The BJP appears to be witnessing an intense power struggle within, even as the RSS is making desperate attempts to streamline the saffron brigade’s efforts to perform well in the UP’s elections. The RSS, through the VHP, has managed to persuade Uma Bharti to withdraw her candidates from various places in the state in order to ensure that the Hindu vote does not split. However, the VHP-Bharti agreement is shrouded in mystery. The details are not out yet and it is very unlikely that the fire-brand sanyasin will use this ‘sacrifice’ to rejoin the BJP at a later date.
Bharti seems to have agreed to the deal as her withdrawal will also help fellow Lodh leader Kalyan Singh, whose pathological hatred for Rajnath Singh is well-known. In the state’s intra-party politics, both Kalyan and Rajnath Singh seem to be on opposite sides, their public posturing notwithstanding. The campaign is being handled by L.K. Advani, who has managed to appoint his key aides in important positions for the elections. For instance, M. Venkaiah Naidu is sole in-charge of the state and, for the time being, has buried his differences with Rajnath Singh.
Bharti knows that the divided BJP in UP has little chance of wresting power. By withdrawing her candidates, she has ensured that she is not blamed by either the Sangh or the VHP when the results are out. She has, for now, allowed the BJP to garner votes in the name of Hindutva. If the attempts fail to yield results, she will come out openly with the VHP’s support to challenge the BJP on the RSS platform. This will also strengthen her charge that the BJP was unable to perform since leaders with no mass base were looking after the campaign, and several top leaders were ignored.
Not many people know that in the ongoing tussle within the party, the Advani group, itself targeted by the RSS at one time, has managed to outwit Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his supporters completely. In fact, Vajpayee has so far not campaigned in the UP polls despite representing Lucknow and is very unhappy over some developments. His unhappiness stems from the fact that many supporters he had suggested for tickets were denied nominations. On top of that, the CD controversy has also not gone down well with him.
The RSS too is aware of Vajpayee’s disillusionment. On Saturday, Sangh general secretary Mohan Bhagwat came down to Delhi to meet the former Prime Minister. The RSS is aware of the factionalism within the BJP and is keen to carry out changes in the organisational structure after the UP polls. In his meeting with Vajpayee, Bhagwat did touch on issues pertaining to the party and the Sangh as a whole. The details of the meeting are not known but by engaging only Vajpayee, the Sangh tried to send out a message that it held the veteran leader in very high esteem.
The RSS’ concern is on account of the fact that its anti- Advani posturing, in the wake of his pro-Jinnah remarks, has fallen flat, with the crafty BJP leader managing to outwit all detractors. On top of that, Advani has also managed to marginalise Vajpayee for the first time in a very effective manner and is making sure that he himself is the one projected as the supreme party leader when the next parliamentary polls take place. He has embarked on a twin strategy of neutralising leaders opposed to him or sidelining others completely. For instance, Murli Manohar Joshi, the other effective Brahmin face of the BJP besides Vajpayee, is on the fringes. Many of his tours are being scuttled by Naidu and company in UP and he is being made to look like a political non-entity in the state.
Everyone knows that Joshi has always been the Sangh’s favourite but loses out in the power play, with Advani holding the trump card each time. The RSS — and this was evident from Bhagwat’s visit to Vajpayee — recognises that sidelining the former PM and Joshi is not helping the Sangh’s cause even if the EC’s controversial actions are aimed at helping the BJP more than any other party by bringing it into the talking space repeatedly.
Somewhere in the RSS, there is recognition that the UP poll results may lead to a hung assembly with no party clearly enjoying the mandate. The assessment seems to be that in case of a hung assembly, the state may go under President’s rule if none of the political parties, even after aligning, are able to produce the magic numbers. The Sangh is keen that, in this case, the BJP should not help any other party form the government and must sit in the Opposition. The uncertain political situation would then necessitate another round of elections in some months. Therefore, preparations should be made from now itself for the second elections and major players, who have been ignored now, could be used then. But politics is a game of probabilities and one never knows what the BJP will do once the results are announced.
In this power politics, the Advani camp is trying to confuse people by stating that Uma Bharti is on her way back to the BJP. This she has denied vehemently. On her part she is keen to straighten her relations with the Sangh and its other outfits and knows that if the VHP backs her at a later date, especially for the Madhya Pradesh elections, she would be a formidable force. She and Madan Lal Khurana have already parted company, with the latter joining hands with Mulayam Singh in his quest for a Third Front along with Om Prakash Chautala. Contrary to the belief that the BJP is making a strong comeback with its showing in Uttarakhand, Punjab and Delhi (all on the strength of negative voting), the Sangh continues to be worried about the party’s future. The UP results will be a good way of assessing the party. Between us.