Monday, November 28th, 2022 09:50:10

Triangular Tussle Within BJP!

Updated: December 15, 2012 1:10 pm

BJP President Mr Nitin Gadkari has painted himself into a corner. His refusal to resign from his post provoked mounting criticism against him from interested elements within BJP. Mr Ram Jethmalani was the most vocal and persistent. He even dared the party to act against him. At the moment of writing he is suspended from the primary membership of his party. Clearly Mr Jethmalani wants more. He wants to be expelled. Under the provisions of the anti-defection law his expulsion would enable him to continue in parliament as an independent MP leaving options for future alignment with any other party open to him. His suspension would compel him to vote with the party on every issue in parliament but leave him free to continue publicly rubbishing the party at will. If Mr Jethmalani resigns from the party he relinquishes his membership of parliament. This is of course unthinkable. Who wants to quit parliament? Either way Mr Gadkari emerges the loser.

Whatever action is taken against Mr Jethmalani, expulsion or prolonged suspension, it will be a precedent for others. And others there are in plenty. Mr Yashwant Sinha, Mr Shatrgugan Sinha, Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Shettigar, and most recently even Mr Shanta Kumar have voiced criticism of Mr Gadkari. As the queue of critics lengthens every day, how will Mr Gadkari and his mentors in Nagpur cope? Eventually the revolt can assume the dimensions of a party split. The anti-defection law was amended to prevent a party split. However a party can split if the defecting section merges with another existing or even a new party. The rump that avoids merger may continue in the parent party. However such a merger might occur only if not less than two-thirds of the members of the legislative party concerned have agreed to such merger.

In other words if Mr Gadkari’s critics inside the BJP want to being matters to a head they would have to muster at least 77 of the total 115 BJP Lok Sabha MPs. That is inconceivable unless Mr LK Advani and his supporters throw in their lot with the critics. If the present trend continues would that be impossible? I had earlier written in these columns that a party split presupposes a major polarizing issue. I also pointed out that such an issue did indeed exist within the BJP. The extra-constitutional authority exercised by the RSS over the BJP has seriously impaired the party’s performance. An increasing number of BJP leaders will start acknowledging this truth as long as Mr Gadkari persists in occupying his post. Had Mr Gadkari resigned initially he would in no way have harmed his image. His belated resignation will undoubtedly embarrass him. But Mr Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur and Mr Gadkari himself will have to swallow pride if they are determined to avoid a potential crisis within the BJP that could prove fatal.

What the BJP desperately needs at present is competent conflict management. To achieve that first of all the forces in conflict need to be recognized and their respective aims analyzed. Such speculation related to the internal affairs of a party may be considered inappropriate. But the uninhibited manner in which the protagonists inside the party air their views in public invites such speculation. There are three discernable poles of power and influence in the BJP. Party President Mr Nitin Gadkari backed by the RSS represents one pole. Mr LK Advani with the parliamentary party behind him represents the second pole. Gujarat Chief Minister Mr Narendra Modi who has caught the imagination of the party cadres represents the third pole. The aims of each pole needs to be decoded as well as how these are in conflict with the aims of rival poles.

Mr Narendra Modi is the front runner to become the prime ministerial candidate of the party in 2014. Earlier the RSS and its nominated party president Mr Gadkari were perceived to be in opposition to Mr Modi. But the groundswell of support for Mr Modi in Gujarat before the forthcoming assembly polls and his growing popularity among RSS cadres across the nation compelled rethinking. The attacks against Mr Gadkari led to total RSS capitulation. Now there is no conflict between the RSS plus Mr Gadkari on the one hand and Mr Modi on the other. The RSS would like to continue Mr Gadkari in his post as party president for a second term. That would suit Mr Modi because a weakened Mr Gadkari would perforce cooperate with him after the Gujarat assembly election.

The potential threat to Mr Modi’s ambitions comes from Mr LK Advani. The latter would be a formidable prime ministerial candidate of the BJP. Apart from his stature and experience that commands respect within the BJP he commands greater support than Mr Modi from the NDA allies. But the RSS is not enamoured of Mr Advani. He is too tall a leader to have in the past acted as obediently as Mr Gadkari did. For Mr Advani to strategically position himself for 2014 he would have to become the BJP President by replacing Mr Gadkari for the next presidential term. That is why the concerted attacks against Mr Gadkari have been mounted by Mr Jethmalani and others within the BJP. Contrary to what a senior RSS leader had logged on to his blog on the Internet the attacks against Mr Gadkari were not launched to serve Mr Modi but Mr Advani. This, then, is the broad power configuration that exists within the BJP at present. Can it be resolved?

It can be resolved only if all three protagonists agree to lower their respective aspirations to achieve a compromise. Mr Gadkari would have to forego his second term as party president and settle for a strong position within the party and later within the parliamentary party after the 2014 election. Mr Modi would have to keep an open mind on his prime ministerial ambition that may or may not be realized immediately after the next general election. Mr Advani must satisfy himself as BJP President and NDA Chairman and be prepared if necessary to forego his prime ministerial ambitions in favour of Mr Modi. The final decision would rest on the results of the next general election. The number of seats won by the BJP by itself and by the NDA in total would in the natural course determine who, if anyone at all from within the NDA can become Prime Minister after 2014. The unseemly infighting presently witnessed in the BJP is self-destructive and premature. If BJP leaders cannot summon the requisite restraint and discipline now the price they may have to pay later might be unbearable.

By Rajinder Puri

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