Photographs: Courtesy: yeddyurappa.in Praful Bidwai
The BJP has badly lost the plot and risks being sidelined in national politics, says Praful Bidwai
The Bharatiya Janata Party's top leadership has again succumbed to what has become a compulsive habit. It has abjectly capitulated to blackmail by one of its satraps -- in this instance, scam-tainted former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa -- and changed the state's leadership for the third time in just 11 months, and with less than nine months to go for the assembly elections.
By appointing Jagdish Shettar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh recruit and Lingayat like Yeddyurappa as the chief minister, the BJP has shown itself incapable of disciplining its wayward politicians and curbing factionalism.
Yeddyurappa lobbied for his long-standing rival not even remotely for a political reason, but out of crass considerations: to remove CM Sadananda Gowda, a Vokkaliga whom he had earlier backed, only to turn against him.
The BJP in Karnataka has for all intents and purposes been reduced to a Lingayats-only party that Yeddyurappa wanted to make it. The Lingayats form only one-fifth of the state's population, and given internal divisions, cannot ensure the BJP's victory without other castes/social groups' support.
In the past, the BJP did reasonably well in Karnataka, say informed analysts, because its adversaries were divided and it had a base among castes and regions other than Lingayat-dominated north and central areas, such as coastal south Karnataka's Brahmins and Bunts.
BJP will in all likelihood lose the Karnataka elections
The BJP will in all likelihood lose the Karnataka elections and suffer further erosion of its social base, which has shrunk not least because of Yeddyurappa's notorious collusion with the Reddy brothers who run a gigantic racket in the illegal mining, transportation and export of precious iron ore.
Also controversial was Yeddyurappa's ties with Shobha Karandlaje. He lobbied for her to be made the CM although she's just a minor leader.
The BJP's reputation is mud in Karnataka, the only southern state where it has ruled. But the damage isn't limited to Karnataka. The spectacular and pervasive corruption which has flourished wherever it rules has generally undermined its claim to be 'a party with a difference', unlike the Congress which stands tainted by numerous corruption scandals especially since Bofors.
The Savarna (upper-caste) upper and middle classes gravitated towards the BJP nationally because it claimed to be a disciplined and relatively clean party -- until it came to power. They were willing to overlook or forgive the BJP's dependence on the rabidly communal and militaristic RSS because the Sangh would impose a measure of discipline upon the party.
The RSS no longer disciplines the BJP adequately
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
That 'advantage' has vanished. The BJP has been tried and tested, and found wanting. The RSS no longer disciplines it adequately. The BJP has proved as corrupt, mired in crime, faction-ridden and opportunistic as any other party.
Indeed, in some respects, it's even more opportunistic because it brazenly aligns with parties which have nothing in common with its core ideology of Hindutva. It does so simply out of a greed for power.
Factionalism flourishes in the BJP at every level and in every state today. In Rajasthan, 52 out of 78 BJP legislators led by former chief minister Vasundhara Raje openly revolted against Gulab Chand Kataria for leading an anti-Congress political yatra, and forced the apex leadership to have it called off after threatening to split the party.
Raje demands that she be named the BJP's chief ministerial candidate before the next elections. This could aggravate factionalism and affect the party's prospects in one of the few states where it stands to improve its performance.
It has probably peaked in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
In Himachal Pradesh, a faction led by four-time MP Maheshwar Singh quit the BJP in February for purely parochial reasons and formed a new party.
In Uttarakhand, factionalism on the part of former CM Ramesh Pokhrial Nisshank ensured that BC Khanduri narrowly lost the recent assembly election -- and his own seat.
Factionalism has long existed in the BJP's state units. In Madhya Pradesh, VK Saklecha, Sunder Lal Patwa and Kailash Joshi were at loggerheads. And the Uttar Pradesh BJP was known for the feuds between Kalraj Mishra, Kalyan Singh and Lalji Tandon.
Gadkari has no claim to leadership other than RSS backing
The difference is that the regional faction leaders now don't take the BJP's national leadership seriously; and two, this leadership is itself divided, and its legitimacy has weakened further.
BJP national president Nitin Gadkari has no claim to leadership other than the RSS's backing. He is a non-descript provincial leader with no national experience, leave alone political competence or tact.
Even RSS's backing is no guarantee that the Sangh won't push Gadkari into a humiliating compromise, as it did by forcing him to drop RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi from the BJP national executive in May at the insistence of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, who despises him.
Modi recently defied the party president by refusing to campaign in the elections to five state assemblies in protest against the nomination of Joshi as the BJP's chief election strategist in UP. He ignored the RSS's repeated pleas to campaign. The RSS swallowed the insult.
Gadkari was rewarded with a second term as party president for insulting and dropping Joshi at the last minute after he had arrived in Mumbai for the executive meeting. A second term doesn't however mean that Gadkari will have an easy time with his detractors, including the entire "second-generation" leadership, and especially top parliamentarians Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
Disunity in BJP's national leadership gets exposed from time to time
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
As Modi strutted about in Mumbai after his virtual anointment as the BJP's most powerful leader and likeliest prime ministerial candidate in 2014, LK Advani and Swaraj boycotted his public meeting. Advani first criticised Modi, but now says Modi has been "systematically and viciously maligned".
But Advani may himself be in trouble because the RSS, which forced him to resign from all party posts, wants him to reduce his political activism. It's reportedly toying with the idea of an age bar for contesting Lok Sabha elections.
A senior BJP leader is quoted as saying: "Everyone has a 'use-by' date and those who do not recognise this cold fact themselves run the risk of irrelevance".
Disunity in the BJP's national-level leadership was again exposed during Modi's recent battle with the Janata Dal-United, in particular Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. It's no coincidence that Kumar chose the correspondent of a business daily to pour cold water on Modi's ambition to become the favoured prime ministerial nominee of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
Kumar said: "The NDA should declare its candidate in advance. This leader should be acceptable to every constituent of the alliance. To me, the leader of the coalition should have secular credentials. It should be someone who has absolute faith in democratic values. In a multi-religious and multi-lingual country like ours, the leader should not have rough edges in his personality..."
The reporter in question is reportedly close to Arun Jaitley. Jaitley and Swaraj (especially the latter) are known to be distrustful of Modi, but are themselves mutual rivals.
A "special editorial" in BJP journal Kamal Sandesh, and commentaries in the RSS's Organiser and Panchajanya, further highlighted inner-party differences in early June. The editorial was a thinly disguised attack on Modi and Yediyurappa and Raje for dictating terms to the party.
It also warned Modi against "damaging the track or stoning the train" in which a passenger "in a hurry" is travelling -- thus demanding respect for and obedience to the party.
BJP seems to be going rapidly downhill
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Gripped by factionalism, corruption and a leadership crisis, the BJP seems to be going rapidly downhill. It played its cards remarkably badly during the presidential nomination process, losing the initiative to the Biju Janata Dal's Naveen Patnaik and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's J Jayalalithaa, and backing a candidate (PA Sangma), who himself admits he's bound to lose unless there's a "miracle".
The NDA -- down from its peak of 24 constituents, to 17, and now to just seven member-parties -- is badly divided on Sangma, with the JD-U and the Shiv Sena deciding to back the United Progressive Alliance candidate Pranab Mukherjee.
Going by many indicators, including the BJP CMs' lavish praise for him, many BJP lawmakers will cross-vote in Mukherjee's favour.
It's highly unlikely that Mamata Banerjee would back Sangma or stay neutral in the presidential contest. She has declared that the Trinamool Congress will vote, but will announce its choice 72 hours earlier. She will be hard put not to back Mukherjee, a fellow-Bengali.
Meanwhile, the RSS-BJP's proclivity to shield Hindutva extremists may bring it more embarrassment. Lt Col Shrikant Purohit's disingenuous attempt to explain his involvement with terrorist outfits like Abhinav Bharat by claiming he "infiltrated" them as a military intelligence officer has drawn flak from the Army, which says he wasn't authorised to do so.
The BJP has no national-level leader worth the name. Only divine intervention, if that, can help it bounce back politically.
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