The statement by four members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Margdarshak Mandal asking for responsibility to be fixed for the Bihar Assembly debacle has confirmed the perception that all was not well within the Sangh Parivar. The Margdarshak Mandal was created by the present leadership to essentially sideline Lal Krishna Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, both of whom were founders of the BJP along with Atal Behari Vajpayee, as also others who are over 75 years old, such as former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Shanta Kumar and Yashwant Sinha.
The Mandal was described last year by the rival Congress as an “old age home” for the BJP veterans, who had become inconvenient for the new crop of leaders. However, political astuteness has no relation with age and the Bihar outcome provided the perfect opportunity for these battle scarred stalwarts to strike back and question the manner in which the party has been functioning since the last 15 months or so. The carefully worded statement released on the eve of both Deepavali and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign visit apparently has struck a chord in the Sangh circles, as it reflects the sentiments of the party’s rank and file to some degree.
Politics has a lot to do with timing and the veterans through their vast experience have essentially chosen to speak out when the issue of the Bihar defeat is being debated in political circles. The statement highlights the emasculation of the party, as well as concurrently attempting to shield those who were responsible for the pathetically dismal defeat. The BJP was always a party which would delve into the causes of their defeat, fine-combing the reasons after every loss. It was for the first time in 2004, the term collective responsibility was used to defend the party’s failure to retain power by all those who had promoted the “India shining” and “feel good factor” campaign that had boomeranged, resulting in the Congress securing the maximum number of seats.
Advani, Joshi and company also understand the grammar of politics profoundly better than many of those who are at the helms of affairs at present. Anticipating that there was an attempt being made by a section of the present leadership to deflect the blame on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat for his reservation remarks during the poll campaign, the veterans have brought back the focus on the functioning of the organisation they had nurtured since its inception. In the process, they have shielded the RSS chief from any flak, thus insisting that the blame has to lie with the party.
The advice has put top BJP functionaries in a fix. Those in the Margdarshak Mandal are expected to show the way to their juniors at the time of a crisis and that is what they have done. Initially, three former BJP presidents — Venkaiah Naidu, Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh — were contacted to counter the statement. It was largely believed that the three would be pitted against their seniors and Gadkari even spoke out giving an impression that action should be taken against the Mandal members. However, on realising that the statement had prevented the onus being put on the RSS functionaries, he too changed his tune and stated that the party would take into account the points raised by the veterans.
The Bihar defeat has also raised several questions on the inability of the top leadership to involve local netas in the planning and campaign stage. For instance, Shatrughan Sinha, the most iconic BJP leader from Bihar has been expressing his grouse repeatedly on television over the treatment meted out to him and therefore the humiliation he has suffered on this account.
The BJP used to have the practice of always deciding upon its Chief Ministerial nominees prior to any election. However, it decided to change its strategy in the last one year. As a consequence, those who have been positioned as CMs after their victory in some states, have yet to showcase their political astuteness. There is a segment in the party who are convinced that if the BJP had named its Chief Ministerial nominees from amongst the known party activists in both Delhi and in Bihar, the result would not have blown up in their faces in the manner it has.
The veterans know that it may be difficult to target the Prime Minister directly and their purpose would be served better if the party chief Amit Shah comes under fire. The BJP’s organisational polls are due and there is already a demand that someone who can carry the workers and the party with him should be given the top job.
In other words, Amit Shah should be either sent back to Gujarat or adjusted in the Central ministry. If that happens, the signal that would go out is that Narendra Modi’s man has been ousted. The virtual revolt by the veterans is something that cannot be wished away as it could have the approval of the RSS as well. These are turbulent times and how the BJP works on overcoming this crisis is to be seen in full view. Between us.