ZOOM­ING IN ON UP

IN­SIDE MODI'S CAM­PAIGN TO RE­CLAIM HEART­LAND

India Today - - FRONT PAGE - By Jatin Gandhi

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

Pho­to­graph by K ASIF

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