Party With Dif­fer­ences

In­fight­ing resur­faces in the BJP, threat­en­ing to slow down the mo­men­tum of the Modi jugg er­naut The Varanasi seat has a di­rect bear­ing on 35 seats in east­ern Ut­tar Pradesh and ad­join­ing Bi­har.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Jatin Gandhi

In­fight­ing resur­faces in the Bharatiya Janata Party, threat­en­ing to slow down the mo­men­tum of the Modi jug­ger­naut.

As re­ports emerged of the dis­cor­dant chords he struck at the meet­ing of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mit­tee (CEC) on March 8, for­mer party pres­i­dent Murli Manohar Joshi’s of­fice hur­riedly called a press con­fer­ence the next day, a Sun­day, at his Raisina Road home. The ex­cuse? A meet­ing be­tween Joshi and farm­ers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the party man­i­festo he is putting to­gether. The real rea­son? Af­ter trig­ger­ing a mini-re­volt in the CEC, Joshi wanted to clar­ify his po­si­tion. De­scrib­ing him­self as a “dis­ci­plined sol­dier” who would abide by the party’s de­ci­sion, Joshi said, “The de­ci­sion will be taken by BJP’s par­lia­men­tary board. Our prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Naren­dra Modi will be present there. I don’t think there will be any de­ci­sion that will dent his pres­tige or lower the party’s prospects in win­ning the most num­ber of seats.”

The RSS had sent out a strong mes­sage the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon from Ban­ga­lore, where it was in the midst of a three-day Akhil Bharatiya Pra­tinidhi Sabha, that the dif­fer­ences within the party should be muted be­fore they slowed down the Naren­dra Modi wave. Ev­ery­one in the pari­vaar should bow to the as­pi­ra­tions of the people and ac­knowl­edge the de­sire for change in the coun­try, it said. Joshi blamed the me­dia for cre­at­ing the im­pres­sion that he had re­volted. When asked to clar­ify his po­si­tion on the Varanasi seat go­ing to Modi, he said: “What­ever I need to say, I speak within the party, not to out­siders.” That im­plied that he had in­deed spo­ken up within the party.

A day ear­lier, as the party’s CEC sat

to dis­cuss lists of can­di­dates, Joshi had ac­costed Ra­j­nath Singh on me­dia re­ports that Modi was pre­par­ing to con­test from Varanasi, the seat Joshi holds in the out­go­ing Lok Sabha. In­sid­ers say Joshi ob­jected to the way he had had to learn from me­dia re­ports that Modi would be fielded from Varanasi. “Why doesn’t the army of spokesper­sons re­fute these re­ports, Shri­maan?” Joshi re­port­edly asked him. The com­mit­tee was not dis­cussing dis­tri­bu­tion of tick­ets in Ut­tar Pradesh, but Joshi could not hold back his ir­ri­ta­tion.

As the dis­cus­sion veered from ticket dis­tri­bu­tion to al­liances be­ing put to­gether, an up­set Sushma Swaraj ob­jected to the de­par­ture from party con­ven­tion. Swaraj said that while get­ting new people to join the party is the BJP pres­i­dent’s pre­rog­a­tive, al­liances should have been dis­cussed in the party’s high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body, the par­lia­men­tary board. Two days ear­lier, she had op­posed BJP’s pos­si­ble al­liance with Ba­dava Shramika Raitha Congress (BSR Congress) in Kar­nataka. “I have con­veyed in writ­ing to Ra­j­nath Singhji that BJP must not per­mit this,” she tweeted on March 6, af­ter for­mer Kar­nataka min­is­ter B. Sri­ra­mulu an- nounced that his BSR Congress would merge with BJP. The Bel­lary min­ing barons—the Reddy broth­ers—and Sri­ra­mulu quit BJP when hit by a min­ing scam and floated the party in 2012 to take on BJP. The broth­ers were once close to Swaraj, but she broke ties with them af­ter their ar­rests in cases re­lated to the scam. Swaraj is wor­ried the merger will be linked back to her and com­pro­mise the party’s anti-cor­rup­tion stand. Hav­ing failed to stall Modi’s ap­point­ment as the prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date, Swaraj has been po­si­tion­ing her­self as a post-poll al­ter­na­tive who stands firm on the is­sue of cor­rup­tion.

There is grow­ing un­ease among se­nior lead­ers at how this elec­tion is be­ing fought. While Modi’s ad­vent on the scene has gal­vanised cadres, the fear that he will swal­low the party and those even slightly op­posed to him has lead­ers work­ing at cross pur­poses. The fear is com­pounded by the un­happi-

ness about the op­por­tunis­tic al­liances with small and dis­parate out­fits to boost NDA’s num­bers, as also the way tick­ets are be­ing dis­trib­uted, all of which could af­fect the party’s prospects. The Congress has al­ready taken the lead in declar­ing its can­di­dates.

BJP lost the 2004 elec­tion to its ut­ter sur­prise, spark­ing bit­ter in­fight­ing within the party. Five years later, it was un­able to re­solve the prob­lems within and ended up los­ing more seats—from 138 to 116—to the Congress. Hop­ing to re­gain power on an anti-Congress wave this year, there are fears that in­fight­ing could blunt the ad­van­tage of the pro-Modi sen­ti­ment.

Swaraj also ob­jected to Congress leader Venod Sharma join­ing BJP-ally Haryana Jan­hit Congress (HJC). Sources say her op­po­si­tion to the cor­rup­tion-tainted Chau­ta­las—INLD chief Om Prakash Chau­tala and his son Ajay— has en­sured that BJP is tread­ing slowly on an al­liance that had al­most been fi­nalised. “Our only al­liance in Haryana is with HJC,” clarifies party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Ravi Shankar Prasad. That’s not all. Sources re­veal that ques­tions were raised in a meet­ing of top lead­ers over the wis­dom of break­ing ties with a po­lit­i­cally ro­bust Janata Dal United in Bi­har and ty­ing up with the weaker Lok Jan­shakti Party.

There is also con­sid­er­able heart­burn over for­mer party pres­i­dent Nitin Gad­kari meet­ing MNS chief Raj Thack­eray to ex­tract a prom­ise of sup­port for Modi. The MNS chief an­nounced his party would sup­port Modi af­ter the re­sults, but said it would field can­di­dates against Shiv Sena. The re­sult? Shiv Sena is out­raged and BJP is run­ning to pla­cate its old­est ally. “What is the point of sup­port­ing Modi if MNS is go­ing to fight against our al­lies?” says a party leader from Bi­har. Gad­kari’s meet­ing with Thack­eray was a dou­ble whammy for the party, as MNS’s de­clared an­tiNorth In­dian stance in Mum­bai raised fears that BJP would stand to lose votes in the cru­cial UP-Bi­har re­gion.

It is not just se­nior lead­ers who have been a source of trou­ble for BJP. Af­ter

word got out that Joshi would be asked to move to Kanpur to make way for Modi, three seats—Varanasi, Luc­know and Kanpur—con­sid­ered the safest bets for BJP in the state, have be­come trou­ble spots. Kal­raj Mishra, who was in the run­ning for the Kanpur seat, first raised the ban­ner of re­volt. While Ra­j­nath Singh wants to con­test from Luc­know—once rep­re­sented by for­mer prime min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee— sit­ting MP Lalji Tan­don is­sued a state­ment say­ing he would be happy to give up his claim on Luc­know, but only for Modi. “I’m the sit­ting MP from Luc­know and I’ve not been told of any such idea be­ing con­sid­ered by the party,” Tan­don, a close aide of Va­j­payee, told jour­nal­ists in Luc­know on March 10.

The CEC meet­ing on March 8 cleared a list of 52 can­di­dates. Among them was for­mer Kar­nataka chief min­is­ter B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa, who had left BJP af­ter cor­rup­tion cases sur­faced against him, but has been wel­comed back—de­spite op­po­si­tion from L.K. Ad­vani and Swaraj—af­ter BJP lost the Kar­nataka As­sem­bly polls in 2013. Ad­vani had re­signed in June last year from all party posts, to protest the man­ner in which de­ci­sions were be­ing taken in the party. “For some time, I have been find­ing it dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile ei­ther with the cur­rent func­tion­ing of the party, or the di­rec­tion in which it is go­ing,” he had writ­ten. Though he was forced to take back his res­ig­na­tion, the bit­ter­ness re­mains, and the words of his res­ig­na­tion let­ter ac­cus­ing lead­ers of be­ing “con­cerned only about per­sonal agen­das” ring true, as the polls draw close.

The prob­lem is that once word gets out that there is dis­sent, it trav­els from the top all the way to the bot­tom,” a se­nior party leader told In­dia To­day. “Modi him­self does not want se­niors side­lined one bit. But once the mes­sage spreads, there will be links drawn be­tween the un­ease among party se­niors at the man­ner in which se­nior leader Shankersinh Vaghela had been ousted in Gu­jarat, and Modi’s im­age will take a hit. This is a per­cep­tion bat­tle we can’t af­ford to fight at this stage,” he adds. There are other per­cep­tion bat­tles that BJP may need to fight. If it is un­able to pla­cate Joshi and Mishra, its Brah­min vot­ers in UP could get up­set.

“There is a wave in Modi’s favour but we need work­ers and the lower rung of lead­er­ship to con­vert this wave into votes. Amit Shah should not have made a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion about Modi con­test­ing from Ut­tar Pradesh,” says the se­nior BJP leader. He adds that while Modi con­test­ing from UP should be a big plus for BJP’s prospects in the state, the party could cer­tainly have avoided the con­tro­ver­sies.

The Varanasi seat has a di­rect bear­ing on 35 seats in east­ern UP and ad­join­ing Bi­har. Shah’s plan would have been to boost the party’s prospects by goad­ing Modi to con­test from the seat. But his style of func­tion­ing has up­set many lower-rung lead­ers in the state. “This is Shah’s first foray into UP. His style of func­tion­ing is dif­fer­ent from what BJP’s state or­gan­i­sa­tion is used to. Un­like Shah, big lead­ers in the past have al­ways made smaller lead­ers feel part of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process,” says a BJP MP from UP.

The state sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. BJP had only 10 of those in 2009. This time, the party is hop­ing the Modi wave will make it the largest party in UP. The MP re­veals that on at least 25 seats, the party will field “out­siders” (en­trants from other par­ties into BJP). This is likely to cause more heart­burn among lo­cal lead­ers. “The fire­works have just started,” says a BJP Lok Sabha MP from the state who is ob­vi­ously un­happy with Modi’s aide.

The un­ease is not con­fined to sec­tions of BJP. Even RSS has an un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship with Modi, and is wary of his grow­ing per­son­al­ity cult. Due to his in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic style of func­tion­ing, as Modi grew taller in Gu­jarat, the RSS shrunk in a state that, along with Ma­ha­rash­tra, was once con­sid­ered its largest so­cial-en­gi­neer­ing lab­o­ra­tory. While RSS has aligned it­self with BJP in its bid for power, it doesn’t want its cadres to for­get that they are not work­ing for Modi but for the Sangh. RSS chief Mo­han Bhag­wat’s clos­ing re­marks at the Ban­ga­lore con­clave are a re­flec­tion of the Sangh’s fears. “Shri Bhag­wat em­pha­sised that RSS work­ers should keep in mind that they are not work­ing for any po­lit­i­cal party but in the na­tional in­ter­est,” said Man­mo­han Vaidya of RSS. As the ex­pe­ri­ence of the saf­fron or­gan­i­sa­tion in Gu­jarat shows, these fears are not en­tirely mis­placed.

Pho­to­graph by KASIF



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