Throwback to Indira days: Is BJP’s core leadership riding roughshod over party's regional powerhouses?

The new regional leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Sushil Kumar Modi and Vasundhara Raje who judiciously blend old party values with an acceptably progressive outlook are all but relegated to background.

Chandrakant Naidu November 19, 2015 14:48:45 IST
Throwback to Indira days: Is BJP’s core leadership riding roughshod over party's regional powerhouses?

The crushing defeat in Bihar has brought BJP to the crossroad. Should the party seek traction in the authoritarian style of Indira Gandhi -- which it seems to have already done willy-nilly -- or should it revert to the liberal charm of its own stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee?

The approach and attitude of the current core has begun to stunt the growth of regional leadership. After the Bihar debacle more and more leaders from within the party are amplifying fear over the party’s functioning while the ones close to the central leadership are busy putting wet blankets on the bushfires.

"Can a party progress or even survive without drawing its sap from capillary-level leadership? RSS does help the BJP reach the interior areas. But the BJP has apparently squandered the advantage in Bihar," says Suresh Sontakke, who teaches political science at Indore.

Throwback to Indira days Is BJPs core leadership riding roughshod over partys regional powerhouses

(L) Former prime minister Indira Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Vajpayee had no trouble admitting his admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru and following his democratic style. He nurtured the support of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Sunder Singh Bhandari, Pyarelal Khandelwal, Virendra Kumar Sakhlecha and Shanta Kumar who could comfortably fit into the roles of regional and national leaders. Their views were respected even when they ran contrary to those of Vajpayee or LK Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi who formed the core leadership at the Centre.

The new BJP 'high command' has centralised the very thought process like Indira Gandhi's Congress did post-1969 and through the Emergency. Total subjugation of the regional leadership was first seen in Delhi assembly elections. In Haryana and Maharashtra the party was able to channelise the anti-incumbency sentiment to its benefit. But in the Bihar Assembly Elections the old tactic of rabble-rousing failed. The leadership's refusal to admit its failure in Bihar reminds us of Congress under Indira Gandhi. The malaise continued under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi who leaned heavily on self-seekers that broke into coteries from time to time.

By snubbing senior leaders like Shatrughan Sinha, the present BJP has refreshed scenes of T Anjaiah (Andhra), Sripati Misra and HN Bahuguna (Uttar Pradesh) and Lalit Mishra's (Bihar) humiliation during Indira Gandhi's tenure. Shatrughan Sinha may have overreached himself in courting controversies but the leadership's reaction was far from mature. The shrill monotony of the NDA campaign in Bihar only underscored that.

Has the BJP, in its new avatar of just about 18 months, already come to a pass where Congress stood at the fag-end of Emergency? The concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office; the suppression of alternative power centres and the subjugation of the state governments can all be associated with that period.

The new regional leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh, Sushil Kumar Modi and Vasundhara Raje who judiciously blend old party values with an acceptably progressive outlook are all but relegated to background.

Early signs of the trend were witnessed in Madhya Pradesh in September 2013 when Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who did all the spadework to shore up support for the party for the assembly elections, found himself dwarfed by Narendra Modi at a party rally. Modi, the prime ministerial candidate then, completely overshadowed Chouhan and opened up the seams the party was trying to hide. Hordes of party workers occupying the front rows booed other speakers while rooting for Modi. All speakers, including Modi, did shower platitudes on Chouhan but no one in the crowd was left in any doubt about who wanted to steal the thunder and why.

Like Advani, Chouhan wanted announcement on Modi's candidacy deferred till the assembly elections as the gambit could put off the Muslim voters in nearly 80 state constituencies. That the fears were proved wrong is another matter. Chouhan came to be identified with Advani camp and is still paying for it by genuflecting before the new leadership. Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje were slightly better off with no strong opposition to them in the party in their states.

With veteran national leaders sent to old-age home and reduced to spectators it has been easy to subjugate the regional leaders. Now the veterans have chosen to speak out. This again is similar to scenes during the Emergency when Vijayalakshmi Pandit and other members of Nehru family rose against the might of Indira Gandhi and took part in public movement against the establishment.

Does the new breed of the BJP have the resourcefulness of Indira Gandhi to deal with the generation of better informed and impatient audience? The myth about its strong appeal among the youth has been busted. Can it take the risks Indira Gandhi took to overcome crises? Even RSS had acknowledged her resolution and courage. The party has to reflect over the future scenario in the light of these questions.

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