A battle that the BJP can't win

Attack the government, if you will for not taking decisions, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is responsible for the paralysis of parliament. The party says that the Prime Minister is responsible for allotting coal blocks to private parties when they should have been disposed through an auction.

Basing themselves on the Comptroller & Auditor General's report, they say that the PM must go, otherwise they will not let Parliament function.

Its leaders are quite unapologetic about their stand, with Arun Jaitley declaring that the party was willing to stand in 'majestic isolation', if required.

BJP leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley during BJP Vijay Sankalp Diwas celebrations at Ramlila Ground in New Delhi on Sunday

BJP leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley during BJP Vijay Sankalp Diwas celebrations at Ramlila Ground in New Delhi on Sunday

Remarkably, even as the Delhi trio of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and L.K. Advani have brought on an unprecedented political crisis in the country, party president Nitin Gadkari has gone with his family on a 22- day vacation to Canada.

Strategy It is not very clear as to what is motivating the BJP to take what is clearly an over the top stand. Simply put, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has some 155 seats in Parliament and the Congress led United Progressive Alliance has over 267.

Since the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party largely support the UPA, the ruling alliance has an unassailable numerical majority.

That is why, instead of moving a no-confidence motion and seeking the removal of the government, as parliamentary procedure would dictate, the BJP wants the Congress to commit hara-kiri.

Now, just why it thinks the Congress should oblige is not entirely clear since shame and self esteem are hardly qualities that you factor into equations defining the political balance of power.

The BJP cannot demand that its numerical weakness, a consequence of its poor performance in the 2009 general elections, be ignored.

At the end of the day, the Congress is the ruling dispensation and the BJP the Opposition.

This balance is reflected not only in the way the chips would fall if a no confidence motion were moved, but also in how the Public Accounts Committee which, as per convention, examines the Comptroller & Auditor General's reports in greater detail would deal with the issue. Perhaps there is a simpler answer to this seemingly unreasonable course adopted by the party.

The two leaders who are the most vociferous in the debate- Jaitley and Swaraj are known to be acolytes of Advani. A seppuku by the Congress would give Mr Advani, who has insistently refused to announce his retirement, a shot at becoming the prime minister. Lalji is a sprightly 85 now, so in 2014 he will be approaching 87.

At the same time, it would neutralise the threat that is being posed to Jaitley and Swaraj's ambitions by Narendra Modi, who will not become the definitive prime ministerial candidate of the BJP till the Gujarat State Assembly elections are over, six months from now.

The BJP's dysfunctional behaviour has been visible for some time now. And most recently it was manifest in its conduct during the presidential elections.

Instead of coming out with a credible candidate who would have represented the party's ideological and philosophical position clearly, they sought to encourage a UPA renegade- Mamata Banerjee-to stick the knife in the Congress party's back.

The result was not surprising-the BJP ended up with no candidate of its own and had to piggy-back on P A Sangma's candidacy- another UPA renegade, backed by two NDA outliers, Jayalalitha and the AIADMK and Navin Patnaik and the BJD. Pushed by Jaitley and Swaraj and backed by Advani, the BJP appears to have staked all in a battle it cannot win.

Yes, it can draw out the Coalgate affair. Its dirty tricks department can slyly suggest that this or that allottee was related to this or that Congress leader or minister. Govt But on the larger issue, they have not managed to shake the Congress from its position that the allotments were made in a transparent manner and that if there was wrongdoing in terms of misrepresentations and forgeries by the companies in question, well they have the CBI looking into it.

The government's view that the presumptive losses have been wrongly calculated is not that outlandish. And, to top it all, there is clear evidence that among those who opposed the auction route were chief ministers of the BJPruled states.

When it comes to mining, no ruling party in the country has a clean record. The BJP's Karnataka copy book has been thoroughly blotted by the Reddy brothers of Bellary, 'god sons' of Sushma Swaraj, who coincidentally blamed Jaitley for their appointment as ministers in the Karnataka cabinet.

Consequences As it is, the Delhi trio-Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley- may have taken on more than they can chew in targeting Prime Minister Singh.

Mr Advani should not have forgotten the consequences his party faced after he decided to target Singh during the 2009 elections. This time, the BJP believes that the PM cannot escape blame since he was the Coal Minister. This could however, be misleading.

The Prime Minister is often nominally the incharge of several ministries.

He certainly does have, as Jaitley pointed out, the 'vicarious' responsibility for the allocations- which the PM has acknowledged in his Monday statement in Parliament- though few would agree that he was 'directly' liable as well, which would mean he was taking day-to-day interest in the Coal ministry's activities.

The Coalgate affair will have lasting consequences in India's political history.

At one level, it has brought the already crisis-ridden system one step closer to a breakdown.

If the principal Opposition of the day refuses to acknowledge the majority of an incumbent government and is hell-bent on pushing the situation over the brink, there is little that the government of the day can do, except to take undemocratic steps like seeking the expulsion and eviction of the entire NDA from Parliament.

We may therefore have the paradox of the system being cleansed per force by the actions of the civil society and the Opposition and the reaction of the government. But the government system itself seems to be tottering towards a collapse.