The BJP prides itself on its democratic traditions, unlike family-run or one-leader parties such as the Congress and SP, or the TMC and BSP. The BJP claims proudly that senior leaders sit around a table and jointly thrash out issues. But recent photographs released of Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacting with MPs from different parts of the country have come in for considerable sarcastic comments from other parties. The photographs suggest that Modi is laying down the agenda and there is no scope for discussion. Instead of sitting around a table, the PM is seated on a high chair placed on a raised platform while the MPs, even ministers, sit meekly at a lower level. At the meetings, Modi asked the MPs to give a brief resume of their achievements and goals for their constituency. Some ministers were so overawed by Modi’s presence that they stood up, as if in a classroom, while presenting their homework report to the PM.
New power centre
Not since L K Advani has any BJP president exercised such clout. Amit Shah was given a free hand to select his team, with suggestions from the RSS. Senior BJP leaders were kept out of the loop. Shah met them but, with folded hands, urged them to let him have his way. At the recent party national council, Modi said that the government will not just reflect the policies of the party but the party will help shape the policies of the government. Besides, apart from the big four in the Cabinet — Modi, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj — all other ministers are expected to visit the BJP office once a week and interact with party workers.
In Gujarat, Modi kept a close watch on what his Cabinet colleagues and others in the party were up to. The PM seems to have developed an effective feedback mechanism in Delhi as well. Recently, the son of a minister was reportedly asked to come to Modi’s residence. The PM praised him for his good work, but then slipped in a remark that had the young man rattled. Modi said it had come to his knowledge that some money had exchanged hands for the posting of an official. Modi asked him to return the money. The son and his father certainly got the message.
Pehle aap, pehle aap
Inside the Lok Sabha, opposition MPs are at each other’s throats, but outside, they observe the basic courtesies. Last week, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were walking out of the Lok Sabha and towards Central Hall when they came across octogenarian BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi. Rahul politely stepped aside and urged Joshi to proceed in first. “Pehle aap,” he insisted. Sonia also gestured to Joshi that he had the right of way. Joshi countered the courtesy by insisting the Gandhis go in first, “pehle aap”. Witness to this Lucknow-style exchange, Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, who was behind them, joked that none of them would enter first and that she would go ahead instead.
No CM candidates
The BJP is not planning to project any individual as prospective chief minister in the four states in which Assembly polls are due shortly, including Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir. Party chief Amit Shah feels that by not focusing on one person, the party can draw on the combined strength of several leaders with their diverse caste and regional loyalties. In Maharashtra, the understanding with the Shiv Sena alliance is that the CM will be chosen from whichever party manages to win more MLAs. In Haryana, the BJP believes that Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress is being overambitious in demanding half the 90 seats. The BJP wants to pare down the figure drastically. This has upset Bishnoi, who feels the BJP has become overconfident after the parliamentary elections.
The wooing game
The BJP may claim that it is ready for fresh polls in Delhi but, in fact, it is reluctant. BJP leaders are secretly trying to woo MLAs from the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress to the party. Getting four MLAs from the Congress to join the NDA is seen as an attainable target. The game plan could be for the Congress defectors to align with the Akali Dal, rather than join hands with the BJP directly.
Manmohan Singh did not think he would return as Prime Minister in 2009. This is disclosed by his daughter Daman Singh in her recent biography of her parents, Strictly Personal. The Congress ended up getting more seats in the 2009 polls as against 2004.