Stirring the nest

Print edition : September 07, 2012

Narendra Modi (Gujarat) and Nitish Kumar (Bihar) at the meeting of Chief Ministers on National Counter Terrorism Centre in New Delhi on May 5.-PTI Narendra Modi (Gujarat) and Nitish Kumar (Bihar) at the meeting of Chief Ministers on National Counter Terrorism Centre in New Delhi on May 5.

L.K. Advani sparks an internal battle in the NDA with his prediction on the next Prime Minister.

In the period between September last year and August this year, the internal battle in the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] over its prime ministerial candidate in the next general elections has entered a new phase. And like last year, the name of Bihars Janata Dal (United) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the BJPs National Democratic Alliance [NDA] partner, has been drawn into this battle; this time with greater focus. It is indeed tragic that a battle of these dimensions is raging in the BJP and in the process the name of somebody outside the broader Hindutva fold is getting highlighted. But the way confusion reigns in the BJP these days, one cannot expect anything different. I presume that this battle will intensify in the days to come with many nuances but broadly following the same political pattern.

This was the BJPs former ideologue Govindacharyas analysis of the recent developments in the BJP and the NDA following veteran party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advanis early-August blog that predicted the possible emergence of a non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister after the next general elections.

Though Govindacharya did not refer to it pointedly, it was not just the leaders at various levels of the BJP and the NDA who got embroiled in the controversial developments. Even the top leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the fountainhead of the Hindutva-oriented Sangh Parivar, of which the BJP is a part, also got drawn into the issue. In fact, it was the intervention by the RSS top leadership, particularly its Sarsangachalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat, which brought Nitish Kumars name into greater focus.

Advani had not alluded to any specific non-Congress, non-BJP leader. His article had only said that the situation that might emerge after the next elections could be one where neither the Congress nor the BJP may be able to forge an alliance which has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha and hence a non-Congress, non-BJP prime minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is feasible. In fact, he had prefaced his projection by stating that he was only addressing the concerns of some senior Congress leaders. His blog said: In the sixteenth elections to the Lok Sabha, in 2013 or 2014, therefore, whenever the Lok Sabha elections take place, the government likely to take shape can be that of the Third Front. This, according to the Congress Ministers, would be extremely harmful not only for the stability of Indian politics but also for national interests. Advani added: My response to the anxiety voiced by these Congressmen was: I can understand your concern, but I do not share it.

But Bhagwat seemed to indicate who the non-Congress, non-BJP alternative would be by praising Nitish Kumar and his government. His exact words: People say Bihar is the first in governance. Significantly, he had not accorded that number one position to Gujarats BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who has launched a massive campaign to project himself as the best Chief Minister in India and hence as the best prime ministerial candidate for the NDA.

Many observers within the Sangh Parivar organisations commented that even though several names in the non-Congress, non-BJP parties, ranging from Uttar Pradesh-based Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, would harbour visions of becoming Prime Minister, there was little doubt that, in the final analysis, Nitish Kumar was the one who could ultimately find favour with both the BJP and the Congress as a consensus candidate.

While the RSS spokesperson and leaders in different echelons of the BJP and the NDA did seek to dispel the controversy that emerged out of these developments by stating that it was too early to decide the prime ministerial candidate for the next general elections, there was little doubt as to what this meant within the context of the BJP and the NDA. At its core, the developments underscored the battle for supremacy that is being waged between Modi and Advani in the BJP and between Modi and Nitish Kumar within the NDA. As Govindacharya pointed out, it is a battle that has developed in fits and starts since last September and has rocked the BJP and the NDA time and again.

Modi recently sat on a sadbhavana (goodwill) satyagraha with the clear intent of projecting himself as a prime ministerial candidate. The exercise was aimed professedly at improving his approval ratings among different minority communities, particularly the Muslim community, which had suffered a brutal state-sponsored carnage in 2002 during his regime. Almost on cue, Advani launched a nationwide anti-corruption rath yatra, which also sought to underscore his position as the NDAs prime ministerial candidate. Significantly, that rath yatra was inaugurated by Nitish Kumar, a choice that was loaded with political connotations.

The choice of Nitish Kumar as the inaugurator then had impacted both the larger polity and the internal dynamics of the BJP in multiple ways. Primarily, at the level of the larger polity it stated that Advani was the most acceptable leader from the saffron party to its biggest and long-standing ally in the NDA. Consequently, it also sent out a message to the BJP hierarchy and the Sangh Parivar that Advanis candidature for the prime ministers position could not be negated against the background of such acceptance with the principal ally.

Advanis message

Analysing the flow of developments, the Lucknow-based political analyst Sudhir Kumar Panwar said that Advani was advancing the message of October to new areas. In October, he stated that his candidature cannot be brushed aside. Now he is saying that if he is not acceptable, the BJP will have to settle for somebody outside the party, somebody like Nitish Kumar. Panwar further pointed out that Bhagwats comments on Nitish Kumar should be seen as an assertion by the leader of the Sangh Parivar that it is ready to keep all options open as and when a difficult situation arises. And that is very significant and has medium- and long-term implications for the future of Hindutva politics, Panwar told Frontline.

It is indeed not clear at the moment as to how these medium- and long-term manoeuvres of the RSS will unfold. But what is clear is that other leaders of the BJP and the NDAs other Hindutva-oriented party, the Shiv Sena, are not happy with Advanis blog and its projections. Arun Jaitley, leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha, wrote in an article that the era of mainstream parties was not over, while Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray wrote in an editorial in his partys mouthpiece Saamna: What is wrong with the BJP? Are they [the leaders] ill? Have internal fissures made the party frustrated? ... As usual it is their internal matter, but I cannot say, forget it.

Significantly, voices within the JD(U) were not unhappy over the blog. Said party leader Sivanand Tiwari: Advani is a senior leader, he knows how the polity is developing.

In fact, observers of politics in Bihar have been constantly seeing indications over the past few months on Nitish Kumars side to acquire this kind of acceptability. With this objective in mind he has been distancing himself from the BJP with studied anti-Modi and pro-Muslim minority comments. He has even said that he will quit the NDA alliance if it names Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. Observers are of the view that this has been done to break with the BJP, get greater support from the minorities, contest the Lok Sabha elections on his own, win more than 25 seats, and make a claim for the prime ministers post, preferably with the support of the Congress and other secular parties.

Bhagwats claim that Bihar is ahead of Gujarat as a model of good governance came against this background, evoking multiple responses. One section is of the view that the RSS leader was trying to coddle Nitish Kumar as the JD(U) would be a crucial ally in the NDA. They also point out that even BJP president Nitin Gadkari had recently assured Nitish Kumar that no decision had been taken on Modi. But there is also the view that Bhagwat is playing clever politics with the aim of scuttling Nitish Kumars plans to attract Muslim support. How can a leader so copiously praised by the RSS get Muslim support? pointed out an observer.

As these contrasting contentions do the rounds in political circles, only one thing is clear: as Govindacharya predicts, the state of turbulence in the BJP and the NDA is bound to intensify.

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