Afresh power struggle has erupted within the Bharatiya Janata Party, which continues to be bogged down by either internal dissensions or the politics within the Sangh parivar. The recent meet of the party’s national executive was meant to energise it, but seems to have had the opposite effect. The party, in fact, failed to send out any clear message either to its cadres or to the people of Uttaranchal, where elections are due early next year.
In addition, Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not conceal his displeasure over the oblique suggestions in some media reports that he should take a backseat and allow someone more dynamic and/or younger to take over. Therefore, it is not without significance that Vajpayee, in his characteristic style, struck a chord with a sizeable section within the party when he said senior leaders could not be written off as yet. The articulation gave a ray of hope to a large number of BJP leaders who have been attached to the party since its Jan Sangh days but are being gradually marginalised. In Vajpayee’s case, it is difficult to imagine who could take his place in Sangh politics in the immediate future.
Nevertheless, the power struggle within the BJP has been exposed in more ways than one. An impression has been created that the current chief, Rajnath Singh, is proving a failure. His role as head of the saffron party has not been very noteworthy so far. At the same time, one of his predecessors, M Venkaiah Naidu, has been getting prominence for all kinds of political activities. For instance, during the Jharkhand crisis, Naidu was rushed to Ranchi to do the fire-fighting. Similarly, when there was a crisis in the BJP-JD (Secular) coalition in Karnataka, it was Naidu who represented the party while Rajnath remained in the wings. Even at Dehradun, the agriculture resolution was moved by Naidu, even though he has no claim to representing the farming community. Instead, if Kalyan Singh or even Kishen Sangwan had moved the agriculture resolution, it could have helped the party win the farming community’s empathy.
The resolution itself was very weak as it did not spell out any detailed programme of agitation for the farmers’ betterment. Though it got adequate prominence, it failed to reach out to the people of Uttaranchal, where there is little farming activity. It was felt that to identify itself with the people of the state, the BJP should have talked about ex-servicemen, of whom there is one in every family in Uttaranchal.
Getting back to Naidu, he was also the one chosen to talk about the Vande Mataram affair. It seems a deliberate attempt is on by a section within the BJP to portray Rajnath as a failure so that he can be replaced, preferably by Naidu, in the November-December party polls. Naidu is considered closest to LK Advani, who still calls the shots. It may be recalled that when Advani was forced to give up party presidentship, he had preferred Naidu to Rajnath and only agreed on the latter because both RSS chief KS Sudarshan and Vajpayee wanted him. The late Pramod Mahajan had also nursed ambitions of taking over from Advani, but his hopes were thwarted.
Despite being the president-designate, Rajnath was not accorded adequate importance by Vajpayee or Advani, and had to sometimes sit in the second row behind them while Pramod Mahajan got the limelight. Then Vajpayee distanced himself from his appointment, despite having played an important role by declaring Pramod Mahajan as the Lakshman to Advani’s Ram. This was a clear signal to the Brahmins of the state as Mahajan, a Brahmin, was being put ahead of Rajnath, a Rajput.
As of today, a tug of war is on. Even in UP, many leaders have problem accepting Rajnath as their leader, even as polls are due early next year. Ideally, Advani would want to take over once again, but failing that, he wants Naidu there. This gameplan is not to the liking of others, including Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, who may want to be in the reckoning, too. Murli Manohar Joshi, the RSS favourite, has been in the fray for long but has been checkmated each time by either Advani or the circumstances.
Simultaneously, the slot of leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha is likely to fall vacant, with the imminent exit of Jaswant Singh. There are several contenders for that post as well; in addition to the above-mentioned players, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie could also be in the reckoning.
Meanwhile, the VHP’s over-emphasis on the Hindutva agenda pits some top BJP leaders against VHP functionaries. The RSS’s internal politics could also have a bearing on the BJP’s future. It has long been speculated that Sudarshan may step down to pave the way for younger leadership; in the present context, it would mean Mohan Bhagwat taking over. But all this is speculation, and it is not easy to predict the goings-on within the RSS due to its closed-to-the-world approach.
The first indication of what will happen in the Sangh parivar and the BJP may come when the top leaders meet in mid-October to discuss future strategy. For the time being, the BJP needs to get energised if it wants to offer a major challenge to its political opponents in the forthcoming polls. For many Sangh watchers, the party is undergoing both a crisis of identity and a crisis of leadership. Between us.