By Swapan Dasgupta
Till last Thursday, there was a smug and self-serving belief in the higher echelons of the BJP that the effective interventions in the Budget session of Parliament demonstrated that the party needs only a little tweaking to chart the future. The implication was that there was no real need to rake up the past, unearth the skeletons and identify past blunders. The unstated assumption was that there is nothing seriously wrong with the BJP which cannot be put right by a quiet bonding exercise of 22 chosen stalwarts.
Whether it was Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje or an organisational stalwart with an exaggerated sense of machismo who unsettled this cosy but bogus consensus is a matter of interpretation. However, the decision of 57 of the 79 BJP MLAs and all the four Lok Sabha MPs from Rajasthan to show the central leaders that they have a mind of their own has raised questions that are relevant to the party nationally.
The central leadership’s decision to demand Vasundhara’s resignation as Leader of Opposition was based on three considerations.
First, Vasundhara was blamed for the party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha election. Earlier, in January this year, she was re-elected as the leader of the BJP legislature party because of the realisation that, the narrow defeat in the Assembly polls notwithstanding, she was by far the most popular BJP leader in the state. It was recognised in the BJP that the party may have regained power had it not been for internal sabotage and image of disunity. It was an open secret that a section of the party’s stakeholders wanted the BJP to lose. Inevitably, the shadow of the Assembly poll defeat fell on the Lok Sabha election five months later.
Secondly, Vasundhara has been accused of an imperious style of political management and of playing the maharani. In the past, she defended herself with the suggestion that many of the BJP leaders—as opposed to ordinary villagers—in the state are innately uncomfortable with a woman in charge. My own impression is that there is some validity to what Vasundhara has always suggested.
Finally, the removal of Vasundhara seems to be part of a recrimination game involving a section of the RSS, working in tandem with the party president. After the Lok Sabha election, the BJP removed Om Prakash Mathur, a former pracharak who had been installed as state party president without even the courtesy of informing Vasundhara, then the Chief Minister. Also removed from the state was the RSS-appointed Organisation Secretary Prakash Chandra who was widely perceived to be a factional player. It is interesting that, apart from Rajasthan, there has been no similar change in other states. Since Vasundhara’s insistence was responsible for the removal of the two RSS apparatchiks, there is a strong suspicion that the latest moves are part of a tit-for-tat exercise.
There is also the suggestion that the national president has made the removal of Vasundhara a matter of personal honour because he wants to oblige those who are working for a change in the BJP constitution to gain him another term as president. A successful slaying of Vasundhara will, it is felt by those who have briefed the media about the president’s “determination” to brook no indiscipline, enhance his authority prior to the so-called chintan baithak in Shimla. Vasundhara, it would seem, has become the fall guy of someone’s intensely personal agenda.
That politics is never devoid of inter-personal strains is common knowledge. However, what makes the attempted coup in Rajasthan (and there is no other fitting description) particularly distasteful is that is goes against the fundamental tenets of democracy. The central leadership may want Vasundhara to be replaced by a compliant pygmy but if the overwhelming majority of MLAs want her as leader, the stalwarts in Delhi must swallow their pride and accept it.
The BJP is not a private limited company like the Congress and there are no profound ideological issues involved in Rajasthan. If the views of the MLAs are wilfully disregarded the party would have lost the moral right to project itself as a mass political party. It may as well declare itself a mutt (seminary) and preach to the committed within four impenetrable walls.
It is important to check a particular rot that has led to severe distortions in the BJP. Since 2006, there have been four centrally-sponsored attempts to destabilise state units, not least in places where the party is in power. In 2006-07, there was the bid to ferment dissidence against Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Modi has survived because he has popular endorsement and support of many national leaders. Last year, there was an attempt to disrupt the BJP-JD(U) coalition in Bihar by seeking the removal of Sushil Modi as Deputy Chief Minister. The destabilisers were aided and abetted by those at the helm of the central party. The revolt fizzled out when a secret ballot of MLAs showed that Modi had a clear majority. However, despite having a majority of MLAs on his side, B.C. Khanduri in Uttarakhand was unable to cope with the destabilisation that was organised from Delhi. He wasn’t enough of a politician to put up a fight. Finally, there were the troubles in Rajasthan.
There are two features of the centrally-endorsed destabilisation of the states that should be of some concern. First, in all the affected states, the conspiracies involved only a minority of MLAs and were detached completely from mass politics. The conspiracies wouldn’t have got anywhere unless they had central backing. Secondly, in all cases where BJP-run governments were concerned, the real schism was over the principles of governance. The conspirators were clear that governance should mean substantial benefits for party loyalists.
Vasundhara is not perfect. There is ample room for improvement on her part. However, by standing up to the most venal impulses of petty leaders she is upholding a principle. Without these principles, the BJP may as well do its own pinda-daan and take sannyas from democratic politics.