BJPs national executive reflects the growing influence of regional leaders
Despite the general disenchantment with the Congress government,the countrys main opposition party has been unable to fill the vacuum. This,however,was not an issue that figured prominently in the partys recent national executive meet in Mumbai.
True,party veteran L.K. Advani raised the issue,questioning whether the BJP inspired confidence at a time when the stock of the ruling Congress has reached rock bottom. Ironically,Advani himself helped reinforce reports of infighting within the party by pointedly staying away from the traditional rally after the meet. Embarrassed BJP spokespersons tried unsuccessfully to explain away Advanis absence. Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Sushma Swarajs early departure,ostensibly to attend a minor function in Ghaziabad,only added grist to the rumour mill,that both leaders wanted to express their unhappiness with the way the path is being cleared for Nitin Gadkari to get a second consecutive term as party chief.
The discordant ending of the Mumbai meet was a blow for the harassed party president. Gadkari had tried his best to bring together his warring flock. He had finally succeeded in bringing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on board,at great personal cost. He had to eat humble pie and ask RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi to resign from the national executive. Gadkari also had to make compromises to ensure the presence of Rajasthan leader Vasundhara Raje and Karnataka rebel B.S. Yeddyurappa.
But there is more to be gleaned from the Mumbai meet than the shifting fortunes of warring factions. A noteworthy trend is the growing influence of the state leaders,who have earned their spurs winning support at the grassroots. Also telling is the erosion of authority of the armchair central leaders,symbolised by party president Gadkari himself. The emergence of Modi as the undoubted favourite of the cadres and a potential BJP candidate for the prime ministerial post in 2014 is significant.
Many assume that the RSS calls the shots in the party and it merely needs to crack its whip to impose discipline on the BJP. But contrary to popular impression,the relationship between the RSS and the BJP cannot be compared to that of a corporate headquarters handling a difficult subsidiary. The RSS-BJP equation is symbiotic,involving give and take on both sides. In fact,the BJP likes to hold up its process of making decisions through discussion and compromise as genuine inner party democracy,in comparison with the authoritarian style of the Congress,where a diktat issued by 10 Janpath cannot be challenged. The truth,however,lies somewhere in between.
The decision to give Gadkari a second term was taken by the Sangh and the views of the BJP leadership and cadres were not taken. One reason why the BJP is not in a position to oppose the RSS nominee,although he has not exactly covered himself with glory,is that there is no broad agreement within the party on any alternative candidate. The party president botched up badly in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections,where he personally took charge with Joshi as his deputy. His decision to induct Babu Singh Kushwaha into the party and to back Yeddyurappa made a mockery of the BJPs anti-corruption plank. He alienated Raje by giving the green signal for her RSS-supported rival,Gulab Chand Kataria,to undertake a yatra. In each case,Gadkari eventually had to retreat.
Gadkaris most serious loss of face is the removal of Joshi from the national executive as a sop to Modi,who would otherwise have boycotted the meet,along with the entire Gujarat contingent. The Gujarat chief minister has made his displeasure clear ever since September last year,when he launched his sadbhavna yatra in Ahmedabad.
The decision to yield to Modis demands and give him pride of place at the executive has nothing to do with the RSS. Rather,it is in spite of the RSS,which has never approved of Modis egocentric style and lack of team spirit. Modi may be an old pracharak but the RSS high command has always been a trifle suspicious of him. All the same,it could not ignore the sentiment of a majority of BJP workers.
Modi may have emerged as a frontrunner,but given the way the party and the RSS function,there is no certainty that he will,in fact,eventually turn out to be the partys candidate for PM in 2014. The Gujarat assembly election later this year is not the only hurdle that Modi will face. He needs to find acceptability among the NDA allies. Apart from Bal Thackeray,no NDA ally is interested in backing a polarising,divisive figure who will alienate minority voters even if he enthuses the hardcore Hindutva brigade. Closer to the date,the RSS could opt for a more pragmatic choice.