The picture that has been projected in the Indian and international media is that the ruling BJP is a strong and homogeneous fort that can never be breached. However, the ground reality does not seem to reinforce this belief, a pointer to which is the latest salvo fired by the founder of the BJP LK Advani, who has been marginalized by the all-powerful duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Advani, who had earlier been pushed into forced retirement, was denied the party ticket for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections; this has not gone down well with the old rank and file who have revolted just days ahead of voting for the national election. Worse, for the BJP, another founder and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who too was denied a ticket, is engaged in negotiations with senior leaders of the Congress.
Informed sources insist that Joshi has been offered a chance to take on Modi from Varanasi as a joint candidate of the opposition. Joshi is reluctant to contest from Varanasi, the constituency he vacated for Modi in 2014, but was reportedly in talks with his Congress interlocutors on contesting from another seat. Joshi, it is learnt, has also decided to go public by authoring a scathing critique of the Modi-Shah BJP. Advani and Joshi are both upset with the way they have been treated by the BJP.
Advani, who has turned 91, wrote a blog which seemingly took on Modi’s BJP. Advani wrote, “In our conception of Indian nationalism we have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as anti-national”. This is a politically loaded statement as the entire election campaign rests on the national security plank with all senior leaders of the BJP questioning the patriotic credentials of the Congress party. Authentic sources say Advani met two senior-most Congress leaders recently and shared his anguish. Both Advani and Joshi feel extremely humiliated over the recent turn of events.
To rub salt in the festering wound, Joshi was told by Ram Lal, a general secretary of the BJP, that he would not be fielded from Kanpur again. Ram Lal told him that Shah would prefer if Joshi said so publicly — that he does not want to contest. An angry Joshi reportedly told him, “You are just a messenger, why can’t Modi and Shah face me?” He went public the next day by writing a two-line letter to the voters of Kanpur, in which he categorically mentioned that he bowed out as the party leadership did not want him to contest on party ticket.
Taking advantage of the invisible tension within the BJP, the Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee immediately welcomed Advani’s blog. The RSS had warned Shah that Joshi would not take the ticket denial well and would try and queer the pitch. Yet Shah went ahead and humiliated him. Similarly, Advani did not want to contest another election but wanted it to be seen as his decision. Shah denied him even this simple courtesy. Shah is now headed back to Delhi to meet Modi and senior RSS leaders to stave off this elders’ revolt.
It’s true the rebellion by the two veterans will not impact the BJP’s electoral prospects; it will nonetheless cause huge embarrassment to the now-divided Hindu family. The opposition is delighted that Modi and Shah can be portrayed as “disrespectful” to the founders of the BJP. But with Advani going public and Joshi on the boil, the RSS will be unable to clamp the lid on what is already out of the box. Both Advani and Joshi are the longest serving yatris of the BJP and this could be their last lament in the party they founded.
If Fortress Wall Crumbles…
In short, the BJP is no more a unified strong fort from within. The cracks are wide and vivid. The bricks of the fort’s wall would start tumbling out if the Lok Sabha throws up a fractured mandate. If the BJP falls well short of reaching the golden figure of 273, it would be forced to seek support from other sprinter parties and groups. Each of them would then demand their pound of flesh.
The price could be removal of Modi from the helm. Going by the general tendency, BJP rank and file would not mind sacrificing the captain to retain power. The worst scenario would be the rebellion that would emerge from within the BJP fold. And, who knows, perhaps we will find Advani and Joshi leading the tirade.
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).