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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

‘Brain Dead’ BJP Veterans Take On Superman Modi

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

As once famously said by Yashwant Sinha, one of the four signatories to the angry letter on the BJP loss of Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party firmly under the grip of Narendra Modi, the prime minister, and his comrade Amit Shah, the party president, regards all party members who are above 75 years as ‘brain dead’. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when not only the author who had sarcastically used the clinical term but the three others, all well above 75, sprang to life and created a nation-wide storm by hitting out at the current helmsmen of the ruling party.

The jointly signed letter by the geriatric quartet of BJP leaders made a very pointed charge that in the past one year the BJP had been ‘emasculated’ and ‘forced to kowtow to a handful’ in the party. It left no one in doubt that the dart from the veteran but forgotten ‘Margdarshaks’ (guides and mentors) were directed at the Modi-Shah duo, who without being named were held responsible for ‘destroying’ the party.

The letter noted that the BJP had learned no lessons from its resounding and unexpected rout in the Delhi assembly poll early this year. Now, by holding ‘everybody’ responsible for the BJP humiliation in the Bihar assembly poll the party had failed to fix the blame, when it would have apportioned credit to certain individuals had the party won the Bihar poll.

The ‘letter bomb’ of Advani & Co might have taken the BJP by surprise even though its top leadership is obviously well aware of the murmurs of criticism that have been regularly heard of late from some members. The BJP has been priding itself in its discipline and ‘democratic’ functioning which allows for voicing of dissent. Many would question those claims because the BJP of today cannot credibly claim to be ‘a party with a difference’.

Sure enough, the charges made by Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, Shanta Kumar and Yashwant Sinha, were rebuffed by three former party presidents, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari, all union ministers. They tried to embarrass Advani when they said that the BJP, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, had set a ‘healthy’ practice of collective responsibility for both victory and defeat. Commentaries recalling Advani’s past brushes with the party leadership have sprouted in the media in what appears to be an attempt to denigrate him sufficiently so that what he has said is rejected as motivated for personal reasons.

How the war of words between the group led by Advani, accused of being frustrated for not being appointed to any important post, plays out in the end is not important. The consequences of the Advani ‘letter bomb’ will not be washed off by any jugglery of words by the BJP later. Advani is certainly not a universally liked politician in the country but his standing as the builder of the BJP and before it, the Jana Sangh, forces attention to his words on the conduct of the affairs of his party.

What the ‘frustrated’ BJP veterans who are alleged to be pining for coveted positions have said about the vice like grip of Modi and Shah has confirmed what everybody has been saying. Coming from an internal source, obviously much venerated too, the charge that the hold of the Modi-Shah duo on the party has ‘destroyed’ the basic character of the BJP can be no longer dismissed lightly.

One might dismiss the charges made by another quartet of the party, all younger and party MPs from Bihar, against the top BJP leadership holding them responsible for the party’s loss in the state. Their shenanigans against their own party may not harm the party as much as their own career as BJP members. Their outburst is good for the headlines. But it cannot have the same impact that criticism from Advani and the other three veterans can.

When the parliamentary board of the BJP met to announce that ‘nobody’ in particular could be blamed for the Bihar debacle, the BJP had behaved exactly like other parties where criticism of the top leaders is neither encouraged nor tolerated. It may be described as sycophancy or servility; some would see as a manifestation of survival instinct. You cannot hope to survive, or at least, progress within the party by showing irreverence towards the leadership.

The iron fist with which Modi controls his party precludes any meaningful ‘introspection’ of the causes of the Bihar debacle because the focus will fall on Modi and his alter ego, Amit Shah. Modi, the prime minister, himself led the party campaign in Bihar beginning with a rally as far back as July. During his nearly 30 rallies he covered areas hitherto never visited by a prime minister, which may by itself be a laudable thing to do. But it surely converted what was essentially a state-level contest as one between a sitting chief minister and the prime minister of the country. The question is did Modi speak like a prime minister during the campaign?

Most Bihar poll observers have said that a major factor in the BJP loss in Bihar was Modi’s aggressive and arrogant style of campaign and his penchant for making personal attacks on his rivals. It contrasted sharply with the ‘restraint’ shown by Nitish Kumar, the chief minister and JD (U) leader throughout the two months of the poll campaign.

It is hard to believe that the BJP did not get any feedback on the negative impact of Modi’s campaign style. But who could have spoken up against Modi or, for that matter, Amit Shah who camped throughout the poll period in the state? Almost till the last stages of the poll campaign, it looked more like a contest between the prime minister and the chief minister; the faces of the local BJP leaders in Bihar were conspicuously absent from the campaign.

According to some BJP leaders, the major reason for the Bihar defeat was their party’s failure to work out the ‘caste arithmetic’ to their advantage; something that the rival Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) was able to do better. This sounds unconvincing because Modi himself had quite brazenly played the caste card, describing himself by turns as a member of the backward caste and extremely backward caste. In the hope of consolidating the votes of the majority community he did not hesitate to play the communal card.

He was not checked from making those indiscreet remarks because nobody in the state unit of his party can stand up to him. Not that many can do so at the national level.

Advani was not wrong in talking about the ‘emasculation’ of the party and its harmful consequences.

- Asian Tribune –

Two days after the BJP was routed in Bihar, the party's old guard including L.K. Advani took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, demanding "a thorough review" of the  debacle but said it can't be done by those who were responsible.
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