February 14, 2020
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Oranges For Lemons

No leadership, no gameplan and hurtling from crisis to crisis, the BJP is in a right royal soup

Oranges For Lemons
Jitender Gupta
Oranges For Lemons

Has the party of the gods lost the plot completely? For not a single creative political idea now emerges from the BJP. Following the Gujarat MoS for home Amit Shah’s arrest in Ahmedabad, it’s clear that, beset with crisis after crisis, the country’s main opposition party is trapped into defending the indefensible. If during the last session of Parliament the BJP became a butt of jokes as it waited in vain to form a government in Jharkhand with a man they once loved to revile, now the sheen has come off the showpiece Narendra Modi government in Gujarat. And this time, there is no communal Hindu-Muslim faultline to be exploited in the cases of extortion and murder involving a minister so close to Modi. In fact, there are fears that in public perception the whole anti-terror operations of the state government will now be painted as a cover for an extortion racket.

For the party, it’s been an unhappy season of scandal. Before being forced by circumstances to defend Amit Shah for murder and extortion, the BJP (which once claimed to be “a party with a difference”) had devoted great energy to defending the notorious Reddy brothers of Bellary who are apparently holding the Karnataka government to ransom. Occasionally in this riveting script of murder, extortion, blackmail and unbridled corruption, there is a comedy break when party president Nitin Gadkari makes another gaffe. And it’s not just his words which evoke mirth, giggles and clarifications, it is also his deportment. Partymen grumble about being made to attend meetings way beyond their bed-time and Gadkari’s casual use of foul language. (Leaders reveal that he “uses such expressions even in front of women”.) 

Meanwhile, the man who had coined the phrase “party with a difference”, and who was supposed to have retired many years ago according to the RSS script, settled comfortably into a refurbished room in Parliament last week. Lal Krishna Advani has got the room that had been allotted to Atal Behari Vajpayee as NDA chairman redone to his taste. The former PM’s name-plate is still on the door but as working chairman Advani now uses the room. His name-plate has been placed below Vajpayee’s. Among other changes, Advani has added a revolving book case to the room. The more things are supposed to have changed in the BJP, the more they remain the same.

In all fairness, though, last week the BJP did put up an energetic front on the price-rise issue. It stalled Parliament insisting on an adjournment motion—which entails voting—and claimed to have collected nearly 10 crore signatures opposing the government’s handling of prices. Since that figure implies that every 10th Indian supported the BJP campaign, the claim seemed rather tall. As a senior party leader noted sarcastically, “We believe in overstating everything in case you don’t understand the point. So we’ll hype up figures to such an extent that nobody will believe us. It is only then that we believe we have made our point.”

Within the party, there are those who criticise the decision to defend Amit Shah. Sources say Narendra Modi insisted that the national leadership defend Amit Shah and his Gujarat regime to the hilt. With a power vacuum in Delhi and with Advani also beholden to Modi and Shah (who managed his Gandhinagar election), the Gujarat CM is certainly in a position to wield great influence. Which is perhaps why leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley keeps harping on the misuse of the CBI and why the issue would certainly be taken up by the BJP. (Yet the party knows that opposition unity could break over such an issue and has not given the CBI debate any priority in Parliament.)

Meanwhile, a senior leader told Outlook: “Certainly Modi has great influence over Advani and also Jaitley. But I believe the Amit Shah case should be fought legally. That issue should not be combined with our political articulation as it is a double-edged sword. If the charges against Shah are finally dismissed, we can score political points. But what if the case stands legal scrutiny? Then the future of Modi as our mascot is in peril.”

The ‘Same Difference’ Party

Gujarat Cornered by the state police and then by the CBI, but party clamorously defends Narendra Modi's Man Friday, Amit Shah, in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter killing. Charges of involvement with the marble lobby and extortion emerge.   Karnataka Sushma Swaraj bends backward to calm the rebellion of her proteges, the Reddy brothers, against B.S. Yediyurappa. But the Lok Ayukta quit threat turns nation's attention on the corruption under BJP's watch.

Jharkhand With massive mining interests at stake, Rajnath Singh and Ananth Kumar plump for pact with Shibhu Soren. The deal comes unstuck with the JMM bossman dismissing the idea of chief ministership by rotation.   Rajasthan Ram Jethmalani's nomination to the Rajya Sabha overlooking Vasundhararaje's candidate, and Tarun Vijay's nomination in Uttarakhand stirs up murmurs of loyalists being ignored for new entrants and upstarts.

Bihar Trouble with a key NDA ally, Janata Dal (U), in election year. Nitish Kumar opposes advertisements showing him with Narendra Modi, wants no truck with him. His position will harden after Amit Shah's arrest.   Hindu Terror With CBI zeroing in on senior Sangh parivar functionaries for their role in a series of bomb blasts, "Hindu terror" comes back to bite the hand it feeds. BJP doesn't want to defend the RSS but it is part of the parivar.

Ghost Of Jinnah Sacked summarily for his book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Jaswant Singh makes a comeback as L.K. Advani cocks a snook at the Sangh. Uma Bharati's return is held up by MP CM Shivraj Chauhan.   Spectre Of Advani They had ostensibly made way for the younger Nitin Gadkari, but Advani and his acolytes—the famed "Delhi 4"—continue to call the shots, be it in naming RS candidates, defending Amit Shah, stitching up JMM alliance, or wooing back the Lok Ayukta.

As it is, on the national stage Modi is proving to be more a liability than an asset. The manner in which he managed to run foul of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, the BJP’s most important ally right now, was typical of the man. The overreach by Modi in the Patna media when he arrived there for a party conclave in mid-June almost ended the decade-long political alliance. Sources reveal though that with just a few months to go to the Bihar polls, Nitish has been mollified.

“But what if the case against Amit Shah stands legal scrutiny? Then Modi’s future as our mascot is in peril.”

Indeed, at the heart of all the BJP’s troubles is a larger existential crisis. All its ideological cornerstones are now failing to yield further political dividends. Plus there is the terrible pincer movement of the police agencies simultaneously closing in on some RSS members for being involved in Hindu terror and on people close to Modi—who was till the 2009 general elections touted as the great hope of the party. Partymen would like to believe that there will be a “great backlash by Hindus” but it’s just not been happening.

In fact, there are many who argue in private that the RSS is the greatest burden on the BJP. “The Sangh just does not attract quality any longer. It just gets fools,” says an insider. Yet, RSS members routinely get inducted into the bjp as spokespersons, get Rajya Sabha seats and are embedded across the organisation. With no Hindu issues igniting a wave, the question to ask is: has the BJP’s talent pool become so limited that the party is bound to remain in crisis?

The political desperation is already visible in the morally bankrupt choices the party now makes—eager to form a government in Jharkhand at any cost (even if it meant tying up with the JMM’s Shibu Soren); defence of the Reddy brothers for the pelf and clout they carry. Add this to poor political management in critical states like Jharkhand and a genuine leadership crisis nationally, the bjp comes across as a party resorting to bluff and bluster, a party that no longer attracts the young, where leaders linger on in the general atmosphere of decay, and increasingly, a party that defends the indefensible.

With soaring prices, a disastrous Indo-Pakistan dialogue, burning issues like Kashmir and Maoist terror, the upa government should have been on the mat. But as things stand, and no hope on the horizon of sorting out its own mess, the BJP can only hope that things get worse for the upa and the tina factor starts working in their favour.

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