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Why Modi cult is making the BJP nervous

March 25, 2014 11:00 IST

Many in the Bharatiya Janata Party feel that internal democracy in the party is being stifled

Several supporters, workers and leaders are disappointed at the orchestrated campaign the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a section of the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership have unleashed to diminish any potential rival power centres to its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

They are troubled by the RSS’s whole-hearted support to a Modi cult. Party workers are acutely aware that voicing dissent would mean an end to their political career in the party at a time when its fortunes look set to improve.

The slogan “har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi” was an instance of such myth-making, point out detractors. BJP and RSS workers had spiritedly chanted that slogan for nearly a month across the Hindi heartland. But barring those desperate to see the BJP in power, the slogan had started to jar.

At Varanasi’s ghats and tea shops, always vibrant with political discussions, BJP supporters were nonplussed when fellow Hindus -- intellectuals, academicians, religious leaders and commoners -- questioned the need to equate Modi with mahadev.

On Sunday, Modi and the BJP not only asked partymen to not use the slogan anymore but also claimed that it was never its slogan. A senior BJP functionary said it reminded him of Congress leader Dev Kant Barooah’s slogan -- India is Indira, Indira is India -- in praise of prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1974.

“Look where that kind vyakti puja (hero worship) landed the Congress and India,” said the Uttar Pradesh-based functionary, alluding to Indira’s untrammelled powers within the Congress of the early 1970s and political purging of all those who posed any threat to her leadership both within and outside her party.

Some in the party view Arun Jaitley’s attempts at dismissing Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal’s suggestion that he could be the deputy prime minister in a Modi-led government as an example of nervousness that has gripped senior BJP leaders.

“The BJP has been different from the Congress because of its internal democracy and multiple power centres that acted as checks on each other. It worries me the way RSS and many in my party are killing this ethos. It doesn’t portend well for the future,” says another functionary.

The faithful, however, accuse the media of clutching at straws. They claim few, if any, within either the RSS or the BJP have shed tears at the treatment meted out to the party’s old guard. They say people like Jaswant Singh have been served their desserts while others like L K Advani should have themselves offered to make way for a younger generation.

“Jaswant Singh had no political base, insulted RSS at every opportunity and owed his prominence to Atalji,” says an RSS pracharak, claiming it was wrong to accuse Modi of ridding the party of Singh. If anything, sources say, it was Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia who moved into settle some old scores.

Other senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, Lalji Tandon, Kalraj Mishra, Sushma Swaraj and Advani, who haven’t made peace with Modi’s rise, have found their influence shrink. Sources agree that denying ticket to Harin Pathak, a seven-time MP from Ahmedabad East, was at Modi’s behest but had the RSS’s blessings. Pathak was a known Advani loyalist and Modi baiter.

But then there are those from the old guard who have been accommodated like Yashwant Sinha’s son Jayant, Kalyan Singh’s son Raj Vir, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek and (former Karnataka chief minister) B S Yedyurappa’s confidantes.

The message from the RSS headquarters in Nagpur is simple. The organisation, after nearly two decades, again has a say in the way its political arm should function and all those willing to accept the fact that the Sangh and a strong leader in Modi will run the party are be rewarded while the rest will be sidelined. The RSS is also ensuring for Modi a reign free of trouble from the old guard.

Sources say it was a generational shift RSS Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat scripted. Bhagwat, who ushered in a similar generational transformation in the RSS after taking over as its chief in 2009, was uncomfortable with the BJP’s old guard and gradually but consistently eroded their power, first by appointing Nitin Gadkari and later Rajnath Singh as BJP presidents, and then facilitating Modi’s rise.

Currently, the RSS and many in the BJP believe Modi could deliver Raisina Hill to them. They are, both out of fear and ambition, unwilling to question the ever growing ‘Modi cult’ or learn from any cautionary tales of how the Gujarat chief minister decimated all opposition to his leadership both within and outside his party in that state.

Modi’s detractors are biding their time. The script may be rewritten depending on how many seats the BJP gets on May 16.

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Image: BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi