The Suicidal BJP
Gopinath Munde is not leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). That is what I read in the newspapers as I write this column. Munde is the deputy leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, thus occupying one of the important offices of the country. He was once the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, one of the important states of the country. His daughter is a Member of Legislative Assembly and his nephew is a Member of Legislative Council in Maharashtra. And all these positions that he and his family members have been enjoying are due to a simple fact that the BJP has recognised his worth and rewarded him, though his kinship with the late Pramod Mahajan (a highly influential leader of the BJP when alive) and proximity with one of India’s richest and most influential corporate houses have also reportedly played a role.
And yet, Munde is an unhappy man. He thinks that the party is unfair to him. His supporters say that the BJP will be finished in Maharashtra as he, an OBC leader (though married to a Brahmin), is the principal vote-catcher of the party in the state. Reports say that it was almost certain that he was leaving the BJP to join the Congress, but it seems that Congress stalwarts in Delhi found Munde’s demands, which included, among others, a very important cabinet position at the Centre, too unreasonable.
Of course, the Munde episode is not something new for the BJP. In fact, in the past, many leaders of the party, and all of them were much taller than Munde in ranks and profile, had turned dissidents and left the party. Invariably all of them failed miserably in their missions. Some went to oblivion and some managed to return to the BJP fold. But none of them regained the same profile and influence that they had before leaving the party. Names that come across in this context are Balraj Madhok (President of the then Jan Sangh, BJP’s previous incarnation), Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and Madan Lal Khurana. There is of course the example of Shankar Singh Vagela; he joined the Congress and given that party’s pathetic position in Gujarat, was made a cabinet minister at the Centre during Manmohan Singh’s first term as the Prime Minister. But these days, one does not hear anything about him.
Given such a history, I do not know why the BJP was in jittery over Munde. If Munde leaves the party, he would be the ultimate loser, not the party. However, for a political observer like me the bigger question is why of all the parties it is the BJP that witnesses more dissidence, and that too from the leaders who have been immensely rewarded by the BJP. I think it is a huge myth that the RSS remote controls the BJP and that the party is a highly disciplined one, given the fact that the BJP loves fighting the enemy within, not the Congress. See what has happened in Karnataka in recent months. Here, it is an open secret that the Chief Minister’s real enemies are the party insiders, including some topmost leaders in Delhi. In fact, important members of the party high command openly stay and dine with the Chief Minister’s opponents and brazenly chide about the performance of his government, the first-ever BJP government in Southern India.
In fact, I am more convinced than ever that if the BJP, the principal opposition party of India, has been utterly ineffective in capitalising the people’s anger over issues such as price rise, corruption, terrorism, Maoism, foreign policy and deteriorating regional environment against one of the most lackluster governments in independent India’s history, it is essentially due to the fact that the party, marked by fighting and intrigues within, does not inspire confidence. No wonder, why one often hears in the political corridors in Delhi that some of the stalwarts of the BJP are the best friends of the Congress, indeed. After all, we did hear last week Congress spokespersons asking some “loyal BJP leaders” to throw away from the party a president like Nitin Gadkari, who, according to them, is not refined enough and dared to criticise Sonia Gandhi. In fact, one rarely comes across a political party openly instigating a section of the leadership of its principal rival party against another section. But that is what the Congress is doing with great abandon, and a section within the BJP is cherishing that.
Foreign diplomats and academicians often ask me why is it that the BJP, which, promised so much in the 1990s, has been on a decline. They fail to wonder as to why the BJP has not been able to emerge as an effective conservative party of India a la Republicans of the United States, Tories of Britain, Likud of Israel and LDP of Japan. I think the main problem with the BJP is that with Atal Behari Vajpayee retiring and LK Advani losing the magic and reverence he once possessed, the BJP may have many talented second-generation leaders, but none of them, busy as they are with infightings and intrigues, have been able to present before the country an alternate vision. There is no more a Vajpayee who once dared to debate on India opting for a Presidential form of government. One does not hear these days Advani going deeper into the national issues and suggesting reforms in our electoral system, including financing of political parties.
I do not think Vajpayee and Advani of yesteryears ever did politics over caste. In contrast, look now. Effortlessly, Munde talks of his OBC base. Others flaunt their respective bases among the Rajputs, Jats, women tribals and Dalits. In other words, we do not have many leaders in BJP who are pan-Indian in their outlooks. No wonder why the BJP blindly supports caste-based reservations and census. It also supports the so-called Women Reservations Bill, which is one of the most absurd and anti-democratic measures that will automatically result in two-thirds of incumbent members of the legislatures—one third women and one third men—being forcibly unseated in every general election, thus jeoparadising the possibility of sensible planning to contest and nurture a political constituency.
If the BJP generated confidence in the 1990s, it was essentially due to its sincere projection that “it is a party with a difference”. Not any longer. The BJP is just like any other party. It has virtually fallen apart as India’s potential right of the centre conservative party. The urban middle class, its natural constituency over the years, has now doubts over its future, thanks to the party’s anti-liberalisation and anti-business pronouncements. The BJP is ambivalent about free-markets. In foreign policy, it seems to be distancing itself from the Western world.
In politics, conservatism does not mean anti-modernism and backward looking. The BJP needs to realise this lesson. In fact, one of the problems that beset the present BJP leadership is that it is surrounded mostly by third-rate staff and advisors who are essentially acolytes and time servers, having no idea of how politicians in the developed countries are given fresh ideas, policy papers, backgrounders by their associates, drawn from the best in the academia, media and think-tanks. It is high time the party reversed its suicidal course and fine-tuned its “chintan” (philosophy) and “chaal” (working style).
By Prakash Nanda