February 22, 2020
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The Solitary Dribblers

Good showing in Bihar-Jharkhand. The real troubles are in the states the party rules.

The Solitary Dribblers
P. Lashkari
The Solitary Dribblers

The Pluses And Minuses

  • The Jharkhand governor gives the BJP an issue on a platter—on a moral high ground vis-a-vis the Congress

  • Respectable performances in the Jharkhand and Bihar assembly polls are a shot in the arm

  • In Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharati steps up her campaign to dislodge bete noir Babulal Gaur

  • In Gujarat, BJP leaders accuse Modi of phone-tapping and surveillance

  • The second generation leaders' sniping continues in Delhi

A party down and out since the shock defeat in the Lok Sabha polls last year suddenly has reason to hold its head high, to talk of bringing down the upa regime, to hit the streets in agitational mode. After months, the self-proclaimed "instrument of the divine" has reason to thank the gods. The good showing in Jharkhand and the very respectable innings in Bihar is all and more that the BJP could have hoped for from this round of assembly elections.

But the real icing on the cake has been Jharkhand governor Syed Sibtey Razi's controversial decision to give the Congress-JMM alliance the first shot at government formation. So dubious was the decision that the Supreme Court, acting on a writ filed by the ex-chief minister Arjun Munda, advanced the day of the assembly trial to March 11. The court ordered the chief secretary and DG police to ensure that all MLAs attend the assembly and cast their vote safely, freely and securely. The court said that the agenda in the assembly on March 11 would be "to have a floor test between the contesting political groups to see which claimant commands a majority."

Bihar and Jharkhand apart, the BJP leadership is all too aware that problems are mounting in other party-ruled states. The Uma Bharati-Babulal Gaur standoff continues in Madhya Pradesh. When a Bhopal court revived 13-year-old criminal charges against CM Babulal Gaur, Uma Bharati demanded that he too be made to sacrifice high office like she was when a Hubli court revived charges against her (now dropped). Didi has made it clear she wants the chief ministership back, even as her campaign to reclaim it wrecks her party. Meanwhile, in Rajasthan, Vasundhararaje is accused of incompetence and lack of interest by her own party colleagues and in Gujarat Narendra Modi continues to be both feared and loathed—by many in the state BJP.

Yet a senior leader argues that BJP state units are riven with problems because open competition instead of sycophancy is encouraged in the party. The Jharkhand-Bihar result is indeed a reminder that in spite of internal squabbles that surfaced in the face of defeat last year and continue to simmer in the states and centre, the BJP can by no means be ruled out of the reckoning. With its committed cadre base, the BJP, unlike the Congress, is a party with tremendous structural capacity for recovery at the grassroots.

BJP general secretary Rajnath Singh, the prabhari in charge of Jharkhand, elaborates on how the party managed to snatch a near-victory from the jaws of defeat. The first task was to activate the cadres. By end-August last year instructions went out that a list should come in of 15 to 20 youth who would man each polling booth in Jharkhand. This list came in by end-October. Rajnath says the BJP went out of its way to appeal to the middle-class constituency by cutting the tickets of controversial candidates. "Not a single bahubali (muscleman) got a BJP ticket in Jharkhand. One-third of the sitting MLAs were dropped," he says.

Rajnath now forecasts a gloomy future for the Congress in Jharkhand: "Just as our association with the bsp finished us off in UP, in Jharkhand the Congress propping up Shibu Soren in this controversial manner will be suicidal for the party's support base." Rajnath had earlier been in charge of Chhattisgarh, where the BJP pulled off a surprise win against Ajit Jogi over a year ago. Now after the Jharkhand result, the low-key Uttar Pradesh Thakur has become a frontrunner in the generation next race in the BJP. But with a cultivated modesty, he says: "The prabhari can't change the political picture. I go to assist not command the state unit."

The Jharkhand campaign was also largely run by local leaders who addressed meetings or receptions at 951 points.A few national leaders flew in for the odd big rally.And their selection was thought out. For instance, it was expected that Narendra Modi would be kept out of Bihar and be used extensively in Jharkhand where VHP cadres are active and where Christian conversion among tribals is an issue raised by the Hindutva forces. Yet, as it turned out, the BJP had little use for Modi in Jharkhand as well. He was used to campaign for just one day. In both Bihar and Jharkhand the campaign was devoid of any Hindutva issue. Says Rajnath: "Yes, we are against conversion but Hindutva was not a factor."

Meanwhile, in Ahmedabad the great Hindu hriday samrat appears to be getting somewhat paranoid. The state secretariat has become something of a fortress in which the mighty Modi rules in a somewhat splendid isolation. His partymen complain that Modi does not trust them, talks rudely to all and is intolerably arrogant. As far as he is concerned, Modi is the BJP in Gujarat, there is no one else who counts.

But a far more serious charge was levelled by Gordhan Zadaphia, a former VHP leader and Modi's minister of state for home during the 2002 communal massacre. At the start of the assembly session this year, at a meeting of the legislative party, Zadaphia broke down saying his phones were being tapped and he was being trailed by IB men at Modi's instructions. This outburst emboldened several mlas to stand up and speak out against the CM. Then former Union minister and senior BJP MLAr from north Gujarat A.K. Patel dashed off a letter to L.K. Advani alleging that Modi was tapping the telephones of senior leaders, MPs and MLAs, ordering IB officials to track their movements and using the government machinery to raid businesses owned by dissident BJP leaders or their relatives. Credence had been added to these charges by the startling revelation of Additional Director-General of Police R.B. Sreekumar that he had been asked by Modi's principal secretary to tap the telephones of Shankersinh Vaghela, the Congress leader now in the Union cabinet, and Haren Pandya, the BJP leader who had fallen out with Modi and was murdered under mysterious circumstances.

Clearly, all is not well in Fortress Gujarat. Or for that matter Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Goa where the BJP recently lost its majority. The larger national message this delivers is that BJP leaders are not really adept in the art of retaining power. Yet, it is equally true that the party of the faithful does not crumble in the face of defeat. BJP leaders know how to pick themselves up, shake off the dust, and carry the fight to another day.

Saba Naqvi Bhaumik with Darshan Desai
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