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Monday, March 27, 2023

Existential dilemmas


Short on ideas and stimulus, the BJP is a pale shadow of what it was 20 years ago as spearhead of the temple agitation, says Anil Pandey
ANIL PANDEY | Issue Dated: December 9, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : BJP | Nitin Gadkari | Uma Bharti | Kalyan Singh | Rajeev Pratap Rudy | Govindacharya |

Party workers who once metamorphosed the BJP into a 50-seat plus Lok Sabha entity in Uttar Pradesh, can now only let out wishful sighs. "The party has been cursed by Lord Rama," says one hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, one among the many who propelled the flag of saffron brotherhood in the country's most significant political belt in the crucial 1990s.

A lot of water has flown under the Gomti and Saryu since the days of the Ayodhya temple movement when the BJP registered a climb hitherto unseen in Indian politics – from 2 to 182 Lok Sabha seats.

More recently, it has fallen victim to traditional Indian bugbears: infighting and groups openly gunning for each other. The two trends that have come to dominate the party in the last five years or so have led to derisive asides like "How can a party grow old before attaining youth" -  and words to that effect.

When Nitin Gadkari became the party president, it was felt that things would improve. To be fair, Gadkari tried. He ensured that big leaders in the party left their air conditioned rooms in Delhi to move out to address block level meetings. He did his level best to neutralise the influential and so-called D4 – the Delhi quartet of Arun Jaitly, Sushma Swaraj, Venkiah Naidu and Anant Kumar.He moved hard towards activating moribund party organisations and fronts. Keeping in mind the 2014 general elections, the party has worked towards making its presence felt in untapped areas like unions of fishermen, handloom workers and unorganised  labour.

Aware that Uttar Pradesh needs utmost attention, Kalyan Singh is set to stage a second comeback in the party. He is well regarded among the OBC and forward castes. As is Uma Bharti, who is being brought in to further give a fillip to the substantial non-Yadav OBC vote bank. In the 1990s, it was the combined weight of the upper caste and most backward caste (MBC) vote that had propelled the BJP.

Says senior journalist Ram Bahadur Rai, a long time BJP tracker, "Nitin Gadkari is well liked by party workers. One big reason for this is he is not in the prime ministerial race. But there is a conspiracy to malign and oust him."

Infighting is by no means new to the BJP, the seeds of which were laid down as early as 1999. The well chronicled tussle between Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani virtually divided the party into two halves and the catch all slogan of a "Party with a difference" began to look thinner as the NDA bandwagon began its forward roll.

"The way in which the BJP made compromises to keep itself in power disappointed many in the Sangh pantheon. In the absence of their support, the NDA government lost the elections in 2004. Since then, it has been a downhill drivel. They have moved away from their core issues of Hindutva and Ram Mandir," confides an RSS insider.

That appears to be a serious point of debate because RSS leaders say that these issues were given up by the BJP as early as the 2002 UP Assembly election manifesto. The results were clear in the 2009 general elections because the party, away from its core issues and core constituency, was unable to cash in on anti-incumbency.

It was in these circumstances that the RSS initiated moves to induct new blood. On the instructions of RSS chief Bhagwat, oldies like Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were kept out of the poll committee meetings and the reins of power handed over to the likes of Gadkari.

Says Rai, "The BJP has betrayed its workers and supporters. They have not been able to convert their slogans into reality. As a result, people have lost faith and by the looks of it, this trust deficit is not ending anytime soon.''

There could be a good reason for this discontent. The reality is that in the last 30 years or so, the BJP has not been able to become an all India party. It has roots in north India but is very weak – to nonexistent – in south India. They were able to make an impact in Karnataka but since then, the party has been mired in factionalism and post-Yedyurrapa, it is nearly certain that they will be voted out of power when the state goes to polls next.
Corruption charges against Gadkari have triggered a fresh round of infighting and leaders are not above issuing public statements, much to the detriment of the BJP.

Insiders attribute this more to personal differences than anything political. They say Ram Jethmalani wanted to send his son Mahesh to the Rajya Sabha: on not getting the deal, he trained his guns on Gadkari. As did former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, who harboured chief ministerial ambitions for Jharkhand.

Says analyst Subrokamal Dutt, "The mood was turning in favour of BJP but open factionalism has harmed its chances. 2014 is still some way away. Next year, there are state Assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. Two of these governments are BJP led and infighting could take its toll."

The open cat fights in the BJP has not just its sympathisers but also the RSS deeply worried. At a meeting held in early November in Chennai under the auspices of the All India Executive Committee, top RSS leaders including its chief Bhagwat and number two Suresh Joshi gave clean chits to Gadkari. Importantly, the RSS's political points man Suresh Soni suggested that keeping in view Narendra Modi's image as a potential prime minister, the party needs to change tactics.

There were other proposals. Soni, for instance, suggested that Jaitly be considered for party president while some in the Sangh were convinced that it was time RSS took a hard line on party discipline and Murli Manohar Joshi's name came up as a potential enforcer.

Dattreya Hoshbole, a senior RSS pracharak was of the view that Advani still commanded respect among the rank and file and it was to him that the party should turn.

If there is one consensus in a badly divided house, it is that the BJP needs a leader who not only takes everyone along but also has control over the more independent-minded members. Does the party have anyone like that? That is the billion rupee question that is beguiling India's principal opposition party.

With inputs from Pratham Dwivedi in Delhi


"Our leaders  are united"

Rajiv Pratap Rudy, key BJP spokesman, plays down factionalism in the party. Excerpts from an interview:

Has the BJP's anti-corruption campaign taken a beating after the charges leveled against Nitin Gadkari?
The charges against him are completely baseless. Merely allegations, do not make you corrupt. Has an FIR been filed against Gadkari? Forget about FIR, not even a notice has been issued.

The BJP seems to be reaching the 2009 stage where its leaders were busy fighting each other.
Not true. Our leaders stand totally united.

The dumping of the Ram Mandir issue has annoyed a vast section of the old party workers who had campaigned in the 1990s.
This feeling is misplaced. The old cadres continue to be with us while new ones are joining in.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the way to the Delhi throne is through UP, but the BJP is in a shambles there.
There can be no doubt that UP is politically very crucial; after all it has 80 Lok Sabha seats. It is a big challenge for the BJP. The reality is that people are looking for a change, they are tired of inflation and corruption and are looking at viable alternatives. The rank misrule of the SP in the state is helping the BJP's cause. We are also working hard to revitalise our party organisation in UP.

You talk of reorganisation in UP but the fact is that the new BJP state president has been unable to select his team in the last past six months.
These delays are procedural. Everyone has to be taken on board. It takes time to consult everyone.


"The BJP needs inspiration"

Govindacharya remains an enigma in the BJP. On the sidelines for the last decade or so, he talks to TSI

What changes have taken place in the BJP in the last 20 years?
At the moment the party is bearing the brunt of having no leaders. In the last 20 years, there is much less inspiration in the party. The earlier leaders were committed to idealism. But these days, the leadership question has been critical. The party has been unable to carve out scientific procedures for itself. As a result, opportunists have come to dominate.

In other words, it has taken a moral dive?
There are changes in lifestyles of party leaders. There is bound to be moral degradation.

Nitin Gadkari is under a cloud over corruption charges. What is your view?
The ordinary party worker is sad and confused that the party president has become controversial. The problem is not that a businessman has become the party president but he is president of a party which was once headed by Deen Dayal Upadhya, the epitome of high idealism.

In UP, the party once got seats in excess of 50. Today is the last among the major players in the state.
Then party workers and sympathisers were imbued with idealism. Today, they have become disillusioned and sits at home. That is the main reason why the BJP is losing public support. In the absence of sacrifice, infighting is but a natural corollary.

Has the BJP been affected by turning away from the Mandir movement?
I believe that there are many issues of cultural nationalism that could have compensated for the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation such as Ganga, cow protection and Swadeshi.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017