As the ruling government spirals ever downward – and with the whiff of midterm elections in the air – media attention has inevitably turned to the BJP. Is the party positioning itself to be a winner by default? An anything-but-the Congress party? Or does it have a vision and gameplan to offer a credible national alternative?
The answer – for now – seems to be a resounding ‘No!.’
The picture that emerges from three in-depth stories published over the weekend is of an organisation in disarray with a weak central leadership hamstrung by regionalism, personal egos, and RSS interference, wallowing in ideological confusion.
The Hindustan Times article, Do the Local Motion, makes the argument that strong regionalism has undermined the power of both national parties. While UPA 2 is under siege from Mamata, Karunanidhi et al, the central BJP leadership is increasingly at the mercy of strong state leaders like Narendra Modi and Yeddyurappa.
Modi is happy to be BJP’s Exhibit A in terms of good governance, but he’s extracted a high price for playing brand ambassador. And that price is absolute autonomy, notes HT:
For years, no BJP leader from Delhi was willing to be in charge of Gujarat. From 2007 to 2011, there was no central leader ‘looking into’ Gujarat’s affairs. It was only in 2011 that BJP president Nitin Gadkari appointed the relatively lightweight Balbir Punj as an emissary.
During the last assembly elections in 2007, Modi denied tickets to over 45 MLAs, many of whom had approached various BJP ‘national leaders’ for help. Modi allowed no remote-controlling from 11, Ashoka Road, New Delhi. He handpicked (all) the 182 candidates for the 2007 polls. He is going to do the same for the elections this year.
Where Modi may have earned his freedom, BSY certainly has not. As Outlook magazine notes in its story, ‘The Citrus Blight,’ “Instead of going down in history as a leader who opened the doors of the south for the BJP, he is currently poised to gobble up the entire BJP with his anger, indiscretions and personal agenda.” And yet he has the party leadership by their family jewels – even the RSS will not be able to protect their man Sadanand Gowda from BSY’s inevitable return, official or otherwise.
The saffron question
The fracas over Anshuman Mishra’s Rajya Sabha nomination highlighted a growing rift between the party’s senior leadership and the Sangh honchos who had awarded him the ticket. The Tehelka article, “When leaders play the game of thrones,” looks more closely at the Sangh’s growing influence in the absence of a strong BJP leadership to counter its interference:
The RSS seems keen to clip the wings of the warring senior guard. The recent nominations for the Rajya Sabha are a case in point. Kirit Somaiyya and Ram Naik from Maharashtra, who are known to be close to Advani, were not nominated. Neither was SS Ahluwalia, who is close to Sushma Swaraj, given another term. Instead, Gadkari, alias the RSS, picked Ajay Sancheti, even though he is implicated in the Adarsh Housing Society scam, where it appeared his driver had owned a flat.
The article also points to the unenviable position occupied by Nitin Gadkari, a party president imposed by the RSS on the party against the wishes of its leadership – many of whom are rooting for him to fail. Yet Gadkari is the one left holding the bag given the poor showing in UP and the more ominous defeat in the Chikmagalur bypoll, a traditional RSS stronghold. One senior party leader tells Tehelka, “What’s the point of holding Gadkari responsible for all this? He’s the goongi gudiya (dumb puppet) of the BJP. He’s just following the orders of the Sangh.”
The vision problem
The problem of weak leadership is exacerbated by a lack of ideological direction that afflicts not just the BJP but also – surprisingly – the RSS. According to Tehelka, a recent all-party meeting in Nagpur was convened to settle key questions of strategy, namely: “[W]hat is the correct strategy in the run-up to the crucial Assembly elections in Gujarat this year, Karnataka next year and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls? Is it to be ‘development’ or the old Hindutva line? Which is likely to pay better dividends?”
But it produced no real answers, other than a vague notion of “corporate Hindutva,” which is likely a euphemism for Modinomics. And the costs of this ideological confusion are now apparent in Karnataka – which was supposed to offer the other Hindutva model of BJP leadership. As Outlook points out, The BJP instead finds itself back at square one, reduced to being a one-caste, Lingayat party of the 90s:
As senior journalist Mahadev Prakash puts it, “Besides communal divisiveness, the party has also embraced the mortal idea of caste divisiveness in the state. This is a double whammy for the party.”… “Yediyurappa’s greatest achievement is that he has made even Sangh leaders in the state conscious of their respective castes. He has approached the RSS on caste lines,” says a BJP MLA.
The South is clearly lost to the BJP, but the nation may not be. The Outlook analysis ends on this cautious note:
So if it’s not growing anywhere and losing what it held, can the BJP dream of power at the Centre again? The mandate is now so fractured and the federal strain in the Indian republic so accentuated, their lone hope lies in the fact that the Congress too appears to be sliding downwards. And as long as Narendra Modi is not projected as a national leader, the BJP will find allies as most regional parties still have anti-Congressism built into their dna. And were the BJP to cross the 170-mark, then even Modi may be able to duck the national untouchability barrier.
But the more important issue is whether a party that cannot control its own leaders will be able to effectively lead an alliance of fractious, strong-minded regional leaders even if it were to ascend the throne. The favoured solution to such riddles is usually Narendra Modi, but as Firstpost columnist Aakar Patel pointed out in his magazine column, “he has never run a coalition. Or come close to running one. Modi inherited the BJP’s two-thirds majority when he was made CM in 2001.” His legendary strongman character may not serve him well in a situation that requires negotiation, tact and compromise.
If not Modi, then perhaps, as Firstpost‘s R Jagannathan suggests, a more flexible and wily Advani may offer a better option in the short run.
Advani or Modi, Hindutva or governance, none of these choices will be resolved until the party answers the bigger question: The BJP may indeed win, but can it lead?
Read: Do the Local Motion in the Hindustan Times.
The Citrus Blight in Outlook magazine
When leaders play the game of thrones in Tehelka