Namo Namah Irks The Patriarch
On the rainy Goan afternoon of 9th June, a table and a few chairs were being laid out on the main porch of five-star Marriot resort in Panaji. Minutes ago, Rajnath Singh had already made that big announcement, the anointment of Narendra Modi as the first among the equals, the leader of a new era that was being ushered in by the BJP.
Modi supporters were in a frenzy all over the country. It was known that the formal announcement was to be made soon, however all were eagerly awaiting to see how it was made.
Rajnath Singh, flanked by a host of senior leaders, came out after concluding the three-day BJP conclave. He made a short and crisp announcement of his big bold decision of appointing Modi the chairman of the campaign committee for the next parliamentary elections. The scene was however not picture perfect. He did not take any questions. The faces of other party leaders who sat and stood with him, which included Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu and those in the background didn’t really look cheerful, they were certainly not happy on an occasion when a fresh chapter in the party’s history was being written.
The man of the moment, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi however chose to stay inside, accepting greetings from his followers and the party patriarch LK Advani, whose reservation over the manner in which Modi was to be elevated had made him abstain from the Goa National Executive. Officially, Advani’s absence was caused by a timely stomach upset. Incidentally, it was for the first time in his entire political career spanning over 60 years that the senior BJP leader had failed to be part of a party conclave. His absence had cast its shadows on the meet, but Singh had gone ahead with his big bold decision. An overwhelming majority of those assembled in Goa didn’t want to ponder much over the sulking patriarch, whose (Vajpayee-Advani) era, they thought in any case, was going to be soon over.
Goa has proved to be second time lucky for Modi. The first was in April 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the post-Godhra riots. Then he hadn’t just survived his position, but had also emerged stronger after the meet, notwithstanding the reservation of party’s supreme leader and the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Advani had staged a virtual coup by making Modi offer his resignation from the Chief Minister’s post and then getting that offer rejected first by the leadership and then by the Executive. The state assembly was dissolved, elections declared and Modi got on to the task
of winning the state for himself andthe party.
This time, the second occasion came a full 11 years later, as he was officially declared the chairman of the campaign committee. Ironically, this time around his one-time mentor Advani was the dissenter to the move but was overruled. It was the pressures from below, from the rank and file that propelled him to the position of the de-facto leader of the party. A fact that Modi later reiterated during his address to the party workers in the evening.
The turn of events in the last few days has two distinct positives for Modi, the groundswell of support that he generated from his party cadre across the country, and the support he got from the RSS. The euphoric Namo chant has been taken up by all, within the party and outside it.
With the sudden rise in acceptability outside of his party sympathizers, he was seen to be the rising sun. The tidal waves in Goa made even a section of his erstwhile critics see virtues in him and they blasted Advani for causing obstructions in his elevation on a national scale. Modi’s charisma was at work. The recent by-poll results have boosted the morale of Modi supporters and Modi the administrator, Hindutva poster boy, development messiah also takes a new avatar as an OBC leader, first potential leader from the numerically dominant community. That appeal could work well in the cow belt.
But beneath all this hype and euphoria is the stark reality that the party’s organisational health is bad and he has to deal with a petulant patriarch who will not let himself be turned into a Keshubhai Patel. While Modi, Rajnath Singh and their band of supporters were still in Goa, Advani was thinking hard on how he should deal with his sudden marginalisation in the organisation that he had so laboriously built over the years.
Ironically, for one full decade since 2002, Lal Krishna Advani had been criticised from a faction within the BJP and from a broader section outside it, of being Modi’s protector and his principal cheerleader. Initially, Modi needed Advani to make himself the Chief Minister and then to stand firmly behind him when he faced flak within the party and outside. When Modi systematically went out eliminating his rivals within the party and the Parivar in Gujarat, Advani then reigned supreme in organisational matters in the BJP. Since the post-Jinnah controversy in 2005, Advani needed support more than Modi needed Advani. Modi tactically supported Advani, and the BJP patriarch missed no chance to hail Modi as a leader, visionary and an able administrator. He needed Modi by his side if he were to realise his dream. To him Modi was his natural inheritor in due course. Advani was then criticised by being his heavily Modified tilt. Come summer of 2013 Advani was vilified, criticised and humiliated for being an obstruction in Modi’s rise at the national level. He even faced protestors outside of his residence. He was the fall guy in the BJP, from being builder of the BJP he was suddenly the man to be blamed for all the ills in the BJP, be it a crushing defeat in Karnataka or Modi’s elevation or whatever else.
Over the last weekend, the BJP patriarch with few options– perhaps three in all – silently sulk in his domain and fade unsung, announce retirement from active politics or give others a shock treatment and let all know that he could not be treated as a pushover even if he was 86. He will go down but not without setting his own terms of exit and leave the rest to history to judge, howsoever, conflicting opinions about him may be, certainly not as a servile old man. The veteran master strategist, albeit wounded, decided to give shock therapy to his own party. He didn’t discuss his response even with his closest supporters in the BJP and in less than 20 hours of Modi’s elevation, Advani’s private secretary Deepak Chopra delivered a signed letter to party chief Rajnath Singh at the party headquarters.
Did Advani gain or lose? The debate would go on. But the turn of events that followed his resignation has spiked the celebratory mood in the BJP. Advani has since then withdrawn his resignation at the instance of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. But the differences within the BJP are out in the open and if the message has gone loud and clear that Modi is not yet the unquestioned leader of the party, he still has many challenges and influential sections to contain within the party and the Sangh Parivar. It even diluted the exuberance of trusted ideologically aligned allies like the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal. No longer was the talk of NDA plus anywhere, it was going to be NDA minus.
In this 30-hour-long crisis in the BJP, there appears to be only one big gainer—the ideological fountainhead of the party, the RSS and its chief Mohan Bhagwat. Ironically, Advani has always been opposed to RSS’s control over the BJP and their attempts to micromanage the BJP, an attempt that had started since the 2005 Jinnah episode.
Just as Modi was trying to recover, hailing the original Lauh Purush or Iron Man, Sardar Patel and unveiling his plans of installing Sardar’s statue, double the size of Statue of Liberty, in Narmada waters, he got another jolt. This time from expected quarters of JD(U). Even as it was considered inevitable the fact it’s going to happen so soon has surprised even the Bihar BJP leaders.
The writing is on the wall, the disintegration of the NDA, with its most valued partner the JD(U) walking away, and as a consequence the losing power in yet another state, Bihar. Nitish Kumar could announce the decision of JD(U) severing ties with the BJP anytime on or after June 16.
A senior JD(U) leader said: “The decision to part ways with the BJP has already been taken. It’s only a matter of days when it is formally announced. We certainly can’t be fooled by the BJP when they say that Modi is only campaigning committee chairman for the 2014 parliamentary elections. The fact remains that it is clearly an indirect projection. Advaniji’s resignation and what happened afterwards have made this realisation even more acute for us. We all respect him both as a leader and as a founding father of the NDA. It’s no point for us to continue to be in the NDA. Our decision is consistent with our stated policy that we can’t be in the business with the BJP if Narendra Modi were to become its leader. At the moment our concern, whether or not state government survives, is to stick to our principles. It’s a different matter though that the Nitish Kumar government minus BJP would survive. There are many who would support us on matters of principles.”
The Bihar BJP leadership had countered the claim of “good riddance” and hopes that Modimania will sweep the next Parliament polls in the state but the fact remains that if the JD (U) dumps them, the BJP will lose power in a fifth state in a row. Losing an ally of 17 years is certainly not a healthy sign in the era of coalition politics.
Modi supporters are however not deterred. They believe that the tidal wave that rose in Goa will submerge all obstacles in his onward march to Raisina Hills in New Delhi. After all, it was for the first time that a leader has been propelled on the national scene through pressures from below, not through court room intrigues or selected just by his friendly peers.
By Deepak Kumar Rath