May 26, 2020
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The Humble Manoeuvre

Will BJP unite behind a modified Modi?

The Humble Manoeuvre
The Humble Manoeuvre

Split And After

  • Gujarat CM Narendra Modi seeks blessings from the old guard
  • As campaign committee chief,  stresses “taking everyone along’’
  • Bihar BJP unit suggests roping in independent leaders like Upendra Kushwaha to lift spirits 
  • L.K. Advani meets RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Delhi, for the first time after his resignation from all posts in the BJP; discuss inner party functioning


‘Being disrespectful’ was a serious charge. So Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi addressed it by paying respects. Not to one, but to all three of the oldest leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He called on the trinity of Murli Mano­har Joshi, Lal Krishna Advani and Atal Beh­ari Vajpayee, in ascending order, who blessed the rising son from the west.

Just two days earlier, on June 17, Modi’s bete noire in the National Democratic Alliance had declared the alliance broken. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar echoed the Congress line of “disres­pec­ting its elders”, and had cited it as one of the reasons for the divorce, considered a sin in the Hindu undivided family. So even as Modi, on June 19, was busy brokering peace with the old guard in the national capital, violent clashes bet­ween the workers of the BJP and JD(U) in Bihar sealed the bitter and acr­i­monious end of their 17-year-old alliance.

Modi in monsoon-deluged Delhi was willing to “take everyone along in decision-making”. Striking a conciliatory note, he was reminding leaders that the Congress had to be taken on “together” in 2014. Sources in both the Advani and Joshi camp confirmed that the “meetings had been on a positive note”, the brinkmanship had been buried and brotherhood was being evo­ked. Modi in Delhi clearly wanted to be seen as moderate and accommodating, far removed from the image of a power-hungry sat­rap. If the message is the medium of politics, Modi packaged and delivered it effectively with his tactful gesture. A surer signal was sent on the back of floating rumours of his visit to Ayodhya on June 25 and then the delayed denial by his office. Modi modified had arrived.

Bihar, however, is too far from Delhi. Modi’s bait of equality and solidarity within the party remained unbitten in Patna. Nitish emer­ged victorious in the Bihar assembly with 126 of the 243 votes in the no-trust motion against his government. “Wave, what wave?” he thund­ered. “There is no wave for any particular lea­der in India,” he said, decimating in one stroke both the BJP claim over Modi or any incipient Congress talk over Rahul Gandhi. The BJP may have sta­ged a walkout from the vote, but Nitish and his government are staying.

If you expected any word from NaMo on any of this, there wasn’t even a tweet. Not as he won over the BJP old guard, not when Bihar was lost. As second- and third-rung leaders bared their lungs calling Nitish names, Modi held his silence. The ‘Hindu rashtra’ is yet to hear Modi’s views on the first casualty of the act of his elevation as chief of the campaign committee. The petty job of circulating Nitish’s video praising Modi a decade back in 2003 was left to the BJP’s media cell. A week is a long time in politics, and considering the JD(U) took exactly that much time in breaking ties with the BJP after Modi’s elevation in Goa, worthies found some ammunition in a 10-year-old video to humiliate Nitish and ease the depression. Not one to cow down before a challenge, Modi perhaps is choosing his time. He has kept his sil­ence for the moment, insiders confirm, “to strike when it will hurt the most”. Perhaps he is taking a change-of-season break to erupt from Uttar Pra­desh, hop­ing the anti-Modi feeling ebbs by then.

Soothing trip Modi after meeting Advani. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)

On the agenda of the newly elected campaign committee chief, therefore, are 75 rallies across poll-bound states in the next three months. The first of these will kick off on June 23 in Pathankot but former Modi aide and loyalist and now national general secretary Amit Shah has bagged a rally in Lucknow in the yet-to-be-finalised itinerary. It is in this state that the BJP is hoping for its biggest strike, polarising the political landscape. If UP, with its decisive upper-caste votes cast in BJP’s fav­our, the calculation is that a Modi wave could well graduate from being a hypothesis to a reality.

Many in the party, though, see things a shade lighter. “It is an uphill task,” says a senior party leader. “I’m ready to believe the Modi wave theory, but where are the seats adding up from?” Nitish was right of course when he said, “It needs 272 seats to become the prime minister. In this era of coalitions, there is no point living in illusion. Even when we were in the NDA, there was no hope of getting 200 seats. Now we’re not there.” BJP leaders in Delhi seem to agree with him. Behind closed doors, furious calculations are being worked out.

While Rajasthan may hold some hope, where the BJP under Vasundhararaje is sure of bettering its tally of five out of 25 Lok Sabha seats, Delhi, with seven seats dominated by the Congress, does little to help. In Andhra Pradesh, there is still a cloud over Chandrababu Naidu’s readiness to abandon the state’s 18 per cent Muslim and 12 per cent Christian population. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee shows no sign of risking her 28-30 per cent Muslim vote for an alliance that may not be able to cobble up 200. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, every bit a regi­onal leader assured of his own clout, sources confirm, is “not ready to allow Modi into MP”. Those close to the chief minister confess, “The MP CM fears Modi damaging his prospects in order to remain the tallest regional leader himself.” Neighbouring Chhattisgarh has had a tilt of the apple cart. Raman Singh, a hugely popular leader him­self, is up against the aggregate anti-incumbency vote for his MLAs. Making his position even more precarious is the sympathy post the decimation of the state Congress leadership in the May 25 Maoist attack. With Himachal and Karnataka lost, Punjab under the Akalis remains the only state to tag behind the saffron party. As a senior BJP leader sums up, “Forget the allies. The immediate concern is to get our own party enough seats in 2014.”

Meanwhile, Mohan Bhagwat, leader of the now-out-of-the-closet overriding authority in the saffron parivar, camped in Delhi for two days, was holding meetings with BJP leaders like Venkaiah Naidu, former party president Nitin Gadkari and BJP’s eldest dissident L.K. Advani. In an hour-long meeting held in rrs headquarters at Keshav Kunj in Delhi, Bhagwat, sources confirm, spoke to Advani in detail about the “inner functioning of the BJP”. Sources also say the two leaders stayed away from discus­sing RSS functionary Suresh Soni’s ouster and Modi’s elevation. Instead, a detailed discussion was held on “the strategy for the party in 2014 and the upcoming state elections”. “Bhagwatji and Advaniji,” a senior RSS leader confirmed to Outlook, “also spoke at length about the need to coordinate and bring together nationalistic forces in the country and what the BJP’s role should be given the current circumstances in the nation.”

In a deviation from norm, the Sangh was quick to issue a press release regarding the Bhagwat-Advani meet, calling it a “detailed and candid interaction”. It was also said that “Bhag­watji suggested that such useful excha­nge of views sho­uld continue in the future as well”. While parivar harmony seems to be all the flavour, post its split with the JD(U), the saffron family is still doing some serious math to conjure up its Hindu rashtra.

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