As its two main leaders fade away with the last weeks of this year, our one and only national opposition party finds itself at a turning point. Two roads stretch before the Bharatiya Janata Party. One will take it straight into history's dustbin. The other towards rebirth as a centre-right political party. As the two men most responsible for making the BJP nearly irrelevant prepare for retirement, we must hope that those who inherit their sad legacy choose to move the BJP in the right direction.
As someone who learned my first lessons about Indian politics in those bad old days when nobody could challenge the might of the Congress, I get nervous when those days show signs of returning. At the moment the signs are huge. In Delhi where the idea of a Durbar has an ancient and powerful allure, there is already a court around the Gandhi family. An old fashioned court filled with sycophants and courtiers. Everywhere I have gone in recent wintry days I have met people who sing the praises of 'Rahulji' and his Mummy. Serious political analysts have told me that Rahulji is a 'visionary' and that 'Madame' has proved that she is a better political leader than her husband and mother-in-law. The Prime Minister comes in for the usual sort of criticism that politicians attract but of the Gandhi family not one bad word can be uttered. The atmosphere is much like it used to be in the days when 'India was Indira and Indira was India'.
The Durbar atmosphere is heightened by the depressing reality that nearly every single one of our young politicians is a political princeling or princess. Every time I read the 'Young Turks' column that this newspaper publishes it makes me want to cry. I have known many of these young heirs from the time they were small children and most of them have never done an honest day's work in their lives or had a serious thought about the enormous political problems that confront India.
This is why it is very important that the BJP heads towards renewal rather than the rubbish bin. For this to happen it must begin by severing all ties with the RSS. The once powerful Sangh is today a defunct collection of tired old men with tired old ideas. It is already in history's dustbin and will find it hard to crawl out in the foreseeable future. The BJP is not yet there and it could begin its process of renewal by electing its leaders through a system of primaries. Selection by the RSS has not worked. It has given the BJP another provincial politician at the top who will be able to do little to save the party from certain oblivion.
In more mature democracies it is quite normal for leaders to rise to the top through a process of election. Without such a process Barack Obama would never have become President of the United States. If the Congress does not believe in inner party democracy, it is easy to understand why. This party has long depended on the Gandhi family for leaders and since this has been a successful political formula why should Congress want to abandon it? The BJP's qualms about a system of primaries is harder to understand particularly today when the RSS is in no position to help win elections.
With the departure of Messrs Advani and Singh, the BJP enters what could be described as a post-Hindutva phase. The indifference of the average Indian to the Liberhan Commission's report is proof that the mandir-masjid story is over.
Young Indians are simply not interested. And, most Indians today are very, very young. Wherever I travel I meet young people who are unhappy with the country's political leaders because they believe them all to be 'corrupt and useless'. These are the words I hear most in the political conversations I have on my travels. The good news is that there is a deep sense of being Indian that used not to be there in times of yore and the other bit of good news is that the young people I meet are very clear about what they want from their political leaders.
They will vote for a political party that offers them better roads, cities, schools, hospitals and jobs. They will vote for a political party that offers them less corruption and better governance. The BJP could be that party if it chooses to move towards becoming a modern political party that can offer us in 2014 a grander idea of India than the shabby, rundown idea that the Congress has to offer. The Gandhi family may look good but the India they built looks very, very bad. Can the BJP not do better?