If the ruling UPA is in the casualty ward, the BJP is in the intensive care unit fighting for political relevance and survival. Its top leaders, known for targeting each other than their opponents, face serious charges of backing corporate-sponsored Rajya Sabha candidates, defiance from regional satraps and allegations of auctioning tickets for municipal elections. As scandals stumble out of the BJP’s closets, the cadre-based party is confronted with the biggest challenge ever to its identity and credibility. While its leader at 11 Ashoka Road continues to shine in the corporate and chatterati world, the ground is slipping fast beneath the party’s feet.
Office-bearers and candidates for various legislative forums are decided not by state-level leaders but by a culturally and socially close-knit set. They are holding on to the endangered fort of New Delhi, but are losing all state capitals. The BJP has a few leaders, but fewer dedicated workers to take forward the party’s cause. Once an example of cultural cohesiveness, it’s now heading towards the worst class war ever among its top leadership.
The aborted attempt of imported NRI Anshuman Mishra to enter the Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand symbolises the malaise in the BJP. Though BJP President Nitin Gadkari picked him, many members of the so-called High Command endorsed his final candidature. When former finance minister Yashwant Sinha led local leaders in a revolt against Mishra’s imposition, Gadkari was made a convenient scapegoat by those who have never allowed any party president to succeed in the past. It is not the first time a person with corporate connections got a BJP Rajya Sabha nomination. In the past 20 years, over half a dozen money bags and wealthy outsiders were accommodated in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. Since they were backed and sponsored by the ruling cabal in Delhi, nobody made a noise. One candidate was even returned the huge amount he contributed, when he failed to get a ticket. Even rank outsiders and defectors from other parties were rewarded with seats because they were sponsored not by the president but by the permanent members of the decision-making council.
The attack on Gadkari for promoting Mishra is an extension of the cold war between those who lost out in the race for party president. For the past 20 years, no party president has been allowed to finish his term, or function effectively. Only L K Advani enjoyed complete authority and freedom, but was unable to choose his team. He represents the elitist urban class and was never a threat to them. But all those who succeeded him came from small towns. Murli Manohar Joshi who became BJP boss in 1991 was thrown out within two years. Jana Krishnamurthy, Kushabhau Thakre and Venkaiah Naidu occupied the chair but never enjoyed full powers, and were run down in the media for their failures and misdemeanours because they couldn’t articulate their style and substance. Only Rajnath Singh took on the upper class leaders, to be humiliated later. Gadkari adopted the strategy of creating his own team and giving the organisation a new look. He struck deals with a couple of leaders. They bulldozed state leaderships, including chief ministers, to impose their personal candidates. For example, not a single dissenting voice has been raised in the party over Najma Heptullah’s Rajya Sabha nomination. Except for pedigree, Najma is best known for hosting sumptuous dinners. She doesn’t have even a symbolic following among her own elitist clan. While S S Ahluwalia, most active and effective deputy leader in the Upper House, fell victim to rivalry between top leaders, rootless leader Ravi Shankar Prasad has been renominated a third time. The buzz in the BJP is, the party now follows the principle of ‘You show me the face, we will find the rules for him or her’. Senior leaders like Arun Shourie and Shatrughan Sinha were denied fresh tickets but Arun Jaitley, Naidu and Prasad have been accommodated because they are a political flock that sticks together. When Gadkari made a few independent moves, those who had failed to capture the organisation by getting their own nominee appointed, targeted him.
The larger message in the class war is, those who control the party have ensured anyone who becomes its president with the full backing of the RSS, fails and falls on the wayside as he nears the end of his term. Gadkari is facing the same fate. The current power struggle is not just about Rajya Sabha nominees, but also about who replaces Gadkari when his term expires end of 2012. The next president will play an important role in the formation and selection of the BJP leadership for 2014. The current round of battle within is a rehearsal for a dangerous class war in the future.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla