The BJP’s decision to bring back Uma Bharti into its fold six years after she was unceremoniously expelled is a move that could very well boomerang on the saffron brigade.
Bharti is a Lodh Rajput from Madhya Pradesh who led her party to victory in the 2003 assembly polls, denying Congress chief minister Digvijaya Singh his third term in an election that was essentially a contest between the ‘backwards’ and the ‘forwards’.
The BJP found her inconvenient subsequently and decided to replace her with Babulal Gour, who finally made way for Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the present chief minister. Her removal from the post was seen as a violation of the 2003 mandate, which was as much for her leadership as it was for her party.
So it was not surprising that Bharti was ultimately eased out of the party primarily because she was one of the two mass leaders of the BJP’s ‘Generation Next’ — the other being Narendra Modi. She looked down upon her contemporaries such as Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and Anant Kumar, who all convinced LK Advani to oust her, citing her public spat with him in 2005 as a ground to expel her for indiscipline.
Ever since, she has been making inconsistent statements, at times against her former mentor Advani and sometimes in his favour. In the process, she seems to have lost a lot of her sheen and is viewed in BJP circles as a leader past her prime.
But by bringing her back, party president Nitin Gadkari has tried to appease the RSS-VHP elements in the Sangh parivar, as Bharti is seen as the face of Hindutva and a symbol of the Ram temple movement.
Gadkari, whose experience in national politics is very limited, wants to use Bharti to corner Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati. In the process, he has virtually admitted that the leadership abilities of his predecessor, Rajnath Singh (and that of senior leader Kalraj Mishra) were insufficient to help the BJP’s fortunes in the state.
Gadkari has equally cast aspersions on the calibre of Vinay Katiyar, Santosh Gangwar and Om Prakash Singh, the three leading other backward classes (OBC) leaders of UP to garner the ‘backward’ votes.
Interestingly, Kalyan Singh, who was the face of the BJP’s OBC votes in UP is also a Lodh Rajput and the unquestioned leader of the community as far as the state goes. Bharti will be pitted against his guile and experience to get the Lodhs to vote for the BJP. Political observers believe that the Lodhs in UP only vote for candidates from their own community.
In that sense, the BSP, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress will also field Lodh candidates in the community’s strongholds to neutralise any impact of Uma Bharti.
The unstated dimension of her re-entry into the BJP is that she will emerge as a power-centre in her own home state Madhya Pradesh and cause problems for Chouhan. Bharti’s trusted people are still holding important positions in the BJP. They were silent while she was out. Now, they will resurrect her in Madhya Pradesh.
It is being said that the BJP needed her and she needed the BJP. But her return now is bound to multiply the problems of her party, as she will find it hard to accept directions from leaders whose mass base is unproven.
The only two leaders she revered are Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, and the only one she listened to was Govindacharya, who is one of the most vocal critics of the BJP today.