ZOOMING IN ON UP
INSIDE MODI'S CAMPAIGN TO RECLAIM HEARTLAND
Pradeep Sangwan’s phone starts ringing. His caller tune is a Narendra Modi jingle. Bollywood singer Udit Narayan sings paens to Modi as a chorus chants “Namo Namo.” The song paints Modi as the country’s last hope in a climate of despair. “Modi aane wala hai…” the high pitched jingle goes. Sangwan takes the call well after a minute. “The BJP,” he tells INDIA TODAY, “is hell bent on losing this time again in Haryana.” Sangwan resigned from his position as the state BJP secretary after the party announced Ramesh Kaushik as the candidate from Sonepat, while his supporters rushed to New Delhi on March 18 morning and staged a protest outside the party’s headquarters, 11 Ashoka Road in New Delhi, against the high command’s decision. Sangwan is a second-generation BJP worker of several years and was a staunch Modi supporter till a few days ago.
Ironically, while the Gujarat Chief Minister’s advent on the national scene promises to end the party’s 10-yearlong wait to capture power in Delhi, it has shattered Sangwan’s hopes of making it to Parliament. Amid the party’s assertions that there is a ‘Modi wave’ sweeping across the electoral landscape, Sangwan is among the scores of BJP ticket seekers all over north India who were part of the Modi chorus but are now out on the streets, shouting slogans against their party leaders for
giving tickets to ‘outsiders’—those who have been brought in from other constituencies or worse still, from other parties. “We will burn Modi’s effigy here if the party’s parliamentary board does not revise its decision,” says a Haryana state unit functionary from Rohtak, outside the party headquarters in New Delhi.
The ironies are not confined to small-time leaders who have been left feeling cheated by the new dispensation’s affinity for outsiders. Ever since BJP’s new trinity—Modi, party president Rajnath Singh and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley—began strengthening its grip on the party, many leaders who were once at the top have been left feeling ignored. Leading the pack is the party’s octogenarian founder L.K. Advani, 86, who decided he would snap his 23-yearold connection with the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency in Gujarat and move to a safer seat of his choice, Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
Modi’s mentor at one time, Advani had, at a BJP meeting in Goa in 2002, prevented the party from sacking the Modi after the riots. Last year in May, backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), Rajnath Singh went ahead and announced Modi’s name as the party’s campaign committee chief, again in Goa, despite Advani boycotting the meeting.
It was the first time that Advani was absent from a national executive committee meeting since the party was formed. It was also the first time that the party had ignored his sulking and decided to move on. The Goa announcement paved the way for Modi’s anointment as the prime ministerial candidate in September 2013. It also paved way for the party leadership to align with the Modi camp in all future decisions and set the tone for the party to deal with tantrums from Modi’s detractors in the future.
Feeling ignored at the way the Modi camp has dominated all party decisions since the Goa impasse, Advani decided on March 18 that he would no longer contest from Gujarat but shift to Bhopal. Rajnath and party General Secretary Ram Lal drove to party vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s Pandara Park home on March 18 and discussed solutions to the new problem that had cropped up. Despite a call from Modi and then from Sushma Swaraj, Advani remained adamant and decided to skip the Parliamentary Board and Central Election Committee meetings. Sources say Advani insisted that he retained the right to contest the election from a safe seat of his choice just as Rajnath and Modi did. The Madhya Pradesh state unit offering the Bhopal seat to Advani only complicated matters for BJP. The Parliamentary Board deliberated on the problem for hours in the afternoon of March 19 and eventually conveyed it to the CEC that Advani would have to contest from Gandhinagar. Later that evening, the CEC announced that the party had decided the board’s decision would prevail.
For the Modi camp, Advani moving to Bhopal would have meant allowing an Advani-Sushma-Shivraj Singh Chouhan axis to build in Madhya Pradesh. Advani and Sushma had opposed declaring Modi’s candidacy for PM last year. After Modi’s third win in a row as Chief Minister, the party was eager to declare him as PM candidate. But Advani and Sushma insisted that the decision be put off till the November Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, in which Chouhan and Raman Singh too would be competing to come back as chief ministers for the third time in a row.
For Advani now, going back to Gandhinagar means exposing himself to the wrath of Modi’s men in Gujarat after trying to stall his candidacy as the BJP’s new PM-in-waiting. The party has already had to deal with dissidence from former BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi, and Sushma making her dissent public against the inclusion of B. Sriramalu into the party. Jaswant Singh threatened to fight as independent if denied ticket from Barmer. Joshi was miffed at being moved from his seat, Varanasi, to Kanpur to make way for Modi but fell in line after a stern warning from RSS. The party now
expects RSS to step in and resolve the impasse involving Advani.
While it is not hard for RSS to quell protests from leaders such as Advani or Joshi, silencing street protests by lowlevel functionaries may not be as simple for the Sangh. March 18 saw not just Sangwan’s supporters but BJP workers from north-east Delhi, northwest Delhi, Ghaziabad and Rohtak protest outside the BJP national headquarters. These are constituencies that are within a few minutes to a couple of hours drive from Delhi. In Chandigarh, black flags and eggs greeted party candidate Kirron Kher who pipped two former MPs to bag the ticket.
There have been protests in several constituencies in Uttar Pradesh as well. Rajnath Singh moved from Ghaziabad—the citadel of the Aam Aadmi Party—to Lucknow, a seat once held by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The party has decided to field former Army chief General V.K. Singh from Ghaziabad, ignoring widespread protests from a section of the local unit. The party’s choice of Dalit ac- tivist Udit Raj—who was brought in to influence Dalit voters in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Harayana—has RSS fuming at the party’s decision. “They are angry that the man famous for organising mass conversions for Dalits to Buddhism has been brought in without a proper background check,” admits a BJP MP. The list of constituencies where protests have erupted in Uttar Pradesh is long. It includes Deoria, Muzaffarnagar, Allahabad, Aligarh, Faizabad, Bijnor and Jaunpur and is expected to get longer as the party declares more candidates.
ABJP leader from the Modi camp contends that “winnability was the only criterion for candidate selection”. The party is yet to declare its complete list but a Uttar Pradesh leader admits that almost 30 candidates considered outsiders by the local units are being fielded. Modi’s Man Friday and party General Secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah, has been involved in selecting each of the 80 candidates. “Modi’s rally in Lucknow had thinner attendance because by then outsiders had begun joining BJP. It is expected that when someone is joining the party that is winning, they will get tickets. Kalyan Singh has secured a ticket both for himself and his son. He handed over a list of names (of candidates) to the party high command when he joined the party. Obviously, workers who have stood by the party when it was out of power for 10 years feel cheated,” the leader adds.
Protesters in Lucknow who burned Rajnath Singh’s effigy a day before Holi also carried placards that read “Bahari Pratayashi = 272-1” implying that every ticket given to an outsider means a seat less in the BJP’s targeted figure of 272—the halfway mark for a majority in the Lok Sabha. If the new candidates that the party has fielded win their seats, it will allow Modi to build a new party that is more loyal to him. If they fail, it will allow his detractors to wrest control of the party. Either way, the 2014 Lok Sabha is just one of the several battles that BJP will fight in the coming days.
BJP'S PM CANDIDATE NARENDRA MODI