BJP is a divided house

Any joy which the BJP might have felt at the return of the two sulking prodigal sons, Narendra Modi and BS Yeddyurappa, to the party's conclave in Mumbai was quickly dispelled by the evidence of more sulks – this time by LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj, who cited 'prior engagements' to stay away from the customary rally at the end of the national executive meeting.

If the party wanted to prove, therefore, that it was one big happy family at a time when the Congress's downhill slide has raised hopes of its return to power, Advani's and Sushma's show of dissent have exposed the rifts within. Even Modi's and Yeddyurappa's softening of stance was not devoid of controversy. While the Gujarat chief minister extracted his pound of flesh by ensuring his
bête noire
, Sanjay Joshi's resignation from the national executive - though not from the party as Joshi clarified – the former chief minister of Karnataka continued his tirade against his bête noire, Ananth Kumar.  

Even as these divides show up the BJP as a party with differences, Modi's successful targeting of Joshi – albeit after a prolonged period of absenteeism from the BJP's meetings and election campaigns – has undermined party president Nitin Gadkari's position. Already under a cloud because of his contentious nomination of an unknown businessman from London for a Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand, who ultimately had to withdraw, Gadkari's prestige has suffered a further blow because of Modi's success in arm-twisting him over Joshi.

The two humiliations – apart from other missteps like choosing the tainted B.S. Kushwaha for a party membership in UP – will be seen as confirmation of the belief that the elevation of this 'provincial' from Mumbai to the national level by the RSS was a mistake. This perception will be strengthened by the fact that the Gujarat strongman's humbling of Gadkari is a message to the RSS as well, especially at a time when the Nagpur patriarchs have chosen their favourite from Mumbai for another term as president.

What effect this successful defiance of the paterfamilias by a former pracharak will have on the future course of events is difficult to say. While Gadkari's weakened position will make him tread carefully where Modi and his friend, Arun Jaitley, are concerned, will the RSS quietly acquiesce in the latest efforts made by Yeddyurappa to project Modi as the prime ministerial candidate? Will the other prime ministerial aspirants like Advani and Sushma meekly retreat into the background, especially when they know that Modi's candidature is likely to prompt the Janata Dal (United)'s withdrawal from the NDA and dash any hope of the saffron coalition to expand by inducting some of its former members like Mamata Banerjee, who has already been invited by Rajnath Singh, and Naveen Patnaik.

The peculiarity of the BJP's problem is that while it has relatively stable governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh despite factionalism, its central leaders have been unable to fill the vacuum created by Atal Behari Vajpayee's retirement. Although Advani did not exactly fill the bill – his background as a fire-breathing rath yatri was a hindrance – he came closest to it. But, his failure to make an impression in 2009 spoilt his chances and although he hinted that he was prepared to try his luck again in 2014 by saying that he was willing to continue as leader of the opposition till then, his party was not agreeable presumably because of his age and because GenNext was becoming restive.

But none in the younger generation  measures up to the expectations of what a prime ministerial candidate has to be. The leadership inadequacies at the central level have been compounded by rifts in the party in nearly all the states – Modi vs Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat, Yeddyurappa vs Ananth Kumar in Karnataka, Shivraj Singh Chauhan vs Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje vs Gulab Chand Kataria in Rajasthan, Prem Kumar Dhumal vs Shanta Kumar in Himachal Pradesh and B.C. Khanduri vs Ramesh Pokhriyal in Uttarakhand. Arguably, all of them can close ranks if the party comes within sniffing distance of power at the centre, which is being considered a possibility in view of the Congress's parlous state. But, such a show of cohesion will only be possible if the BJP can put up a credible challenger for the prime minister's post.

Nitish Kumar can be such a person, but the BJP is not broad-minded enough to propose someone from another party even if he is seen capable of leading the NDA to victory. Besides, Modi will distance himself from such a gambit, and so will the RSS, for Nitish Kumar's ascent will bury its dream of ushering in a Hindu rashtra for the foreseeable future. So, from the present reckoning, Delhi remains durast for the BJP.
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