LK Advani has been seething for a long time now, almost a decade. As someone who helped build BJP from the scratch, the former deputy Prime Minister is furious at the manner in which the party is allegedly losing its essence, its fundamental nature. Advani’s reaction to NDA’s comprehensive, mortifying loss in Bihar was not an impulsive attack, though. He has been nursing heartache and anguish since the time of Delhi elections. The Bihar debacle only acted as the trigger.
On the eve of the announcement of Delhi elections results, the BJP patriarch called up his political protégé, Sushma Swaraj, and Harshvardhan to his residence. He wanted to share his agony. He told the external affairs minister and the health minister that he has been given cold shoulder by party’s new generation, reason why he refused to campaign for the party. No one even came to me with the request to campaign for CM candidate Kiran Bedi, he shared. But what really shook the visiting duo was Advani’s veiled threat that he was contemplating writing a blog post the results. The subject matter, he revealed, would be the several incidents of imprudence and recklessness in the Delhi election.
Fearing large-scale consequences of such a blog, Harshvardhan pleaded Advani to drop the dangerous idea. Of course, he didn’t carry it out, but the nearing-90 protagonist of Rath Yatra didn’t forget it… Bihar results have re-ignited the suppressed feelings…
Veteran BJP leaders, like LK Advani, MM Joshi, Shanta Kumar, Yashwant Sinha, and Govindacharya, have united in their battle against the domineering style of central leadership. They believe that Amit Shah is exploiting his unrivaled position at the cost of internal party democracy. They have held him accountable for BJP’s disastrous performance in Bihar, and said Modi’s backing has emboldened the man from Gujarat. The elders foresee the re-emergence of an emergency-like situation under the present leadership, clearly indicating that Narendra Modi may have shifted the goal post. “Today, I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. I don’t have faith because of its weaknesses. I don’t have the confidence that it (Emergency) cannot happen again.”
This has sent the BJP leaders running helter skelter, for obvious reasons! These are damning verdicts, and crucially, the letter by BJP veterans might be considered as a teaser to a bigger revolution in the party.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, both Gujarati men, ought to overtly show humility and give value to the dissenting voices, hear them out and assure them of possible resolution. If they do that, their image will get a much-needed boost.
From BJP spokesperson MJ Akbar to RSS ideologue MG Vaidya, almost every leader worth his salt in the Government, and RSS, is trying to attach a constructive spin to what the BJP elders have said. They lack conviction, but they are echoing the same sentiment: ”Advani-ji was referring to institutions rather than to individuals. I respect his views, but I personally don’t see Emergency, any chance of any Emergency being re-imposed in the country. I think that age is over, Indian democracy is too strong, much stronger now.”
Advani shrewdly chose the weakest moment to strike! Modi is facing difficulties from within the party, a siege-like situation. Untamable MPs like Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath, and the others, are leaving no stone unturned to embarrass their own leader. Allies, like Shiv Sena, are rising in rebellion after what happened in Bihar. Then you have Shatrughan Sinha, Chandan Mitra, RK Singh, and Bhola Singh. They are not the tallest of leaders, but the party will consider them inconsequential at its own peril. They are grass-root leaders who were ignored during the campaign in Bihar, and their statements are definitely hurting the party.
At such fragile times, withstanding such concerted attack can be challenging, and Modi needs to tackle it head-on. It’s all a bit too complicated, though, with RSS playing central role in patching things up. This moment is Modi’s test of character, and Amit Shah’s trial as a leader. Is he willing to take everyone along? The perception is that he rules with an iron hand because he is answerable only to Modi. Such concentration of power in one hand is being viewed in a negative light.
Modi can successfully weather the storm with a shift in his stance. Shah may be doing things in the larger, long-term interest of the party, but it is coming across as dictatorial. And if that is the perception, if he is ‘seen’ as despotic, even if internally he is setting things in order, 2019 could reveal a different script from the one that was a box-office hit only last year.
Modi travels internationally with a purpose, to make India a global brand. But that has to start taking a back-seat, at least for now. Whatever be the mandate of his council of advisors, Modi has to defy all and appear before the people with clarity. He must explain the prevailing atmosphere, and assure people of a swift turnaround. Leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu and the others need to be given more space to exert authority, and if they are already being given, then it should seem like it. Amit Shah has become larger-than-life today, and that could be Modi’s downfall.
But the good news is that there is still enough time to turn things around for the better.