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BJP’S factional battle intensifies

The salubrious setting for the BJP’s national executive meetings in Goa provided an unlikely background for one of the most vicious instances of political infighting that one has witnessed in recent years. Given the kind of protagonist involved in the battle – L K Advani and Narendra Modi with their respective groups of supporters inside and outside the BJP, the RSS in the background and allies like the JD(U) and Shiv Sena watching from the sidelines – it will be months before any calm is restored – if ever.

In contrast, the split in the Congress in 1969 and again in 1978 were far more muted affairs because, for one, much of the skirmishing took place out of the sight and hearing of the general public in the absence of today’s ubiquitous media; and, for another, the winner, Indira Gandhi, towered over her adversaries even when she was down and out, as in 1978. This isn’t the case in the BJP. Although Modi is at the cause of the kerfuffle, he evidently has to depend on the vociferousness of the cadres, including the abusive (towards his critics) netizens, the muffled support extended to him by a section of the RSS and the hesitant backing of senior party members like Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and others, who were initially unsure about how far they could go to offend Advani and have now belatedly realised that they went too far.

Even when they were in Goa, Sushma Swaraj’s decision to leave before the meeting addressed by Rajnath Singh and Modi was held was an indication of the brewing storm. There were also others who stayed away such as Yashwant Sinha and Uma Bharati. Clearly, Modi wasn’t a runaway winner.
If Rajnath Singh finally made up his mind to make him the head of the party’s, but not the NDA’s, campaign committee, it was evidently under pressure from the cadres and the pro-Modi section of the RSS, which sees him as the best bet where beating the Congress is concerned. Since the RSS is not bothered about Modi’s ‘communal’ image, it has no time for the objections of Nitish Kumar to his elevation.

The loser, as of now, is Advani, notwithstanding the remarkable tenacity of purpose which he has displayed so far for an octogenarian to fulfil his life’s ambition. In the process, he has proved that he is not quite the ‘rancid pickle’, which the BJP leader, Manohar Parrikar, who is Goa’s chief minister, had called him in 2009. However, the Advani vs Modi confrontation has all the makings of a soap opera. The typical ingredients of these prime time television shows are there – a pushy 60-something grim-faced wannabe with a tainted past, who is apparently driven by a burning desire to prove himself in a high social circle – in this case, the world of politics - where he has always been something of an outsider because of his lack of fluency in English, the language of cosmopolitan India. His fevered attempt to gatecrash into it is perhaps also motivated by a desire to draw a curtain over his role as a ‘modern-day Nero’, in the Supreme Court’s words, during the 2002 riots.
The rise of 60-year-old wannabe is resented by a 85-year-old wannabe who constitutes another indispensable element of a soap opera – the stern patriarch who will not yield ground to an adventurer if only because he has brought the Hindu undivided family up from its day in the wilderness to centre-stage. That the patriarch couldn’t make it when he had his chance in 2009 hasn’t deterred him because he still believes that he is more acceptable to the family’s friends (JD-U, Shiv Sena) than the macho pretender. However, like all soap operas, this one, too, will be a long-drawn affair, providing high prime time entertainment for months to come. The first point of interest will be the game plan of the patriarch. Only the naïve would have expected him to walk quietly into the sunset. The never-say-die spirit of the doughty rath yatri of 1990 is unlikely to let him down. All his life, he has lived under the shadow of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Now, at the fag-end of his career, he is not going to do so under Modi.

After all, this is not the first time that the lauh purush has been buffeted by a political squall.  In 2005, he was dragged kicking and screaming from the BJP president’s office by the RSS for having praised Jinnah. Then, five years later, the BJP kicked him upstairs to be the chairman of the parliamentary committee when he expressed his desire to be the leader of the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, which would have automatically made the party’s first choice for the prime minister’s post in 2014. But, now, he is fighting his hardest and, some believe, a losing battle. However, his consolation probably is that he hasn’t yet lost the war, for it has become even more uncertain whether Modi will be the BJP’s choice for the PM’s post. IPA

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