For those of us who dislike the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and what it stands for, this past week has been delightful. The party is crackling with individual rebellions against the source of its nastiness, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
True, these rebellions are not related to ideology, and all BJP leaders remain vaguely anti-Muslim in their orientation. But it is also true that for the warriors of the BJP, ambition is a more powerful motivator than ideology.
The shambles was revealed at the party’s national executive in Mumbai this week. It was supposed to be a focussed attack on Manmohan Singh’s government. The opposition and most of India’s media sees the government as incompetent and this was the time to analyse and skewer its performance. Alas, the media saw juicier stories within the BJP, where leader is publicly fighting leader and, more excitingly, the most powerful leaders are fighting the RSS. This fighting is communicated through ritual sulking, which is how Indian leaders show what is called “unhappiness”.
In Karnataka, the big leader Yeddyurappa is threatening to break the party. This is because the RSS has imposed a chief minister of the peasant Vokkaliga caste on a party whose voter is mainly from the ecumenical Lingayat caste, which stands solidly behind Yeddyurappa. He’s doing everything he can to get thrown out of the BJP and form a regional Lingayat party, but the BJP is too afraid to let him go.
In Rajasthan, the Rajputs have rallied behind Vasundhara Raje, from the princely state of Gwalior and married into the princely state of Dholpur. The RSS wants her to go away because she was chief minister in the last, lost, election. The RSS wants accountability and doesn’t accept that politics in India is not about that. She is held on by threatening to break the party and the RSS has backed off.
In Gujarat, Narendra Modi sulked till the BJP dismissed an RSS man put in place precisely to rile Modi. This man is Sanjay Joshi, who thinks, correctly, that Modi has dismantled the old RSS-BJP structure in Gujarat. Modi has replaced the men who built the BJP in Gujarat with men and women loyal to him personally. He has made the Patel leader Keshubhai irrelevant, and denied the undefeated, six-term MP from Surat Kashiram Rana a ticket.
The RSS was offended by this and empowered Joshi to set Modi right. Battle was joined at the organisational level. Soon after, newspapers were given a video CD of a man resembling Joshi bedding the daughter of a family friend. Joshi, like Modi, is an RSS pracharak (propagator) and supposed to be celibate. The Times of India reported that the CDs were actually handed out by the Gujarat police. Joshi went back to the RSS, but was returned to the BJP after the RSS man Nitin Gadkari was made the party’s national president. Last week, rediff.com reported that Modi threatened to resign along with the entire Gujarat group in the BJP’s national committee unless Joshi was sacked. This was done at the last moment, and Modi came to the Mumbai meet in triumph.
The reason the BJP is so helpless at managing its local leaders is that its central leaders have no power. LK Advani is a refugee from Sindh and contests from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, where he is at Modi’s mercy. The BJP leader in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, has no base and is an MP only because Modi gave him a nomination from Gujarat (Jaitley is not Gujarati). He is also at Modi’s mercy.
The BJP leader in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj is a Brahmin from Haryana, a small state dominated by Jats, where the BJP has never held power. Gadkari is not the BJP’s leader even in his home state of Maharashtra. Advani, who gave the party its identity with his awful and bloody Babri Masjid movement, considers himself prime minister-in-waiting. He resents the RSS’s imposition of Gadkari. He and the ambitious Sushma were absent from the party’s rally on May 25, because they were “unhappy”.
But these central leaders defer to state leaders like Raje, Yeddyurappa and Modi, who actually send MPs to parliament. This weakens the BJP and will fragment it into regional units in time.
In 2002, the RSS blocked Atal Behari Vajpayee from removing Modi as chief minister after the riots. It is today powerless to discipline him even though it wants to.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2012.
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