The siege within

Print edition : June 15, 2012

BJP president Nitin Gadkari (right) with senior leader L.K. Advani at the national executive meeting in Mumbai on May 24.-VIVEK BENDRE BJP president Nitin Gadkari (right) with senior leader L.K. Advani at the national executive meeting in Mumbai on May 24.

With the RSS agenda in mind, Nitin Gadkari concedes Narendra Modi's demand to oust Sanjay Joshi from the BJP's national executive.

MUMBAI seems to signal a sense of deja vu for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Every time the principal opposition party in the country has held its conclave there since 2004, a similar set of political and organisational dilemmas have confronted it. On each occasion the party as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which dictates its overall ideological, political and organisational parameters, has resolved to chart out a new direction to overcome the existing problems, strengthen itself and reach out to new constituencies. The cream of the BJP cadre had assembled at the conclaves held in Mumbai in June 2004 and December 2005 as at the party's two-day national executive meet held there on May 24 and 25. Later assessments within the Sangh Parivar about the resolutions and the new paths charted out at these conclaves have not been laudatory.

The June 2004 national executive was in the context of the shock defeat the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) suffered in the Lok Sabha elections in April-May that year. The recent conclave was held in the wake of the February-March Assembly elections where the saffron party received a drubbing in its one-time bastion of Uttar Pradesh and failed to return to power, despite high hopes, in the small hill State of Uttarakhand. The December 2005 conclave was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the BJP, but it was marred the night before it was formally inaugurated by a CD scandal allegedly involving RSS pracharak-turned-BJP leader Sanjay Joshi. The scandal led to the ouster of Joshi from the conference site as well as the upper echelons of the party. The refrain in BJP circles at that time was that Joshi had been fixed in the scandal by his adversaries in the party. Among those counted as archrivals of Joshi was Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

Seven years later, as the BJP leadership met once again in Mumbai, the meeting was preceded by Joshi's removal from the party's national executive. This time, however, Modi's position was not just as one of Joshi's many rivals. It was a head-on fight, and Joshi had to pay the price for his rivalry with Modi. The Gujarat Chief Minister made it clear that he would not attend the national executive if Joshi was not removed from the committee. According to party insiders, Modi has been deeply distrustful of Joshi since they worked together in Gujarat in the 1990s. Both Joshi and Modi, reportedly, never let go of an opportunity to pull down each other. Modi believed that after Joshi's recent rehabilitation in the party, he had been promoting dissidence in the Gujarat BJP by supporting those like former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

That the BJP's national president Nitin Gadkari took no action against Keshubhai, who recently castigated Modi publicly, helped strengthen the Gujarat Chief Minister's suspicion about Joshi. So Modi decided to go all out in his fight against Joshi. Consequently, Gadkari, who had reinstated Joshi and accorded him importance in the party set-up, was forced to evict his favourite colleague. In a sense, it was like accepting the diktats of a more powerful leader. Apparently, the RSS leadership also advised Gadkari to give in to the Gujarat Chief Minister. Modi had refused to attend the last national executive of the party, protesting against the importance accorded to Joshi under Gadkari's leadership.

Messiness quotient

In many ways, the messiness quotient in the latest conclave was higher than in 2005. For, it was not Modi alone who was throwing a tantrum in the context of the national executive meet. Former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who had been divested of his position on account of a number of corruption charges, was also sulking because of the failure of the national leadership to reinstate him as Chief Minister. Yeddyurappa was finally brought around to attend the conclave through persuasions and entreaties. While Modi came for the conference in the evening of the first day of the meet, Yeddyurappa made his appearance on the second and final day.

By all indications, the RSS had advised Gadkari to give in to Modi and entreat with Yeddyurappa, essentially to push forward its new plans for the organisational and political revival of the BJP, which is the political arm of the Sangh Parivar. At the organisational level, the RSS had given directions to amend the BJP constitution so that Gadkari could have an extension to his current three-year term. The RSS wanted all the top leaders of the party to be present while carrying out this amendment. Apparently, senior BJP leaders such as L.K. Advani, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, Leaders of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively, also made it clear that such an important decision could not be taken in Modi's absence. On his part, Modi virtually linked his endorsement of an extension of Gadkari's tenure and his attendance at the conclave to Joshi's ouster from the party's higher echelons.

GUJARAT CHIEF MINISTER Narendra Modi being welcomed by party workers on his arrival at the national executive meeting.-MITESH BHUVAD/PTI

So the RSS had no option but to take one step backward, ostensibly to take two steps forward at a later stage. At a larger level, the move also underlined the fact that the RSS top brass was convinced that, despite the many foibles and failures of Gadkari that are discussed widely in political circles, including within the BJP, the Maharashtra leader is best suited to carry out its agenda within the party. In fact, RSS leader M.G. Vaidya made no secret of this while reacting to the developments in the BJP on the Modi-Joshi front. Did anyone from Delhi know Nitin Gadkari three years back? Now they know him. Every post someone holds is respectable. Zero has no value. But if you put one before it, it is 10. In the same way, if you put another zero, it's 100, he said. Clearly, the RSS is ready even to put up with a hitherto unprecedented loss of face before a BJP leader to advance its medium- and long-term game plan.

RSS game plan

Gadkari himself gave a broad indication of what this Sangh Parivar-driven medium- and long-term agenda would be in the BJP and how it would possibly unfold in the days to come. Making his presidential address, he referred to the ongoing preparation of a Vision 2025 document, which would help carve out a new India, obviously as conceived by the Hindutva philosophy of the Sangh Parivar. Gadkari said that Vision 2025 will project the BJP's future-focussed perspectives, ideas and commitments on a wide range of issues centred on the theme Making India a Strong, Prosperous and Harmonious Nation, A Shaper of the World's Destiny in the 21st Century'. The document will contain big and ambitious ideas, and at the same time also a practical road map on implementation. It will enable all our [workers] and supporters to propagate the party's perspectives and goals on many issues that the thinking people in our country are already seriously debating. It will also be helpful in projecting the image of the BJP as a party with an inspiring vision, which it is committed to implementing by uniting the productive energies of the nation.

Obviously, the RSS' vision for the BJP and Gadkari's role in it is not merely for the next three years or targeted merely at the next general elections. It points to a larger plan in terms of advancing Hindutva ideology and politics. According to a senior Lucknow-based RSS leader, this preference for Gadkari emanates essentially from the perceptions put forth in an organisational document that was presented at yet another conclave in Mumbai, the national executive of 2004. This document, titled Tasks Ahead: Immediate and Long-Term, was prepared and presented immediately after the first Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power in 2004 defeating the NDA. The 42-page document highlighted many shortcomings in the BJP that were apparently inconsistent with [the] party's ideals and objectives, with [its] distinctive ideology, and also with guiding organisational principles and canons.

The document stated that there had been an erosion of commitment to the principles of collective leadership, cooperation and commitment at various levels of the party. Individualism, lack of consultation and coordination, and absence of camaraderie are taking root, diluting the effectiveness of the party's activities, it said. It also stated that the commitment to ideology has to be measured also against the yardstick of behaviour and style of functioning of individual leaders.

The document laid down tasks relating to four fronts: ideological, organisational, legislative and governance-related. Under the subject line of organisation, the document listed tasks under 20 specific headings. These emphasised the need for collective leadership, cooperation and communication among top leaders, commitment and accountability to the party as opposed to individuals, the need to stem indiscipline, and the utmost necessity of developing young leaders through sustained mass and organisational work.

According to a number of RSS leaders, these rectification initiatives in the post-2004 period were originally assigned to Rajnath Singh, who was elevated as BJP president in December 2005. An assessment of Rajnath Singh's tenure by the RSS later was that he had failed in fulfilling the brief given to him. Post-2009 elections, too, the BJP witnessed a strengthening of the negative tendencies despite the electoral reverses, the senior RSS leader told Frontline. It was in this context that Gadkari was brought in from the second-rung of leadership in Maharashtra. What the current amendment in the constitution for the extension of Gadkari's term asserts is that the RSS is by and large satisfied with the Maharashtra leader's performance though there have been several complaints against him regarding nepotism, promotion of illegitimate corporate interests and mismanagement of party affairs. And hence the fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar wants Gadkari to continue in his position and advance the task further.

However, the manner in which this constitutional requirement in terms of party organisation has been achieved raises questions as to whether Gadkari and, more importantly, the RSS top brass will be able to sustain the agenda and tasks related to it. What the developments in the Mumbai conclave have underscored is that Modi has asserted his pre-eminence among BJP leaders. He has not only forced the RSS to buy peace with him but also moved ahead of other BJP Chief Ministers and secured a position in the party on a par with Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. In other words, this very act of defiance by Modi and the submission to his demands by the RSS and Gadkari make the Gujarat Chief Minister a front runner for the party's leadership in the next general elections as a prime ministerial candidate.

Given the current indications, the RSS is not in favour of such a projection. On the prime ministerial candidate, too, its first choice, though unexpressed, is Gadkari. This is bound to trigger new struggles within the political arm of the Sangh Parivar. In other words, possibilities for organisational implosion are inherent in the one step backward, two steps forward strategy. In the affirmation of that negative possibility too, Mumbai's conclave of May 2012 fits in with the overall impact of the two earlier meetings in the city. After all, according to the evaluation of the RSS top brass itself, neither Advani, who was at the helm of affairs in 2004, nor Rajnath Singh, his successor in 2005, fulfilled the grand plans formulated in the conclaves in those respective years.

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