or so went the wisdom till the world discovered Australia.
Australia had black swans.
This was the basis of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s black swan theory. The theory uses the black swan metaphor to explain the negative consequences of hard to predict rare events.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Mark Blyth explain the concept in a research paper titled 
The Black Swan of CairoBlack swans are essentially large scale events that lie far from the statistical norm and are largely unpredictable to a given set of observers. So basically these events have a very low chance of happening and hence are rarely predictable in advance.
“Such environments eventually experience massive blowups, catching everyone of-guard and undoing years of stability or, in some cases, ending up far worse than they were in their initial volatile state,” write the authors.
Lal Krishna Advani’s resignation from all official posts that he held within the Bhartiya Janata Party(BJP) is a similar black swan event. It came out of the blue and has caught the party totally off guard. None of the political commentators who appear on television almost every day discussing the way this country is headed, predicted it. And like black swan events do, it has already started to have negative after effects.
As soon as the news of Advani’s resignation broke out one stream of thought that was put forward by supporters of Narendra Modi(particularly those on Facebook and Twitter) and other analysts was that Advani’s days were up and he should retire gracefully. Some even went to the extent of saying that he should have already retired gracefully and let the younger generation take over. It was time for the 
Bhishma Pitamah to lie down on the bed of arrows that he had made for himself, said one political commentator.
Whether Advani should retire, or should have already retired, is a matter of conjecture. But the fact is that he has not and still wants to be part of the political set-up. And that is the important point on which any discussion should concentrate on. Keeping that in mind, what are the negative repercussions that it could have for the BJP in general and Narendra Modi’s efforts in becoming the Prime Minister of India, in particular?
The Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP, seems to be backing Modi in this fight. So that’s one positive going for Modi.
But there are other issues at play here. Even Modi, with all his charisma and political guile, cannot ensure a majority for the BJP in the next Lok Sabha elections on its own (neither can any other leader for his or her party). So alliances (pre-poll and post-poll) are the only way to form a government.
Advani’s resignation seems to be pulling apart what remains of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Janata Dal (United) an important member of the alliance is already talking about leaving it. As Sharad Yadav, the convener of the NDA, and a member of Janata Dal (United) said after Advani’s resignation “It is sad … It is not good for NDA’s health.” KC Tyagi, another Janata Dal(United) leader was a little more direct: “It is tough for us to remain a part of the NDA now that the BJP’s tallest leader is gone.”
If the alliance between BJP and Janata Dal (United) breaks down, at least 30 seats could be at stake in the next Lok Sabha for the NDA. Bihar elects 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha. While the development agenda of Nitish Kumar has held the alliance in good stead in Bihar, but it has also got its caste calculations right. Caste calculations are very important in a state as caste ridden as Bihar is. The upper castes typically tend to vote for the BJP and lower castes follow the Janata Dal (United).
If the parties were to fight elections on their own, the only person that is likely to gain is Lalu Prasad Yadav. This has happened in the past where Lalu Yadav (with his wife Rabri Devi as his front) has won elections despite being terribly unpopular because the opposition vote against him was not united.
BJP is largely insignificant in most of Eastern India. In Bihar and Jharkhand(where the party is largely on its own and has done well due to good penetration of the RSS in the tribal areas) together elect 54 Lok Sabha MPs, the party has a significant presence. If the arrangement between Janata Dal (United) and BJP were to breakdown it would mean another problem for the BJP. And this can’t augur well for Modi’s PM campaign. The party has an insignificant presence in large parts of the country (particularly the South and the East). Hence, it needs to do very well in the portions it has a significant presence.
What makes Bihar even more important is the fact that the BJP hasn’t done well in Uttar Pradesh in the recent past. In the current Lok Sabha the party has 10 MPs from the state which elects 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Shiv Sena, BJP’s first alliance partner, is also thinking along the lines of Janata Dal (United). “(Sena president) Uddhav Thackeray has said that the contribution of Advani and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayeein building the party was invaluable for both BJP and the NDA,” Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut told PTI. “One cannot think of NDA or the BJP without Advani-ji,” he quoted Thackeray as saying.
Another important issue that crops up here is the way Advani has been treated by the current lot of BJP leaders backed by the RSS and driven almost into isolation. Treating a father figure in an unrespectful manner is not likely to go down well with sections of voters. In fact, sections of the pro-Congress media have already started harping on this fact. This can be another major headache for the BJP to deal with.
Also it is worth remembering that many BJP leaders over the years have been mentored by Advani (and this includes Modi as well). And this might lead to the party not being able to put forward a united front in the months to come and various leaders working at cross purposes. The BJP’s best performance came in the Lok Sabha elections of 1996, 1998 and 1999 (it won 161 seats in 1996 and 182 in both 1998 and 1998). This was the time when the party largely united under the leadership of Advani and Vajpayee.
MG Vaidya, a former spokesperson of the RSS, had a telling comment to make in this regard.
“It’s shocking that a leader of such a great stature has to quit. It is now evident that all is not well in BJP. Advani was probably perturbed over the inner crisis in BJP and therefore quit all positions,” said Vaidya. “Some other leaders and Advani’s followers too may tender resignations,” he added. This remains a huge risk for the party. The top leaders of the party bickering doesn’t send down a good signal to the cadres. As a senior BJP leader in Uttar Pradesh told the Times of India “The latest developments in the party are damaging. Bickering at the top would certainly demoralise the party cadre and on the other hand confuse the voter. It would further dent the party’s prospects in the state in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Though the prime reason for the rift is elevation of Narendra Modi as party’s LS poll panel chief, there are other issues too that need to be addressed.” Also it is worth remembering that the old warhorse Advani still remains a better bet than Modi, if things get tight for the BJP, after the next Lok Sabha elections. He is likely to be acceptable to more parties as the leader of the NDA than Modi. Even Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party Samajwadi Party depends a lot on the Muslim vote, has had nice things to say about Advani in the recent past
Given these reasons it is little too early to say that Advani’s resignation will have no impact on the BJP and Modi’s race to become PM.
The piece originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 11,2013 

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)