It fashions itself as a party with a difference, but is increasingly looking more like a party with more difference on its plate than it can handle. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be on a mission to step into one crisis after another.
First, it was party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani who challenged the BJP leadership, and whose ‘rebellion’ is being seen in many circles as a vote of no-confidence against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
And now, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh has raised a banner of revolt against the party brass. In the late 90s, Singh was former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's globetrotting trouble-shooter, who negotiated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (nuclear) with top White House officials.
In 2009, he was thrown out of the party when his book on Pakistan founder M A Jinnah was launched. Advani insisted that Singh must be brought back, to which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh reluctantly agreed in 2011. His name is still an anathema for the powerful RSS for his strong anti-swadeshi stance.
“There are two things: firstly, the BJP is passing through a transition phase – from collective leadership to individual-centric leadership.
Therefore, the current trend is against the traditional culture of the BJP. Second, the RSS – known to work behind the scenes – is also in favour of this sort of changeover at present, and thus the top leadership in the BJP feels alienated from mainstream electoral politics this time," observes A K Verma, professor at Kanpur Christ Church College.
It seems that the old-timers have refused to reconcile themselves with the inevitability of a regime change in the saffron party. Behind the brewing war over ‘tickets’ is an increasing uneasiness among older leaders like Advani, Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi that they have been pushed to the margin by Modi and Rajnath Singh.
Modi, therefore, will have to continue to tread carefully. His opponents may maintain silence now, but their opposition will find new force especially if the party's fails to grab 180-200 Lok Sabha seats on its own.
The moot question is: Why is Singh a loner in the party? It was BJP’s well calculated strategy to move on with its Mission 272+ when it fielded Sonaram Choudhary, from Barmer. Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had thrown her weight behind Choudhary to leverage Jat votes. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government earlier this month decided to give reservation to Jats in nine northern States.
The quota dole to Jats, who would now be part of the Other Backward Class category, in government jobs may help the Grand Old Party's electoral prospects in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Delhi in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.
At present, Modi enjoys the total support of the RSS in his political goal to defeat the Congress. In the run up to the 2014 polls, the ranks of BJP is swelling with hordes of political leaders from other parties as well as Bollywood stars, sportsmen and professionals of all shades crossing over to it, but the party is also facing a major problem of too many choices which is forcing many of its in-house veterans being denied tickets.
“The issue needs to be put into perspective. Probably, the latest upheaval in the party can be termed as Advani effect. At this juncture, the message is clear: howsoever, an individual may be strong in a cadre based party; and howsoever the political weight he carries, the biggest disadvantage is that the formal party structure is getting immobilised and it would adversely impact the outcome,” argues Verma.
Singh is not the only BJP leader miffed at the party’s top leadership. In Bihar, senior BJP leader Lalmuni Chaubey has decided to quit the party and fight as an Independent from Buxar, a decision that could have an echo in Varanasi. Chaubey is known for his proximity to Vajpayee and Advani.
At this juncture, it is safe to say that the gap created by the struggle between the Advani and Modi camps seems unlikely to be bridged in the near future.