BJP's game plan

Devious designs

Print edition : August 16, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP working president J.P. Nadda and others during the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting in New Delhi on July 23. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

BJP supporters celebrate Lok Sabha election results in Siliguri in West Bengal on May 23. Photo: DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP

The BJP’s manipulation machine is working full swing, with blatant aggression, in order to achieve the goal of an opposition-free India.

"Hamare oopar wale number 1 ya number 2 ka aadesh hua to 24 ghante bhi aapki sarkar nahi chalegi” (If there is an order from our top No.1 or No.2 then your government will not survive even 24 hours).” If there was any doubt about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) game plans relating to opposition-ruled State governments, this assertion by Gopal Bhargava, the party’s Leader of the Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, was good enough to dispel it. Bhargava was talking in the State Assembly a day after the coalition government of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress in Karnataka was toppled by the BJP. He also added, rather rhetorically, that the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh had stayed in power for seven months and that was more than enough.

Many associates of Bhargava in the BJP not only in Madhya Pradesh but across other north Indian States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar accord much importance to the reference to the time factor in this proclamation. They pointed out that the “Operation Lotus” (in other words the toppling game) in Karnataka took 14 months with as many as six attempts unfolding at periodic intervals. Many of these Sangh Parivar activists also added that they had not accounted for such a long “holding on” by the coalition partners.

A senior RSS activist based in Lucknow elaborated on this to Frontline: “Karnataka was seen as a soft target especially because the Ministers and MLAs of the Congress, which had adopted a junior partner’s role on the instructions of then party president Rahul Gandhi, were creating problems for the functioning of the government in general, and especially for Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, almost on a day-to-day basis. However, despite the regular eruption of differences, the JD(S)-Congress coalition somehow held on, partly on account of the patient coalition management skills shown by the Chief Minister as well as Congress leader D.K. Sivakumar and partly on account of the gains that both the parties were making collectively in State-level polls, particularly in the elections to the local bodies. And that is what resulted in as many as five failed attempts.”

But the Lok Sabha election in April/May decisively broke this unity, and that is when the BJP and other organisations in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar upped the ante, moved in for the final assault and reaped success. The senior RSS activist went on to add that the estimate within Sangh Parivar organisations was that other targets such as the Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan should not take so much time to attain fruition: that is, they would be brought down sooner. He also added that this perception was one of the factors that led Bhargava to talk about seven months was enough for the Kamal Nath Ministry. “In any case, our estimate is that the operations in these two States would be such that the tenure of each of the Congress governments is not more than one year,” the RSS leader told Frontline.

There are also qualitative differences in the operation in Karnataka that ultimately led to BJP veteran B.S. Yediyurappa assuming the office of Chief Minister for the fourth time on July 26, 2019, and the moves that are steadily unfolding in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan after the success in Karnataka. Yediyurappa returned to power drawing support from the very legislators who had defected from the Congress and JD(S) over the course of the past two weeks. However, throughout the fortnight-long political drama involving these legislators, the BJP leadership, both in Karnataka and at the national level, had claimed that the party had no role in the desertions of legislators from the JD(S) and Congress camps. They claimed that the MLAs were leaving on their own volition as they were unhappy with the leadership of the respective parties and with the functioning of the coalition goverment. It was also argued that the BJP leadership was not interested in toppling the JD(S)-Congress goverment. Bhargava’s declaration about the possibility of toppling the Madhya Pradesh government, with a specific reference to the time the Kamal Nath Ministry has spent in office, made it abundantly clear that the BJP did not want or have to resort to the kind of camouflages employed in Karnataka. It was going to be an open, no-holds-barred confrontation from now on.

Strategy for West Bengal

Indications from Sangh Parivar insiders in north India are that a similar strategy will be employed in West Bengal, too, to topple the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government, which enjoys a massive majority in the Assembly. Even as the Karnataka drama was unfolding, West Bengal BJP leader Mukul Roy had claimed that more than a 100 Trinamool Congress legislators were likely to join the BJP soon. This proclamation followed the statement made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha election campaign. In statements that were widely criticised as being “way below the stature of a Prime Minister”, Modi had announced that as many as 40 MLAs of the Trinamool Congress were in touch with him on a day-to-day basis. It was considered one of the lowest points in the Lok Sabha election campaign since it was tantamount to the Prime Minister himself encouraging horse-trading.

There is little doubt that the plans of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to play the toppling game in the three States will be marked by blatant aggression. But the big question in this context is whether the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will be in a position to deal with this effectively. Unlike Karnataka, there is no coalition factor in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. However, the factional struggles within the Congress in these two States are, at times, even more gargantuan than the ones that conventionally manifest themselves among coalition partners that follow different ideological and political precepts and approaches to political practice. The factions led by Chief Minister Kamal Nath, former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh are the major groups in Madhya Pradesh. The tussles between associates and supporters of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot have periodically rocked the Rajasthan government in the past six months.

Sangh Parivar insiders told Frontline that the state of play in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan was being evaluated by senior leaders following the success in Karnataka. “Appropriate strategies and tactics would be evolved and put into course soon,” said the senior RSS activist. He added that both the Congress Chief Ministers—Kamal Nath and Gehlot—are veterans with considerable experience in realpolitik games and that the Sangh Parivar did expect them to put up a fight. This was evident in the manner in which Kamal Nath was able to rope in two BJP MLAs to support a Bill moved by the government in the Assembly. So, there is considerable bickering in the BJP, too. Gehlot and Kamal Nath have apparently reached out to BJP leaders and MLAs owing individual allegiance to former BJP Chief Ministers Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Many of these BJP leaders are apparently not friendly with the new local satraps foisted by the central leadership. “But we have not yet formulated and advanced our concrete plans and the real test for both Kamal Nath and Gehlot would be when we get into that mode,” said the RSS activist responding to reports about these moves.

As the RSS leader pointed out, it was not yet clear what the Sangh Parivar-BJP manoeuvres would be in concrete terms. But, again there is little doubt that this will include all the usual components of the BJP’s manoeuvres of this genre: persuasion by dangling positions of power; horse-trading involving direct monetary benefits; and blackmail by agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income Tax Department. Apparently, in West Bengal the latter factor has already come into play with proceedings beginning against several Trinamool Congress MLAs by various agencies on diverse counts. The RSS leader added that a noticeable Hindutva wind was blowing in the State, making a large number of Hindu MLAs vulnerable to the BJP’s overtures and strategies.

While toppling these three State governments is on top of the agenda of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, other moves are in the offing targeted against regional secular parties such as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The moves against the S.P. are primarily aimed at increasing the BJP’s numbers in the Rajya Sabha. Already Neeraj Shekhar, son of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and long-standing S.P. Rajya Sabha member, has been lured into the BJP. Indications are that at least two more Rajya Sabha members of the S.P. are in discussions with the BJP leadership. The moves against the NCP are essentially aimed at improving the BJP’s chances in the forthcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections. Following the line adopted in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during the Lok Sabha election, a large number of regional influencers of the NCP have been roped in from across Maharashtra.

Commenting on these manoeuvres, S.P. leader Dr Sudhir Kumar Pawar pointed out that the shenanigans and manipulations of the BJP were to somehow grab MLAs and MPs so that it could have greater power in the States and at the Centre.

“All these send out the clear message that election results do not matter for the ruling party at the Centre and its leadership, including the Prime Minister and party president and Home Minister Amit Shah, have legitimised horse-trading, other allurements and deployment of government agencies to tilt the power equations in favour of the BJP.”

Panwar’s observation seemed true when Amit Shah used a meeting with Jharna Das Baidya, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Rajya Sabha member from Tripura, to rope her into the BJP. Jharna Das Baidya had gone to meet the Home Minister to discuss some law and order issues in Tripura but he used the opportunity to tell her that the CPI(M) was finished in Tripura and hence she should join the BJP. On her part, the MP made it clear that she had come to meet the Home Minister and not the BJP president, who was trying to push the party’s agenda without addressing the larger concerns of Tripura and the country.

Even as all these points are being raised within the opposition political framework, there is little doubt that none of these parties, including the principal opposition Congress, has been able to come up with a concrete and creative response to the BJP-Sangh Parivar’s machinations. The Congress is yet to resolve the larger leadership issues it has at the very top, though party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi ventured into Sonbhadra in eastern Uttar Pradesh to address a serious law and order problem with ideological ramifications (story on page 90). But there is little doubt that these are all isolated exercises which do not add up to a concrete political reaction to the high-handedness of the ruling establishment. Undoubtedly, there is a need for collective and reflective thinking combined with united action from the opposition as a whole, and the principal opposition party in particular, as the BJP-Sangh Parivar manipulation machine marches on. But as of now, the hallmark of the Congress as well as the majority of other opposition parties is a sense of bewilderment, prohibiting any movement towards creative and effective political intervention.