Millennium Post

Gaining allies, losing coherence

When the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) prevailed upon the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to nominate Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate six months ago, neither organisation could have imagined that this would entail not just a uniquely aggressive style of politics, but a wholesale takeover of the BJP’s election campaign, indeed the party machine itself, by a tiny clique.

That clique or cabal, comprising Modi, his Gujarat henchman Amit Shah, and party president Rajnath Singh, with general secretary Arun Jaitley playing a servile secondary role, is now riding roughshod over the BJP. It has totally monopolised election ticket distribution, and marginalised the entire senior leadership of the BJP, which had pulled the party up from the abyss of two Lok Sabha seats in 1984, and catapulted it to national power in 1998.

The veterans who suffered such humiliating marginalisation include Messrs L K Advani, Jaswant Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalraj Mishra, Lalji Tandon, Lalmuni Chaubey and Rajendrasinh Rana, all (but Rana) in their seventies or older. Advani, who wanted to assert his independence by contesting from Bhopal, was forced to fight from Gandhinagar, under Modi’s shadow.

The ‘Iron Man’ lumped the insult and ‘chose’ Gandhinagar in keeping with a shoddy RSS-proposed face-saving formula giving him the ‘choice’. He suffered further humiliation when his supporter Harin Pathak was refused nomination from Ahmedabad-East which he has won seven times. Yet, Advani didn’t put up a fight.

Joshi was unceremoniously turfed out of Varanasi because Modi decided to contest that seat. After initial noises, Joshi caved in. Mishra was shifted from Kanpur to Deoria, ignoring the prior claim of former BJP state president Surya Pratap Shahi. Mr Tandon had to vacate Lucknow for Rajnath Singh, who isn’t confident of winning a second time from Ghaziabad.

These leaders were obviously unhappy, but only two (Chaubey and Jaswant Singh) publicly protested and decided to contest as independents from Buxar (Bihar) and Barmer (Rajasthan). Singh was refused a BJP ticket thanks to opposition from chief minister-turned-Modi-crony Vasundhara Raje. The ticket was allotted to a Jat defector from the Congress.

Singh broke down in public, accused the party president and Raje of ‘betrayal’, and filed his nomination papers. Sushma Swaraj was the sole senior BJP leader to express solidarity with Singh. Jaitley advised him to ‘see reason’ and ‘retract’. This highlights rifts at the BJP’s apex.

The message being delivered by the Modi cabal to these senior leaders couldn’t be clearer: their ‘experience’ or past contribution counts for nothing; they must obey the clique’s diktat and make way for younger leaders. Even more important is the hint that they shouldn’t expect important ministerial portfolios if a BJP-led coalition comes to power.

The Modi clique is now severely restructuring the BJP’s top national leadership along the lines it fashioned and perfected in Gujarat, by destroying all opposition and dissidence and subordinating the party to a single-person’s authoritarian leadership. Nobody matters in the Gujarat government or state BJP except Modi. He has reduced even the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to irrelevance in Gujarat, and wants to repeat this nationally.

The restructuring of the BJP’s national-level organisation would have made sense if there were a larger purpose behind it. There isn’t. The only logic is imposition of decisions taken by the Modi-Shah-Rajnath group on ticket distribution and admission of new members, which brook no dissent.

Even the RSS, whose leadership is nominated, never elected, couldn’t have thought in its wildest dreams that the organisational principle it adopted in 1929, of ek-chalak anuvartitva (following one leader, or ‘the Fuehrer principle’), would be realised so grotesquely within the BJP under Mr Modi.

The RSS is of course fully complicit in this. It started appointing its own men as the party’s state- and national-level organisation secretaries a decade ago. It has since further tightened its grip over the BJP as its ideological mentor, political master and organisational gatekeeper. It now has the last word in every major decision and appointment made by the BJP. This avowedly ‘cultural’ but secretive organisation, which has no democratic mandate, and is accountable to no public agency, now decides even day-to-day matters for a political party which is supposed to have a democratic internal structure under India’s electoral law. This is itself a huge contradiction, which warrants serious legal action against the BJP.

The RSS is culpable on another ground. The ban imposed on it after Gandhi’s assassination was lifted on condition that it ‘should adopt a written and published constitution, restrict itself to culture, forswear violence and secrecy, profess loyalty to India’s flag and Constitution and provide for a democratic organisation.’ The Sangh never fulfilled these conditions.

However, the ruling Congress is unlikely to initiate action against the BJP-RSS: why, it hasn’t even pursued the ‘Hindutva-terrorism’ cases – despite compelling evidence of the Parivar’s involvement in numerous bomb blasts – or the Snoopgate scandal concerning state-sponsored spying on the movements of a young woman ordered by Amit Shah at the behest of his ‘saheb’!

Shah’s imprint is starkly evident in Uttar Pradesh, a critically important state for the BJP, where he was sent as chief campaign manager last June, well before Modi’s anointment as prime ministerial candidate. His assigned job was to run the campaign as part of, and dedicated to, Modi’s election, not the BJP’s victory.

Shah has handpicked all the candidates in UP on the basis of their caste, local base, likely loyalty to Modi, etc. He is micro-managing the BJP’s election campaign by trying to revive the long-defunct party apparatus, roping in other Parivar functionaries, pouring in vast sums of money, and not least, by spreading communal poison, as in Muzaffarnagar and beyond.

Shah is credited with both ruthlessness and exceptional organisational abilities on the basis of his past work in Gujarat. But such abilities should not be exaggerated: had micro-management been all-important, the BJP would not have won just 15 of Gujarat’s 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.

Besides, Uttar Pradesh is vastly more complex than Gujarat, and has a unique electoral arithmetic. The UP situation is marked by sharp social divides, strong caste/community allegiances, a substantial presence of upper-caste Hindus, Muslims and Dalits (respectively 21, 19 and 21 per cent of the population), and tight multi-cornered contests, whose result aren’t easy to predict.

In recent years, more than two-fifths of UP’s seats have changed hands between parties. Vote-shares tend to get translated into seats in disproportionate ways in UP. In 2009, the Congress and the BJP got 18.3 and 17.5 per cent of the vote, but ended up with 21 and 10 seats respectively.

The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, both strong cadre-based organisations, together polled over 50 per cent of UP’s votes in 2009. They continue to be formidable opponents. Nor can the Congress be written off. Although it faces anti-incumbency and has lost much popular support, it maintains a strong presence in pockets. Its ally Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal also remains a sizeable force in Western UP.

There’s simply no doubt that Modi’s stock has risen in UP, especially after the communal polarisation brought about by the Muzaffarnagar violence and a shift in the Jat vote towards the BJP. But it’s hard to say that there exists a ‘Modi wave’ in UP. In fact, the BJP-Modi campaign appears to have lost some of its momentum in the last two weeks.

Shah has embarked on a gamble in UP. Whether this will succeed or not remains unclear. What is amply clear is that the BJP will need to win at least 40-45, if not 50, seats from UP (total seats, 80), and another 25 or so from Bihar (total, 40), to approach the 200-seat mark nationally on its own — even if it performs brilliantly in its ‘home states’ (Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh) and also does reasonably well in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana and Karnataka.

In Maharashtra, another key state, the BJP could have done better on its own, but it has sealed an alliance with the Shiv Sena, which faces a serious challenge from the stronger, more combative Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which will limit its likely gains. This will further increase the BJP’s dependence on UP. And a gamble in UP has its own uncertainties.

The recent entry into the BJP of defectors and small parties or hitherto unattached individuals – Gen V K Singh, Jagdambika Pal, D Purandeshwari, and more significantly, the (Kurmi-based) Apna Dal in UP and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party in Bihar – seems a big gain. The BJP is acting like a small magnet for these diverse groupings. But this will probably extract a price too.

That price is growing internal dissidence and sabotage. There are signs of this happening not just in UP, but in numerous constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, and elsewhere too. How the gains balance the losses still remains unclear.

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