BJP Crisis Gives A Handle To Congress And Other Parties
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rivals, starting with the Congress to parties which can be constituents of a possible third front after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, are barely able to conceal their glee at the developments within the country’s main opposition party and its coalition partners.
With less than six months to go for the assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi and less than a year left for the election of a new Lok Sabha, the main driving force for any political party would have been to present a united face or at least a semblance of it. Instead, to the delight of its rivals, what was happening in the BJP was exactly the opposite, with the main opposition displaying a suicidal tendency and giving its opponents a handle to beat it with.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s calibrated move to occupy centrestage saw BJP patriarch L K Advani expressing his anger thrice-over: he stayed away from the June 7-9 national executive meet where Modi was to be made head of the campaign committee and when this happened he quit the election committee, parliamentary board and the national executive, citing the party’s waywardness and the RSS’s interference in the BJP’s affairs as his reason for doing so. He underlined his anger by remaining the NDA chairman to signal that he had the support of the allies and could be a contender for the Prime Minister’s post in 2014.
In that one week of turmoil, the BJP stood badly divided, the NDA tethered on the brink (with parties like the JD-U saying they would reassess their participation in the NDA following Advani’s resignation) and the country’s political compass swung wildly at the implications of the developments in the main Opposition. All this while, the rivals chortled in delight.
After maintaining that what was happening in the BJP was its internal affair, the Congress and other anti-BJP parties used the occasion to lash out the saffron brigade. It did not require them to repeat what they have been saying because it was there all to see: that the BJP, which claims to be a party of difference, was actually a party of differences.
Within 30 hours of the high drama, Advani meekly withdrew his resignation after the RSS brokered a tenuous truce under which Modi would remain campaign committee chief but the former deputy prime minister would be consulted on key issues.
Has the BJP crisis really blown over?
The chorus of the anti-BJP parties is a big “no.’’
Even the BJP is privately wary, for it knows that the cuts inflicted by the latest developments are so deep that the slightest touch could expose the raw wounds again. There are apprehensions in the party which the Congress and anti-BJP parties are counting on—that Advani would not remain a silent spectator even after he had to back down this time round.
For the Congress, the developments in the BJP could not have at a more opportune time. It has been on the backfoot during UPA-2 over its alleged involvement in serial scams ranging from coalgate to railgate and its failure to check corruption, prices and inflation or deal with misgovernance, malgovernance and the policy paralysis in decision making.
The party has been trying to camouflage its poor performance by clubbing the two editions of UPA in the hope that the impressive achievements of UPA-1— when the loan waiver scheme and the employment guarantee acts hoisted it to power in 2009—would rub on its later avatar.
The party’s nervousness over its electoral prospects intensified as the clamour grew within the BJP for a national scene role for Modi who has been under the scanner for the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. If the Congress was conscious that his emergence would polarise the polity and change the political narrative and the social discourse, it was also apprehensive that the urban middle class and the youth had turned their backs on it and were beginning to congregate around Modi.
The perception of this class that he was a strong and determined leader contrasted with the jaded image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has been running a controversy-ridden coalition for nine years and of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi—widely perceived as Modi’s main adversary in 2014 who carries the burden of a reluctant leader unwilling to take the responsibility of leading from the front and remains untested in administration or governance, unlike the Gujarat Chief Minister. Indeed, in his first speech after his anointment, Modi scrupulously ignored Rahul, while targeting Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
But even while the Congress was grappling with these challenges, it got an issue with the Advani episode and the rift in the BJP. Congressmen began to see a silver lining in what appeared to a near-certain bleak future, with Advani’s antics adding to their hope that they may be able to form UPA-3.
Will the Congress gain from the crisis?
Though the BJP may have tided the crisis for the moment, the Congress hopes to gain from the three-layered war—Advani vs Modi, Advani vs the RSS and Modi vs some NDA allies—and would like it to simmer. It believes that the people will automatically turn to it as Advani is likely to continue playing rebel and dissident; Modi’s elevation, which virtually split the party and divided the NDA, would remain a controversial figure within the organisation and the combine; and a central role for the latest poster boy of Hindutva would polarise the polity which would prompt the anti-Modi electorate, ranging from the minorities to the liberals of the majority community to rally behind the Congress despite the dip in the UPA’s image over financial scams and inability to gov-ern effectively.
Another unstated reason of course is its belief that Modi’s promotion, possibly also as a PM candidate, would force the BJP to spend its energy on defending the Gujarat leader on the communal-secular debate and take the spotlight away to some extent from the UPA’s acts of omission and commission.
ADVANI, THE INCLUSIVIST
I have had close and easy relationships with many of the top leaders in Delhi for about thirty years, including several Prime Ministers. But of all of them LK Advani was the most complete personality. He is unfailingly polite, a good listener, curious and ever willing to learn, with a healthy reading habit, always punctual and a generous friend. Above all he had little time for gossip or superstition, a major affliction among the nation’s elite. I recall giving him a couple of books by Amartya Sen and commended in particular his views on equality and social justice. A few weeks later he called me to visit him and had marked out several pages and passages and had detailed discussions on them. He always had plenty of time for such interactions.
When he was contemplating nominating Atal Behari Vajpayee as the party’s Prime Ministerial standard bearer in 1995, I was among several who warned him against doing so. I told him that Vajpayee didnt have any agenda or vision, was flexible on corruption, did not reciprocate Advani’s warm sentiments towards him and will humiliate him whenever possible after he became PM. Advani just replied that Vajpayee was his senior, more acceptable to possible allies and to the general public. When I pressed my point he just said that his mind was made up and firmly closed the subject. Next morning he made the announcement in Bombay. In later years whenever whatever I warned him about used to be apparent, LKA would just say what he did was right and that he would do it again.
The biggest factor in favor of Vajpayee, Advani felt, was that he would begin the transformation of the BJP from being a narrow, exclusivist, ultranationalist and radical party into a more inclusive, reformist and a liberal right of center party. His experiment with Pakistan and Jinnah was part of this attempt to reinvent the BJP. Interestingly in 1998 when Vajpayee favored a bill against conversion and wanted it included in the manifesto, Advani was against it as it infringed on individual freedoms and put his foot down.
The BJP has now chosen to go back to the path of revanche, revival and a narrow nationalism. The language employed in his resignation letter points more to his unhappiness with his supposed close associates like Sushma Swaraj, Anant Kumar, Yashwant Sinha and others whose flip flops were so evident these past few days. His erstwhile protege Arun Jaitely has been bad mouthing him for some time now, and though Advani knew about it, he never struck out at him. That was not his way of doing things. His way was to carry everybody along. That Narendra Modi is incapable of.
By Mohan Guruswamy
The Modi antidote
The Congress, as a ruling party at the Centre, hopes to burst the Modi bubble with a multi-pronged strategy. On the one hand it will use the Advani episode to expose the BJP’s infighting and talk about the Gujarat leader’s lack of experience at the national level and his dictatorial style and divisive politics, while at another level, it will seek to present the achievements of the two UPAs as a wholesome package.
Its anti-Modi and anti-BJP antidote would lie in repairing its own image, reaching out to the vast hinterland since the urban middle class has deserted it, raising the communal-secular debate to rally the anti-BJP voters and forces, and rolling out schemes in the limited time it has at its disposal for minority welfare and inclusive growth as for instance providing food security that could become a game changer for the 2014 elections.
Is the Congress nervous of the Modi factor notwithstanding party spokesperson Renuka Choudhary’s derisive and dismissive remark of the BJP being gripped by “Namoitis” ?
“Why should we be nervous (of Modi)? He is unacceptable to a majority of the people,’’ said Congress leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi. “He is not even acceptable in his own party,” said her colleague Jagdambika Pal. “He is a dictator like Hitler and Stalin,” alleged AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh as he tried to deepen the wedge in the BJP by expressing sympathy over the treatment meted out to Advani. “The process of the degeneration of the BJP has begun,” said Janardan Dwived, general secretary and media department chairman.
Like the Congress, the BJP’s rivals and opponents like Lalu Prasad’s
RJD, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP, Mayawati’s BSP or the communists and supporting partners like Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar were quick to pick on Modi. “Modi will be a strong polarising force even within the BJP,” charged SP leader Kamal Farooqi in his interviews. “If he is divisive for the BJP, he is also divisive for the NDA and the country,” was the general refrain of most leaders.
Will the BJP crisis give a boost to the Third Front?
There is no doubt that the BJP’s crisis has given a fillip to the protagonists of the third front. The first to get off the block to raise the demand for a federal third front is the erstwhile partner of the NDA and later of the UPA, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. “The time has come for all regional parties to come together and form a federal front in the coming Lok Sabha election. Let us stand together. Let us talk together. Let us decide a plan of action for the next Lok Sabha election,’’ she posted in her Facebook account when Advani resigned from the BJP posts and the JD-U voiced its unhappiness at the developments in the NDA.
Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik supported her idea of a federal front even as the Left parties and the Congress in West Bengal dismissed the suggestion. In Delhi to highlight his party’s demand for special status for the state, Patnaik stressed that he would remain equidistant from the Congress and the BJP. “I think it will be a healthy thing to have a federal front or a third front,” he said, adding that things move quickly when elections near. He did not rule out the possibility of associating with the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who considers Modi as “her friend” on her part hinted that her party’s reaction would be dictated by the post-poll scenario.
Other prospective partners of a third front chose to play their cards close to their chest. Amid speculation that the 2014 Lok Sabha polls would throw up a fractured mandate, every regional party and Chief Minister is hoping to emerge as a PM candidate in a fluid situation. In the event, they would not like to commit themselves to any alliance led by the Congress or the BJP unless they think that it will help them raise their tally in the Lok Sabha polls and would prefer to wait and bide their time.
Will polarisation help?
In poll bound Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, there is already a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP. But elsewhere, where the BJP is a factor, the Congress is hoping that if the BJP is banking on polarisation, a reverse polarisation would in turn also help them increase their vote share and seats. Many of the region-based parties also go by the same logic, specially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal hope that in addition to their own vote banks among the OBCs or dalits, they would get the support of the Muslim community to establish their primacy in the state. And if JD-U’s Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also quits the NDA, he too would be a claimant for anti-Modi and anti-communal vote. And depending on the seats they win, they will decide their future strategy.
By Saroj Nagi