The ruling BJP tried to pacify on Friday members of the old guard who lashed out at the top leadership this week following a crushing defeat in the Bihar polls, though the party failed to quell rumblings of dissent in the ranks.
Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu said the “views and concerns” flagged by the elders had been noted while transport minister Nitin Gadkari clarified a previous statement demanding “stringent action” against those making “irresponsible statements”.
Gadkari said on Friday LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi — two of the four senior leaders who came out with a biting joint statement on Diwali — were “our respected leaders” and he had not demanded any disciplinary action against them.
Advani, Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar -- sidelined since Narendra Modi came to power last year -- said in the statement that the organisation had been “emasculated” in the past year and was being “forced to kowtow to a handful”, seen as an oblique reference to the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah.
The party reached out to the veterans on a day Sinha met Advani and Joshi separately to discuss strategy while a clutch of leaders came out in their support.
“I have nothing else to say except that I met Joshiji and Advaniji,” said Sinha, a former finance minister, who leaves for China on a two-week trip on Saturday.
In Bengaluru, Naidu said the BJP had taken heed of issues flagged by the veterans but maintained they should have raised their concerns in a party forum instead of going public.
“The parliamentary board has already decided to take this up with all concerned and discuss the shortcomings that led to the defeat in Bihar,” he said, adding that the party needed Narendra Modi’s leadership. “That has been the practice.”
The party’s Bihar MP RK Singh on Friday backed the veterans’ demand for fixing responsibility for the poll debacle after the four men received little support for days over their stance.
“Accountability has to be fixed. A review should be done of the election debacle,” he said. “We need to find out what went wrong, who were responsible. That’s what the margdarshak mandal said.”
The margdarshak mandal, whose members are seen as the party’s mentors, comprises Advani, Joshi, ailing patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi and home minister Rajnath Singh.
RK Singh did not campaign for the party during the assembly election after the BJP leadership overlooked his objections to fielding candidates with criminal antecedents.
“We thought we were a party with a difference. We will give a clean government,” he told NDTV. “Then you give tickets to criminals. That is very bad, very sad.”
Member of Parliament from the national capital, Manoj Tewari, was also critical of the party’s Bihar canvassing and said the strategy of the Grand Alliance, led by chief minister Nitish Kumar was “undoubtedly better”. The Bhojpuri actor was one of the party’s star campaigners in the polls.
“We clearly failed to convince the people of Bihar on our party’s agenda,” he said. “We could have campaigned in a more strategic way to reach out to the masses.”
The chorus of support came on a day Gadkari revised his opinion on the senior leaders.
“Party elders including LK Advani and MM Joshi are our highly respected leaders. Neither I nor any other party functionary has ever shown any disrespect to them and there is absolutely no question of anyone seeking explanation from them and demanding disciplinary action against them,” he said.
“Reports in a section of the media indicating that I have suggested to party president Amit Shah to initiate disciplinary action against them are absolutely incorrect and misleading.”
A day after the veterans raised a banner of revolt, Gadkari reportedly said in Nagpur that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah couldn’t be held responsible for the party’s poor show in Bihar as it was a “collective responsibility”.
“I have told party chief Amit Shah to initiate stringent action against those making irresponsible statements and causing damage to the party’s image,” PTI had quoted him saying in Nagpur.