Amit Shah — Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bad cop — was elected unopposed as BJP chief for the second term with 17 nominations last week. But the word 'unopposed' shouldn't be taken here too literally because BJP veterans like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi gave the meeting a miss.
And now with Yashwant Sinha's remarks (that he subsequently withdrew saying his words were misinterpreted) about how the Modi government was beginning to resemble Indira Gandhi's government questions are emerging about just what is going on in the party ranks.
"The people of India will consign him to the dust, you just have to wait for the next elections. We all know how the people of India reacted to the Emergency which was the most concerted democratic effort in our country to still the voice of dissent."
Let's go back to when Modi, the then Gujarat CM, was annointed as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the General Elections in 2014. Party veterans were not too happy with the party decision and they made it amply clear. Having skipped the Goa meet of the party where the then Gujarat chief minister was elevated to the post of the party's poll campaign chief, Advani skipped the meet where Modi was elevated as the PM candidate.
The BJP leadership beat a hasty retreat back in September 2013 after the major announcement and did not make any differences within the party public. But Advani had already fired his first missile at the party and had said that he was disappointed in the manner in which the party was functioning.
The party patriarch (Advani) has not been able to fathom that the person he had helped rise in politics had attained a position that overshadowed that of his mentor.
Even though Advani remained in the party, the sense of mistrust developed to such an extent between the two that the party patriarch thought at one point that it was not safe for him to fight the Lok Sabha polls from his constituency Gandhinagar. He even thought of shifting to a safer bait to Bhopal but ultimately fought and won from Gandhinagar after Modi assured him of his victory.
Joshi was also made to run pillar to post literally but his attempts to get the party ticket to fight the Lok Sabha poll from Varanasi failed. He was later allowed to contest from Kanpur while Modi himself fought from Varanasi.
"When you came to meet me this afternoon to inform me of the Parliamentary Board meeting I had expressed my pain and had expressed my disappointment on your manner on functioning," Advani had told Rajnath Singh in a letter.
"I had told you that I will consider whether I should come to the meeting and express my views or not. I have decided that it is best that I do not attend the meeting," Advani had written further.
Advani's fears of giving prominence to new crop of BJP leaders was not unfounded. The senior leaders, who held key portfolios during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure, were decisively sidelined ever since Modi took over as the Prime Minister and Shah was annointed as the BJP chief on the basis of age criterion. Their anger was termed as rumblings of "disgruntled leaders" who felt they have not got their due after BJP came to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP troika of LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were soon 'elevated' to the Margdarshak Mandal in August 2014 was largely seen as a not so covert way of keeping Advani and Joshi out of any decision making body of the party rather than a promotion.
But Advani got his chance soon. After the massive drubbing that the party received in the Bihar Assembly Election last year, the party's Margdarshak Mandal issued a statement:
"Bihar results show that no lesson has been learnt from the fiasco in Delhi. The principal reason for Bihar defeat is the way the party has been emasculated in the last year. The review should cover the way the party is forced to kow-tow to a handful and how its consensual character has been destroyed. The review must not be done by the very persons who have managed and have been responsible for the campaign in Bihar. To say that everyone is responsible for the defeat is to ensure that no one is held responsible."
The veterans faced immense criticism and the infighting within the party came into full public glare. At a time when the party should have shown unity and solidarity behind the current leadership, "the public airing of grievances does not enhance the stature of these senior leaders."
After the Bihar debacle, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar invited LK Advani for the swearing-in ceremony whereas both PM Modi and Amit Shah were not in the list of the invitees.
And now Amit Shah's re-election as the party president. Two former party presidents stayed away from the colourful ceremony attended by central ministers, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and party office-bearers.
Speaking to The Indian Express, sources claimed that Advani and Joshi were not informed about the programme which happened at the BJP headquarters.
It was widely reported that Amit Shah's re-appointment as the BJP chief was partly because the PM himself was extremely keen on his man Friday and Shah has always had the backing of the RSS. Sources told Livemint that although the BJP leadership said there would be more discussion in the party before decision-making and that members of the Margdarshak Mandal would be consulted, no meeting or talks have been held so far. A BJP leader, considered close to the veterans, told the publication that the party’s reluctance to invite them for the Sunday ceremony showed “there is not likely to be any change in Shah’s style of functioning”.
That Advani wasn't there to 'bless' the party president was a confirmation, if any was needed, of his total eclipse from the saffron horizon. A logical yet bitter step, perhaps, for a party stalwart who has long been marginalised under the new dispensation.