Three powerful BJP leaders, all of them women, have emerged as the party’s weakness, with the saffron outfit forced to tread cautiously through a minefield of allegations and mass protests laid out by its rivals.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, once considered a favourite for the Prime Minister’s post, finds herself in a tight spot after purportedly helping fallen IPL boss Lalit Modi get emergency travel papers in London last year.
The controversial former cricket administrator also figures in the troubles confronting Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje following accusations that she secretly supported his bid to obtain immigration documents in the UK.
Both the Congress and the AAP, which is locked in a bitter power tussle with the BJP-led Centre, are gunning for human resource development (HRD) minister Smriti Irani for allegedly misleading poll authorities about her educational qualifications.
The BJP and the government continue to stand by the trio, but senior party leaders are in a dilemma about the political fallout of the episode and how the Opposition could use it to corner the ruling party in the Parliament’s monsoon session next month, sources say.
While the Narendra Modi administration’s corruption-free image is taking a hit, the leaders are wary of the impact the sacking of the three ministers could have on the September-October Bihar elections and have chosen to dismiss the Opposition’s demands on “technical” grounds.
As the BJP appears to be in a fix, here are some possible options that exist before it and the reasons why it cannot choose some of them:
1) Sack Raje, shield Swaraj and Irani
On the face of it, this appears to be the best alternative for the BJP and the government to tide over the crisis. But the fear of a possible revolt by Raje, undoubtedly the party’s most charismatic leader in the desert state of Rajasthan, may force the BJP to think twice.
Raje has a history of locking horns with the central leadership when attempts were made to clip her wings, for instance after the party’s rout in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and there is nothing that suggests she will behave differently if a similar effort is made again.
2) Let Swaraj go, stand by Raje and Irani
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is one of the four most prominent faces of the Modi Cabinet and her axing would have far-reaching consequences for the government that recently patted its back for providing a corruption-free administration in its first year.
It would be a crucial victory for the Congress that is probing for a foothold to bounce back. The clamour for Raje and Irani’s removal will only grow louder if Swaraj is kicked out of her ministry.
3) Show the door to Raje and Swaraj, back Irani
Most leaders in the party and the government are averse to this proposition. Not only will it be akin to admittance of guilt, it will also open up a Pandora’s box of problems for the government ahead of the crucial Bihar elections and Parliament’s monsoon session.
A decision to crack the whip on Raje and Swaraj, party seniors fear, may prompt their loyalists to come out in the open to support the duo. The BJP is not ready to be seen as a divided house when the Modi government has just entered into its second year.
4) Get rid of Irani, back the other two
The BJP sees no reason to act against the HRD minister despite her having ruffled many feathers in the party and government with her style of functioning, say sources. While complaints against her mount, few have dared to question her. The reason: she is seen as someone who enjoys the complete confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Her exit would be treated as a personal setback for the PM. That she may have misrepresented facts in election affidavits, party seniors say, cannot be compared to cases involving other politicians like AAP’s Jitender Tomar who are accused of having fake degrees.