What's going on in the BJP?

Until three months ago the BJP, as a party, seemed as united as a political party can seem. There was the odd grumble here and there but, on the whole, these were little cracks in the plaster only and not in the brickwork.

It all started with some of the old warhorses of the BJP like Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha, Arun Shourie, Kirti Azad, etc protesting. Most people dismissed this as a revolt of the old and the politically irrelevant.

But since about July, things have changed. Not a fortnight goes by without some new and damaging development.

The latest — if you leave aside the allegations of sexual harassment against M J Akbar, who has the rank of minister of state — is the extraordinary statement by a very senior member of the Cabinet and former president of the party, Nitin Gadkari.

A video clip shows him saying that the BJP made a lot of tall promises during the 2014 campaign. The Hindu quotes him thus from a video: 

‘“We were very confident that we can never come to power. So our people suggested us to make tall promises. If we don’t come to power, we won’t be responsible anyway. Now people remind us of our promises…We just laugh and move on,’ Mr Gadkari is heard saying in the show that included actor Nana Patekar as a guest.”

Mr Gadkari subsequently clarified that he was referring to the Maharashtra election. But The Indian Express also quotes him: 

“In an answer to a separate question, the minister says the party needs to be more open and transparent to the public.” Meaning exactly who?

The RSS and BJP

Last year, Mohan Bhagwat, head of the RSS, had said the RSS did not want a “Congress-mukt Bharat”. The Hindu reported it as follows: “These [phrases like Congress-mukt Bharat] are political slogans… it is not in the parlance of the RSS.”

The RSS has also said it does not believe in personality cults in politics. The Hindu had reported: “‘Nation-building cannot be the work of one man. It has to be inclusive, requiring the contributions of both the ruling and the Opposition parties,’ said the RSS Sarsanghchalak, speaking at a book launch in Pune’s Balgandharva Rangmandir.”

Then last month there was Walter Andersen, who, along with Shridhar Damle, has written a new and quite sympathetic book on the RSS. He gave an interview to Sanjay Pugalia of The Quint

What the website displayed was the “RSS will not be as heavily invested in the 2019 elections as compared to their contribution in 2014”. The interview confirms this paraphrasing.

Even Subramanian Swamy, who says he is an ardent supporter of the prime minister, has been taking proxy pot shots at him, mostly by targeting Arun Jaitley, finance minister, and Hasmukh Adhia, finance secretary. 

At the ground level, too, there is resentment from workers and local leaders, who have perhaps not got whatever they may have wanted. Their enthusiasm does not equal the more articulate supporters of the party.

The list could grow because we must not ignore what Mr Andersen calls the RSS’s “affiliates”, namely, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and so on. They also matter as do old friends like the Shiv Sena.

Mr Bhagwat, Mr Gadkari, Mr Sinha, Mr Shourie, Mr Swamy, Rafale, Mr Ambani (Anil Ambani), Mr Akbar, the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, the Shiv Sena … what will it all add up to? It is hard to say because Mr Modi is a past master at pulling rabbits out of the hat. 

But while that is not in dispute, the size of the rabbit certainly is: Will it be big or small? Indeed, even a large rabbit may not be enough because his government has annoyed the biggest voter group, the farmers. Nor has it endeared itself to that vast mass of voters who are looking for jobs.

At the other end, potential employers, far from expanding employment, are reducing it. This is true of both the private and the public sectors.

A skilful leader in one of the opposition parties would by now have started to create what they call a “hawa” or wave. But that has not happened, and it might be too late now for one to have much effect.

That leaves the opposition with just one option. It should put up just one candidate, the one who has the best chance of winning in each of the 450-odd constituencies where the BJP will contest.

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