It’s first the bad news, then the bad news for the BJP these days. Barely had the rumblings over party prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani’s disclosures in his autobiography died down comes news of turmoil in two politically important states, Maharashtra and Bihar. Former Deputy Chief Minister and Maharashtra state BJP leader Gopinath Munde set a cat among the pigeons when he quit all party posts questioning the lack of democracy within the party after the appointment of Madhu Chavan as Mumbai party chief. Though he has subsequently withdrawn his resignation, the party was thrown into turmoil. In Bihar, BJP Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi has been accused of playing into the hands of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in getting two BJP ministers dropped.
The Maharashtra imbroglio is the more serious of the two. Mr Munde, an important ‘OBC leader’ in the state, has been smarting at the slights he has received since the death of his mentor and brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan. Mr Munde’s recommendations for many party posts, and his attempts to secure a Rajya Sabha ticket for Mahajan’s widow, have all been turned down by the party high command. Mr Munde’s meetings with the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray and his initial refusal to come to Delhi for meetings with the BJP leadership, had sent the party bosses scrambling for cover. Mr Munde’s revolt has also laid bare the caste dissensions in the party. His allusions to making the party more ‘Bahujan-oriented’ are clearly aimed at the top posts still being given largely to Brahmins. Mr Munde has also, with his shrewd move, been able to appropriate Mahajan’s legacy, something that is still a force to contend with.
The BJP, by seeking to sideline Mr Munde, is committing political hara-kiri at a time when it is directionless in most states. Had wiser counsel prevailed, it could have projected Mr Munde as Mahajan’s successor. But, the party leadership seems to have succumbed to state-level factionalism. The person who will be shaken most by this open revolt will be Mr Advani, who now has to focus on firefighting instead of rebuilding the party as it goes into election mode.