Is the BJP old guard ris­ing up against Modi?

Khaleej Times - - OPINION -

Yash­want Sinha on Tues­day pub­lished an open let­ter to fel­low BJP mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, in the form of an In­dia Ex­press opin­ion piece ti­tled “Dear friend, speak up”. He urged MPs to speak up against the “com­plete” de­struc­tion of in­ner party democ­racy un­der Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. In par­tic­u­lar, he asked vet­er­ans LK Ad­vani and Murli Manohar Joshi to speak up. Like Sinha these men, de­spite their proven ad­min­is­tra­tive acu­men, were de­nied a place in Modi’s gov­ern­ment and were in­stead con­signed to a Margdar­shak Man­dal, a com­mu­nist-sound­ing guid­ance panel that no one has sought ad­vice from.

This is not the first time that Sinha has lashed out. Last Septem­ber, in the In­dian Ex­press again, he wrote, “I need to speak up”. He cas­ti­gated the gov­ern­ment for its mis­han­dling of the econ­omy, which was on a down­ward spi­ral and on course for a hard land­ing. The gov­ern­ment was so rat­tled that a re­but­tal was made, not by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley but by Sinha’s own son Jayant, a min­is­ter in Modi’s gov­ern­ment.

Sinha has had two stints as In­dia’s fi­nance min­is­ter. His mem­oir Con­fes­sions of a Swadeshi Re­former re­veals the pun­ish­ing work sched­ule of a fi­nance min­is­ter. Af­ter all, each gov­ern­men­tal de­ci­sion has a fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tion. So the fi­nance min­is­ter is nec­es­sar­ily in­volved in much pol­i­cy­mak­ing. It is clear that a fi­nance min­is­ter does not have enough hours in a day. It’s no sur­prise then that suc­ces­sive min­is­ters in­clud­ing Chi­dambaram, Pranab Mukher­jee or in­deed Man­mo­han Singh in 1991-96 had no other min­is­te­rial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Jait­ley, on the other hand, has taken on too much work as fi­nance min­is­ter. For a long time he was also de­fence min­is­ter, which it­self is a full time job; and through­out his four years as fi­nance min­is­ter he has also been min­is­ter for cor­po­rate af­fairs. As a re­sult, the econ­omy has suf­fered. In­dus­trial pro­duc­tion has col­lapsed. Agri­cul­ture is in dis­tress. Con­struc­tion, a ma­jor em­ploy­ment-gen­er­at­ing sec­tor, is in the dol­drums. The poorly de­signed GST has wreaked havoc with busi­ness. De­mon­eti­sa­tion has de­stroyed ru­ral sup­ply chains. And so on. In­deed, a few days ago the gov­ern­ment’s own sta­tis­tics showed zero growth in ex­ports dur­ing the last four years. The bank­ing NPAs have be­come a mon­ster prob­lem, with a scam emerg­ing ev­ery other week. All this hap­pened while Jait­ley en­joyed the bo­nanza of low crude oil prices for most of his ten­ure.

Jait­ley’s short­com­ings are never pub­li­cised be­cause he is most in­flu­en­tial with the Delhi me­dia, and as Arun Shourie once put it, he has a mass fol­low­ing among Delhi’s four top jour­nal­ists. One rea­son he is pop­u­lar is be­cause he loves in­trigue; he also loves be­ing fi­nance min­is­ter, even if he never ap­plied his mind to the job. He is now out of ac­tion due to a failed kid­ney. Modi should re­place him, but this is un­likely.

On Tues­day Sinha again pointed to the grim eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion and to the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing so­cial sit­u­a­tion as ev­i­dent in the di­lu­tion of the law to pre­vent atroc­i­ties against Sched­uled Castes as well as the rape-mur­der of an eight-year-old af­ter which BJP state min­is­ters marched in sup­port of the cul­prits — who had al­ready con­fessed to the po­lice. Even Modi had to fi­nally speak out against the in­de­fen­si­bil­ity of rape.

Most im­por­tantly, Sinha de­scribed di­a­logue in the BJP as one-way; even MPs weren’t able to air their views and this had de­stroyed in­ner party democ­racy. He also lamented the ero­sion of par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, wherein Modi avoided so­lu­tions to log­jams with the op­po­si­tion; quite un­like Va­j­payee who strictly in­structed his min­is­ters to ac­com­mo­date the op­po­si­tion.

Sinha pre­dicted that half his col­leagues would lose their seats in the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tion. He urged his col­leagues to speak out, as five dalit MPs al­ready have. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­one writ­ing a re­bel­lious piece with­out gaug­ing the mood within the party, faced as it is with an up­hill strug­gle in Kar­nataka in next month’s assem­bly elec­tion (as well as in four states later this year). It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that he did not con­sult Ad­vani or Joshi be­fore writ­ing this ar­ti­cle. It is also dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that these vet­er­ans have not thought out their next moves. This open dis­sent is most likely in­tended to set the stage for what hap­pens within the party af­ter the 2019 par­lia­men­tary elec­tion.

Aditya Sinha is a jour­nal­ist based in In­dia

The poorly de­signed GST has wreaked havoc with busi­ness. De­mon­eti­sa­tion has de­stroyed ru­ral sup­ply chains

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