Jockeying for power

Published : Jun 29, 2012 00:00 IST

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

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

The battle in the BJP which has intensified in the wake of the national executive session could lead to an organisational implosion.

When the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) concluded its session in Mumbai on May 25, observers had little doubt that the developments at the conclave had stirred up ingredients that could lead to an organisational implosion. However, given the track record of the party and that of the larger ideological brotherhood to which it belong, the Sangh Parivar, controlled by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), it was surmised that things would be quiet in the immediate aftermath of the conclave. The expectation was that the various aggrieved leaders and groups would begin their organisational manoeuvrings at a later stage. But, the weeks that followed the Mumbai session belie such calculations. A number of leaders and sections of the party have made it clear that they no longer have any regard for the erstwhile tradition of discipline or the sense of unity that normally gets reinforced, even if temporarily, following a national executive meeting. These leaders and sections have started using the diverse means of communication available to them to run down their opponents and advance their own cases.

These devices include articles in party organs, bulk communication through e-mail and mobile phones, posters, processions and meetings. Of course, all these are deployed along with varying degrees of intra-party intrigues. Interestingly, those who are involved in these stratagems are drawn from various levels of the party from veteran leader and former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to the Sangh Parivar ideologue Devendra Swarup to Kamal Sandesh editor Prabhat Jha to former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel to the grass-roots workers who have initiated a poster campaign of sorts targeting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and praising and supporting his bete noire Sanjay Joshi, an RSS pracharak. All these are adding to the convulsions in the party. Sanjay Joshi had to resign from the national executive on the eve of the Mumbai conclave on Narendra Modi's insistence. Modi had reportedly sought Joshi's ouster as a condition for his attending the conclave.

Commenting on the developments, a senior RSS functionary from Lucknow told Frontline that the situation within the party could be summed up as a ludicrous inversion of the campaign strategy that the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan had evolved during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. When he introduced a new dimension to the then general election campaign using mobile phones and laptop presentations, Mahajan had stated that it marked a new stage in the party's communication to the world, wherein traditional means like posters and banners would be supplemented with electronic communication devices. He had explained that it would help the party adapt to new times and address the new age. Mahajan had meant to take on political opponents with this combination of modern and traditional means of communication. Now our party leaders and activists are using this very combination to fight among themselves, the leader pointed out.

Interestingly, it was the veteran Advani who fired the first salvo in the battle that is raging now in the BJP. This was done through his blog, published barely a week after the conclusion of the Mumbai meeting. The article minced no words in highlighting the state of despair in the party. Advani asserted that the party was far from being upbeat and added that the leadership had mishandled several political issues. He went on to say that he doubted if the BJP was in a position to come up with a credible alternative to the Congress-led ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

The blog said: I had said at the Core Group meeting [attended by both the RSS and BJP leadership] that if people are today angry with the UPA government, they are also disappointed with us. The situation, I said, calls for introspection. When these days media persons attack the UPA government for its string of scams, but at the same time regret that the BJP-led NDA is not rising to the occasion, I, as a former pressman myself, feel they are reflecting public opinion correctly.

In a clear reference to some of the decisions taken by BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who was given an extension at the Mumbai conclave with the blessings of the RSS top brass, Advani wrote: The results in Uttar Pradesh [Assembly elections], the manner in which the party welcomed BSP Ministers who were removed by Mayawatiji on charges of corruption, the party's handling of Jharkhand and Karnataka all these events have undermined the party's campaign against corruption. Advani was clearly referring to the induction of the tainted leader Babu Singh Khushwaha into the party in the middle of the Assembly election campaign in Uttar Pradesh and the nomination of the controversial businessman Anshuman Mishra to the Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand. Gadkari was forced to overturn both the decisions following resistance from within the party.

Clearly, the blog post, titled BJP: A hub of hope, was an extension of the antagonistic organisational manoeuvres that Advani had initiated at the Mumbai conclave by boycotting the valedictory public rally at which Narendra Modi was the biggest hit with party activists. Sangh Parivar and BJP insiders evaluate Advani's blog missive as the beginning of a new campaign against not just Gadkari but also Modi. These insiders point out that the reasons for this two-pronged attack is not far to seek. After the Mumbai conclave, Modi's acceptance within the BJP State units and among the rank and file has grown. This has strengthened Modi's aspiration to be chosen as the party's prime ministerial candidate. It is no secret that Advani also fancies himself as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the next general elections. He has been insisting for the past eight years that he is an important face of the party. The political message of this is that he is the face of the party for the Prime Minister's post, the RSS leader from Lucknow told Frontline.

Advani had advanced the idea of depicting himself as an important face of the party at the December 2005 Mumbai meeting, where the RSS had made it clear that he should step down from the position of party president. Even in the midst of that clear diktat from the fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar, Advani had made bold to send the political message about his plans to stay on and lead. The reference to himself as an important face of the party was repeated several times at that meeting. He had been an important face of the BJP for a long time; the party as a whole had attached importance to his face even when he did not occupy positions like that of the Leader of the Opposition. The context of such assertions was not lost on anyone. So, large sections of the RSS see the current manoeuvres as a continuation of the very same streak that he has showed since 2005.

To Advani's credit, it must be recorded that he was successful in getting nominated as the party's prime ministerial candidate despite being forced out of the post of party president. According to the senior RSS functionary, the veteran could well be expecting a repeat of the 2009 situation in the next Lok Sabha elections.

For that to happen, Advani would have to rally more forces in the party and among the Sangh Parivar constituents at the national level. Right now, he seems to have the support of only Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, is considered to be close to Modi. The primary backing of the RSS is certainly for Gadkari. Given this context, it will be interesting to watch how the veteran plays his cards. But it also needs to be noted that Advani's manoeuvres are only one part of the current convulsions.

The article war through the party and Sangh Parivar organs as well as the poster battle in the streets of Delhi and Gujarat for Sanjay Joshi are other dimensions of the post-Mumbai conclave tremors that have hit the Hindutva combine. RSS organs Panchjanya and Organiser and the BJP's mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh reflected the internal rifts and power struggle in the weeks following the conclave. If a frontal attack on Gadkari was the theme of Advani's blog post, Panchjanya and Kamal Sandesh carried pieces critical of Modi's vaulting ambitions.

Panchjanya had a column by Devendra Swarup, who wrote: Many workers in the BJP have the confidence and overweening ambition to become the Prime Minister and it is not an unnatural desire, as there are many Chief Ministers who have worked alongside the central leadership and many faces who would be appropriate for occupying the position of Prime Minister. However, looking at the BJP's organisational structure, the inherent democratic way in which it has been developed, it would be better if a leader is chosen from among those elected to Parliament after the general elections. Although Modi was not named in the post, Parivar insiders are of the view that it targeted the Gujarat Chief Minister.

Prabhat Jha hit out at Modi's intolerance in getting Sanjay Joshi removed from the national executive. He wrote: The party functions on the basis of a system. The system is maintained by those who function in the party. Party doesn't function on the basis of any individual's contribution alone but on the basis of everyone's contribution. Only my will should be honoured, and none other should command if not me' neither any organisation nor any society or any family can function on the basis of such dictums. Here, too, Modi was not named but BJP and Sangh Parivar insiders knew without doubt who was being referred to.

In contrast to the Hindi publications, Organiser had an article by the psephologist G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, who did some number crunching on the basis of a survey to argue that Modi was the party's best choice for Prime Minister. Organiser editor R. Balashankar told Frontline that Narasimha Rao's piece did not reflect the editorial line of the publication. But he added that as a rule we do not cross the organisation's line on party issues. Then how did such an article get published in Organiser?

Sangh Parivar insiders say that Organiser, under the editorship of Balashankar, formerly a journalist of The Week, has incorporated many mainstream writers and their liberal points of view. But one such instance of mainstreaming has got greater attention now because of the jousting that has been happening within the BJP.

The fact that this jousting is at several levels involving high-profile players such as Advani, Modi, Gadkari and Sanjay Joshi has added to the attention quotient, said a senior functionary associated with the RSS' publication division.

Even a liberal way like this of looking at the developments in the Sangh Parivar publications cannot hide the fact that the leaderships of the BJP and the RSS are engaged in hitherto unprecedented tussles for power.

Put simply, despite the RSS managing to move an amendment to the BJP constitution to ensure another term for Gadkari and seeking to enforce a rectification drive in the party on the basis of a number of well-delineated organisational documents, the political arm of the Sangh Parivar appears to have fallen into greater disarray.

Obviously, this is bound to reflect in more concrete terms in the realm of mass politics. It will certainly have negative implications for the party's preparations for the next general elections. The earliest manifestations of this could well become visible in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where Assembly elections are due in December 2012.

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