Two developments have been in news pertaining to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the country’s principal opposition party. One is the “home-coming” of the former finance/external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, who was expelled from the party 10 months back for his controversial book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. And the second is the ongoing tussle between the party and the Janata Dal(U), affecting the fate of their ruling coalition in Bihar, which goes to polls later this year.
Both the developments have thrown the BJP in very poor light, particularly its chintan (philosophy), and chalan (working style). Certainly, as a party, the BJP is now miles apart from what it was in the 1990s, when it had caught up the imagination of the nation as “a party with a difference”.
Let us take the case of Jaswant Singh’s return. He was apparently expelled for his views on Jinnah, which the party did not share. In the first place, whether one’s individual, and that too academic, opinion on a person should be a sufficient reason for expulsion from the party is debatable. In fact, if at all Jaswant Singh deserved to be expelled from the BJP, it should have been due to the widely shared view in Rajasthan that he, along with late Vice-President of the country, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, did everything possible to ensure the defeat of the BJP, their own party, in last Assembly elections just because they did not like the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. It is said that but for Singh and Shekhawat, Vasundhara would have won a second term comfortably, rather than losing it narrowly.
But having expelled Singh on the Jinnah issue, what is the reason behind “inviting” him back to the party? Singh says that he has not changed his views on Jinnah. Does that mean then that the BJP has changed its views on Jinnah in the last 10 months? If so, why has the country not been told about it? And if not, then how could few individuals, howsoever senior they may be, “invite” Singh back to the party without proper or structured discussions in the concerned party forums? This question is the all the more important, given the fact that the decision to expel Jaswant Singh was said to be BJP’s collective decision.
As regards the Bihar imbroglio, the BJP’s indecisiveness is equally bizarre. Here, the party has been literally humiliated by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who belongs to the allied Janata Dal(U), seemingly over a non-issue—an advertisement displaying Kumar and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi together above a factual narration of Gujarat’s friendly contribution towards Bihar’s flood relief. The “friendly” advertisement invited “hostile” reactions of Kumar. He has apparently returned Rs five crore to Gujarat, though quantitatively speaking, Gujarat’s overall contribution in terms of men and material for the relief work exceeded
Rs 20 crore. Kumar also cancelled a dinner meeting with the BJP leaders, who were assembled in Patna for a party meeting. And what is most humiliating, Kumar’s associates have threatened that they would not want either Modi or Varun Gandhi on the soil of Bihar for electioneering.
The BJP’s top mandarins have sat over many a time in the meantime to discuss the party’s line of action in Bihar, but every time a decision has been deferred except highlighting that the party will “not compromise on its dignity”. Arguably, any decision on how to deal with Nitish Kumar is going to be a difficult one. After all, BJP-JD(U) alliance is one of the oldest in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). But it is time to take a difficult decision. Any additional time may prove really costly for the party.
All told, Kumar is a wily customer. He wants to cultivate the image of a “secular” leader so that he gets the votes from the Muslims whose number is quite considerable in Bihar. He is said to be in two minds on whether to ally with the Congress, whose second most powerful leader, Rahul Gandhi, is strongly inclined to court him. Though it is debatable how much Muslim votes he will get, given the fact that all his other opponents Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan also thrive on the Muslim votes, Kumar’s supporters, particularly a section of the national media, will want him to emulate Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, who dumped BJP just on the eve of the last elections, to prove his “secular” character.
Of course, secularism has been a much abused concept in India’s political parlance. Space does not allow here to discuss that issue. But it defies one’s imagination how Nitish Kumar can have rasgoola but will hate to touch sugar. He has no problem in taking BJP’s support to remain Chief Minister for five years, but will consider Narendra Modi, a senior BJP leader, untouchable.
In fact, the national media has totally downplayed some strange ways of Nitish Kumar’s functioning. For one, he is a leader who does not believe in party democracy. See the number of JD(U) leaders who have deserted the party in Bihar in recent years and see the manner he has humiliated some of the party veterans, including former defence minister George Fernandes and former minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh, whose tragic and untimely demise came during the writing of this column (let me confess, it has been a great personal loss; Singh was a long-standing close friend of mine). And arguably, Nitish Kumar has even surpassed Lalu Yadav in promoting his brand of casteism—the so-called Maha Dalits and Kurmis.
But what is more disturbing is the way Nitish has handled the Modi-issue. Without discussing it in his council of ministers, he took a unilateral decision in returning the money to Gujarat. Can any Chief Minister take a unilateral and personal decision pertaining to another state of the country? After all, Nitish did not return Narendra Modi’s money; that money came from the “whole” state of Gujarat and had been given to the “whole” state of Bihar. In fact, Nitish’s behaviour reflects poorly on the federal structure and functioning of the country as such.
What should, then, BJP do? The party must realise that alliance with Nitish Kumar has not done it any good in Bihar. In 1996, the BJP was the senior partner in Bihar. Nitish now has made it effectively negligible. In fact, the BJP now should have a second look at this concept of alliance politics. Be it in Uttar Pradesh or Orissa or Haryana or in Bihar, the party has become much weaker because of the alliance politics. The same is considerably true also in Punjab and Maharashtra.
It is being forgotten that if the BJP is the premier opposition party in the country, it is primarily because of its performance in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat. And here, the party is not only alone but under the leadership of effective and competent leaders such as Yeddyurappa, Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Narendra Modi.
It is only the so-called Delhi-based national leaders of the BJP who will go to any extent of appeasing the essentially authoritarian leaders of the so-called allies. They forget the fact that these allies will come behind you when you have strength. And that was the case in 1990s. Consistent appeasement, on the other hand, not only makes the party weak but also hurts its dignity.
It is time for the BJP to part ways in Bihar. But will the confused and shortsighted BJP leadership in Delhi dare to do so? Highly unlikely, if the record of the recent years is any indication.
By Prakash Nanda