It is manifestly clear that the BJP is today a party in the throes of a giant churn. The exit of RSS leader Sanjay Joshi from the party is merely the latest blimp on the radar that points to a realignment of loyalties and alliances within the party – and a re-evaluation of the power dynamics between the party and its mothership RSS.
Since Joshi’s exit from the BJP national executive (at the recent meeting in Mumbai) and now from the party was evidently engineered by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, political commentators have reflexively reduced this to a petty “personality clash”.
And in their estimation, Modi may have actually diminished himself by stooping so low as to hound out someone so politically insignificant as Joshi. Veteran journalist Prabhu Chawla wonders why Modi “brought himself down to the level” of Joshi, who really posed no threat to Modi’s political ascendance.
Another seasoned political observer, Manini Chatterjeee, believes that the episode perhaps reflects Modi’s “intolerance” and “insecurity”. “It doesn’t sit well with this image of a man who wants to be king,” she adds.
After all, Joshi doesn’t have the stature of an LK Advani or a Sushma Swaraj, so why would Modi use a sledgehammer to swat a fly?
But beyond the artificial “who’s up, who’s down” scorecard for the day, these developments are pointers to a seismic shift in the BJP – and in the RSS thinking, to the extent that it influences BJP affairs – that actually bodes well for the party.
At the first level, it shows that the RSS has come around to the view that if the BJP needs to break out of its record of failure at the national level in two successive general elections, it needs to clear the decks of some old fogeys – and back mass popular leaders who are perceived to have a winning edge.
That approach inevitably leads to Modi’s door. For all the historical baggage that is thrust on him from the 2002 riots, he has demonstrated his hold over Gujarat through successive re-elections and is now looking to rise above that constituency, and is setting the terms of a national discourse on economic policymaking (as we’d noted here). He may still be perceived as polarising and a liability in the quest for the “secular” vote, but if there is one name from the BJP that crops up in opinion poll surveys as representing the party’s best chances of winning in 2014, it is Modi.
The message from the recent BJP national executive meeting, as Firstpost had noted (here), is that a new triumvirate (comprising Modi, BJP president Nitin Gadkari and senior leader Arun Jaitley) had emerged within the BJP with RSS backing, with Modi as perhaps the “first among equals”.
Columnist Aditi Phadnis makes the same point when she says that from all available indications, the end result of the ongoing power struggle within the BJP “might be a generational shift in the BJP’s leadership.” The RSS, she reckons, “is sending a message that any party leader above 75 will not be permitted to contest elections but will transform himself into a ‘mentor’.”
This has predictably upset the equilibrium within the BJP, and sent leaders like LK Advani into a bout of navel-gazing. Old-guard leaders who feel the ground shifting beneath their feet are fighting back.
But in fact, it is exactly the kind of ferment that the BJP, which had slipped into a state of intellectual stasis, needs to reinvigorate itself. As it stands today, the BJP has been unable to distinguish itself as being any different from the Congress on key issues of the day, and – strange as it may sound – has actually lost the political narrative to the Congress, despite the latter’s abysmal record of economic mismanagement and monumental corruption under its watch.
The current churn within the BJP offers it a chance to reflect on its political orientation, and how best it can position itself as a real party with a difference. It is a chance for the BJP to ‘find’ itself all over again. The exercise is not without risk, particularly if the party focusses excessively on personalities, rather than on ideas. But at the very least, it compels leaders to move out of the comfort zones into which they had slipped for far too long.
It’s the best chance that the BJP has to avert the “Congress disease” of intellectual stagnation.