The dumping of BJP veteran in the Lok Sabha elections is a stark Narendra Modi reminder of how the ‘Chaal, Chehera and Charitra’ of the saffron party has been changing rapidly ever since Narendra Modi brought it to power at the centre virtually on his own, five years ago. Modi and Amit Shah, whom he brought in as the party chief after becoming PM, have drastically changed the BJP and only time will tell whether it is for better or worse.
At the moment, the duo is on cloud nine with total control over the organisation, and their actions, including the unceremonious sidelining of the old guard is indicative of that. The problem is that it is not only Advani who is fading out or being made to do so but also a host of leaders whom the nonagenarian leader brought to the fore as he gave depth to the organisation once derided as the ‘brahmin-bania party’. Through painstaking social engineering, Advani took giant strides to turn the BJP into the main pole of Indian politics.
Under the Modi-Shah regime, the BJP has become more professional, market-oriented and a centralised organisation, where debate and discussion have no place. It is fielding candidates for the Lok Sabha elections who will be one hundred per cent loyal to their leadership and sidelining those with split loyalties.
This could be the emergence of a team of new yesmen. Advani, who built the party brick by brick following the BJP’s historic fall in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, reformed the organisation through social engineering, strengthened it through ideological orientation and thus allowed ‘Mandal’ and ‘Kamandal’ to grow simultaneously in the party. People have seen how backward caste politics and hardline Hindutva flourished in it, from the 90s onwards.
But his team has been being disintegrated systematically by the new regime. While M Venkaiah Naidu was made the Vice President at a time when he wanted to remain active in politics, the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan was compelled to withdraw from the elective politics.
The denial of ticket to ‘Tai’, as Mahajan is popularly known, is perhaps the first example in Independent India where an incumbent Speaker has been given such a raw deal. There was no question of Mahajan being sidelined due to the winnability factor, given the fact that she had been representing Indore in the Lok Sabha for the past three decades.
Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti have stayed away from the Lok Sabha elections. Seniors Kalraj Mishra, B C Khanduri, Shanta Kumar, Babulal Gaur, Vinay Katiyar, and Dr C P Thakur have been sidelined. While former chief ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Vasundhara Raje do not know their future role in the organisation, Kalyan Singh, Lalji Tandon, Ram Naik and Keshri Nath Tripathi have been made governors.
All these leaders were groomed and got space at the national level in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-L K Advani era. Advani identified and promoted backward caste leaders in Uttar Pradesh (Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar), Maharashtra (Gopinath Munde), Madhya Pradesh (Uma Bharati, Shivraj Singh Chouhan), Andhra Pradesh (Bangaru Laxman) and promoted dynamic leaders, such as Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar.
The BJP expanded in Maharashtra, Bihar, Karnataka and weakened the Left in West Bengal through alliances with the Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (U), Trinamool Congress and won over the Lingayat community in Karnataka because of Advani’s strategic planning and the young team. Before, the BJP under Vajpayee-Advani was more open, democratic in functioning, had cordial relations with the RSS and friendly with its political opponents.
But the BJP of today is totally different. It is more aggressive, authoritarian and intolerant. And electoral success has made it more dominant. In such a situation, even the RSS may find it difficult to be comfortable with this new avatar of the party.
It is said that Modi finished the VHP in Gujarat and made other fronts of the Sangh Parivar in the state insignificant. It is this power that turned Gujarat into ‘Modiland’.
The RSS used to be assertive during the rule of the NDA-I led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But it has brought down the tempo on the Ayodhya issue despite issuing directives to the Centre on construction of the Ram temple. While the ideological bonding between the BJP and the Shiv Sena was over in October 2014 and the two are together merely for power in Maharashtra,
the Janata Dal (U), led by Nitish Kumar, fought the last Bihar assembly election against the BJP bitterly, together with the Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal. In Punjab, the BJP has no option but to remain with the Shiromani Akal Dal. Its other allies, like the Lok Janashakti Party and Apna Dal are insignificant, politically.
The NDA under PM Narendra Modi does not have a convener. This is because the allies know well that the BJP can survive without them but they cannot, because of the state-level compulsions.
The BJP ignored the Shiv Sena’s attacks in the last four-and-a-half years after realising that it could bark but not bite, could not leave power at the Centre and in Maharashtra. Besides, it knows well that no party in the country could ally with the Shiv Sena, barring the BJP.
Therefore, the new regime in the BJP is following a path which is different from the one charted out by Vajpayee-Advani in letter and spirit. This is a political gamble which could either pay off or demolish the party that once boasted of being “the party with a difference”.
(The writer is a former senior journalist, The Asian Age)