Singh’s revolt adds to Modi, BJP woes
By: Rajeev Sharma
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently India’s main opposition party and a hot favorite of poll surveys, political analysts and even bookies to form the next government in the April-May general election, is going through its own convulsions at the most inopportune time.
Just a few days ago, the party survived a scare in a tense standoff over whether its patriarchal figure L.K. Advani will contest from Gandhinagar in Gujarat (from where he has won parliamentary election five times in a row) or from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, another BJP-ruled state. Advani wanted to shift to Bhopal, as he was chary of contesting election from Gandhinagar given his distrust of Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
But the last-minute intervention of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a right-winged saffron outfit that has traditionally remote-controlled the BJP, ensured that the 85-year-old sulking Advani sticks to Gandhinagar.
Now another BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh, a former finance minister and defense minister, is becoming a headache for the party, which is desperate to recapture power after a decade. Singh, 76, has been flatly denied party ticket from the Barmer constituency of his home state Rajasthan, where too the BJP is in power.
A livid Singh declared on Sunday that he would be filing his nomination from Barmer as an Independent candidate even though the party’s official nominee from this constituency is Col. Sonaram Chowdry who has recently left the Congress party and joined the BJP. Singh walked his talk and filed his nomination papers as an Independent from Barmer on Monday.
Singh has openly sounded the bugle of revolt against “fake” leaders from “outside” (read Modi) and trashed BJP President Rajnath Singh’s remark of “adjusting” him appropriately saying that “I am not a piece of furniture. The choice of the adjective ‘adjust’ itself is indicative of the mentality. You cannot adjust with principles and it is insulting.” Moreover, he has declared an open war against Rajnath Singh and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
This brings forth the real dilemma of the BJP. Modi, in his hurry to become the premier, is riding roughshod over senior leaders, particularly the erstwhile powerful troika of Advani, Singh and Sushma Swaraj that has dominated the party’s decision-making for almost past two decades.
Swaraj, leader of the outgoing Lok Sabha, has openly supported Jaswant Singh and disassociated herself from several party decisions taken primarily by the Narnedra Modi-Rajnath Singh combo.
The seething disquiet of Advani, the murmurings of Swaraj and the open revolt of Jaswant Singh may be dismissed by Modi loyalists as a mere sound and fury signifying nothing, but this proves two things.
One, the BJP remains a divided house and the internal schisms have widened at the wrong time when electioneering is getting into the fifth gear. In contrast, the Congress does not face this problem of widespread internal dissensions. Unlike Modi, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice-president and the main force as well as the face of the party in the upcoming elections, commands total loyalty from his party leaders.
Two, the recent rumblings within the BJP climaxing in the just-exploded revolt of Jaswant Singh have thrown a big question mark over Modi’s leadership qualities, confirming worst fears of his critics that he is a divisive personality with an authoritarian streak.
Given the kind of front-seat driving Modi has been doing in his party for the past eight months, it is all the more important for him that drives the party beyond the 225 mark on his own steam to ensure that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance gets to the magic figure of 272 in the 543-member Lok Sabha to form the government.
If the Modi-led BJP falls below the 200 mark, it will be extremely difficult for the party to form the government. And just in case, Modi is not able to muster even 160 or 170 seats for the BJP, his own political career will be threatened.
The upcoming Indian general election is too close to take a call, this way or that way. Anything is possible. Nothing can be ruled out.
Modi is focused on Mission 272, which declares his intent of getting 272 seats and thus a clear majority for the BJP. This is a grand vision, something that has not happened in three decades. The last time when an Indian general election threw up a single party rule was way back in 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi decimated the entire opposition and ensured a never-before electoral victory for the Congress party with over 400 seats. Even Rajiv’s more illustrious mother Indira Gandhi and grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru could not achieve this success.
While there is nothing wrong in Modi aspiring to get 272 seats for the BJP in the upcoming elections, he should not forget that charity begins at home. He won’t be able to get to the 272 mark till he ensures that he makes a clean sweep of all 26 Lok Sabha seats from his home state Gujarat. This does not seem to be happening as the Congress party’s students’ body National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) swept Ahmedabad university elections earlier this month, winning 15 of the 24 seats.
The moral of the story is simple: Modi needs to first bother about Mission 26 to achieve his Mission 272. Episodes like the Jaswant Singh revolt will definitely be unhelpful in this context and may make things messier for him should the election result on May 16 throw up a hung Parliament.
The writer is a New Delhi-based columnist and political commentator who tweets @Kishkindha.