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The rebel at work

Print edition : Nov 18, 2005 T+T-

The latest incidents involving Uma Bharati once again lead to the bizarre spectacle of the BJP leadership simultaneously trying to mollify the leader and reprimand her for indiscipline.

in Bhopal

THE Bharatiya Janata Party's unique political and organisational roller coaster ride driven by former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati continues apace. The fiery Hindutva leader has been forcing a tempestuous up and down ride on the party for the past one year through her periodic verbal and written outbursts, and contentious political initiatives.

The story of the recent developments, sparked off by Uma Bharati's manoeuvres to reclaim the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister's position from Babulal Gaur, is no different. Like several times in the past year, Uma Bharati's current "explosive initiatives" have pressed the BJP leadership to present a bizarre spectacle of simultaneously trying to mollify the popular Other Backward Class (OBC) leader and reprimand her on grounds of breaking organisational discipline. At the end of it all, observers, BJP activists and the party's associates in the Sangh Parivar are left with a deep-seated confusion as to where the balance between pacification and censure rests.

The recent controversy began with a letter written by Uma Bharati to K.S. Sudarshan, the sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), complaining that Suresh Soni, who is in charge of coordinating between the BJP and the RSS, had a "gross prejudice" against her and was scuttling her chances of returning to Madhya Pradesh politics. The four-page letter, leaked to selected sections of the media, also contained allegations against Sanjay Joshi, BJP general secretary in charge of organisational matters, and vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu. The letter spoke about the connivance of the trio to prevent her re-entry into Madhya Pradesh politics and gave "details" of their "conspiratorial moves".

The letter, apparently written on October 9, was leaked to the media on October 13 and 14. In the next two days, Uma Bharati visited Madhya Pradesh and, as if on cue, half a dozen Ministers in the Gaur government and several party legislators met her with requests to take over the leadership of the Ministry.

On October 18, Uma Bharati's supporters extended their battle to the party headquarters in Delhi. A three-member team of the group consisting of two Cabinet Ministers, Anup Mishra and Gauri Shankar Shejwar, and BJP legislature party secretary Dhyanendra Singh met top BJP leaders, including party president L.K. Advani and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They handed over a letter signed by 106 legislators to Advani requesting that the central leadership send "an observer to ascertain the views of MLAs [Members of Legislative Assembly]" and facilitate the "election of a new leader".

The letter did not make a direct plea to reappoint Uma Bharati Chief Minister. However, it listed complaints against Gaur and pointed out that though the BJP won a three-fourths majority in the Assembly by promising to "liberate" the State's people from "corruption and misrule", the party's support base and MLAs had lost confidence in the leadership of the government.

It alleged that Gaur was more inclined to promoting the interests of Congress leaders such as Digvijay Singh, Arjun Singh and Kamal Nath and was "ignoring and humiliating" BJP Members of Parliament, MLAs and workers.

The composition of the delegation and the manner in which it went about its job in Delhi made it clear that the move was planned shrewdly. Mishra, a nephew of Vajpayee, and Dhyanendra Singh, stepbrother of the late `Rajmata' Vijayaraje Scindia, had better clout than most State Ministers would have with the central leadership. And, as the delegation did the rounds in Delhi, Uma Bharati addressed a large gathering of supporters in Bhopal and vowed to continue her fight irrespective of the consequences. "Mujhe aap hi logone banaya hai. Mein aapki maryada ke liye chaprasi banney ke liye tayar hoon (You have made me what I am. To protect your honour, I am ready even to become a peon)," she said.

As the plans unfolded over the span of a week, the BJP's central leadership went through its usual organisational acrobatics. Initially, when Uma Bharati's letter was leaked to the media, the leadership said that it could not react because it had not got a copy. Two days later, when Uma Bharati's supporters met in Bhopal and demanded a change of Chief Minister, party general secretary Arun Jaitley categorically said that the central leadership was not even considering the issue. Jaitley said "the party, in its tradition of discipline, does not approve of the mode of a publicly announced inner party campaign" in the glare of the media. At that time, the view in Delhi was that the demand for change was being made by fewer than 50 MLAs and that it was not a significant number in the 172-strong BJP Legislature Party.

However, the perception changed once the letter signed by 106 MLAs was delivered to Advani. The aggressive "disciplinarian" posture immediately changed to a placatory mode. Uma Bharati's supporters were assured that their concerns would be satisfactorily addressed after the end of the Bihar Assembly elections in November. They were asked to drop the anti-Gaur manoeuvres until then. The assurance was good enough for the delegation to announce a ceasefire. But within the next three days, the situation changed.

Firing the first salvo this time was the RSS. Addressing the media on the sidelines of the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal (national executive) meeting at Chitrakoot, RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav said that the allegations made by Uma Bharati against RSS functionaries such as Suresh Soni and Sanjay Joshi could not be seen lightly and that the organisation treated it as an attack against it. Significantly, the statement was preceded by a visit by Gaur to the Chitrakoot meet. The RSS' frontal attack against Uma Bharati gave the impression that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar had once again flipped back into the disciplinarian mode.

But Uma Bharati's supporters do not take the RSS' views too seriously. According to many of them, the RSS has only questioned the tone and tenor of her letter but has not commented on the basic issue - the need for change of Chief Minister - raised by her. They added that the central BJP leadership and the RSS could not ignore the voice of nearly 60 per cent of the party's MLAs. On the other hand, sections of the second-rung central leadership said that even if Gaur was removed, Uma Bharati would not replace him.

Whatever the true picture, the BJP's recent history has underlined the fact that the party and the Sangh Parivar cannot ignore Uma Bharati's mass appeal as an OBC leader. It was essentially on account of this fact that she was reinstated in the party despite a public tiff with Advani last year. Her anointment as one of the party's star campaigners for the Bihar assembly elections was motivated by this factor.

But, obviously, Uma Bharati is not satisfied with such piecemeal gestures. She wants to get back the Chief Minister's chair, which she resigned in 2004 when she was charge-sheeted by a court in Hubli in Karnataka in a riot case registered in 1994. At the time of her resignation, Uma Bharati and the Sangh Parivar leaders thought that she could emerge as a powerful national leader capable of taking over the mantle from Advani and Vajpayee. She even launched a nationwide tiranga yatra to assert her credentials as an emerging national leader.

But the inner-party moves unleashed against Uma Bharati by many second-rung leaders at that time and her own variable personal temperament prevented her from achieving these goals. But, as events in the past one-year have proved, the fiery sanyasin is not ready to concede defeat. And the BJP-Sangh Parivar leadership is not able to put up with her hurry.