It is time for a showdown in the BJP, which touted itself as a party with a difference. The crisis over the elevation of Gujarat chief minister Mr Narendra Modi as the campaign chief for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has been brewing for a while, but the Goa executive may be the beginning of the end of BJP&’s unity. To the dismay of the rank and file, the fight at the top is hurting the party today more than anything else. The main opposition party at the Centre has not been able to take advantage of the scams and lack of governance of the UPA or function as an effective opposition even in Parliament, except in stalling business.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Mr LK Advani is opposed to Mr Modi and has made no secret of it in the past few months. The basic fight seems to be over control of the party. Mr Modi, after his success in the Gujarat polls in January, is in a hurry to take over the party while Mr Advani is resisting it. That he is willing to accept any one other than Mr Modi is evident from his lavish praise of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Mr Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Leader of Opposition Ms Sushma Swaraj. Mr Advani is still a tall leader and certainly expects his party to listen to his advice; this is a party he had assiduously built over the decades.
There are several reasons for his firm stand on a person he had encouraged and promoted from his rath yatra days in the nineties. It was Mr Advani who discovered several young leaders of today, including Mr Arun Jaitley, Mr Modi, Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Anant Kumar and promoted them all along. What has gone wrong between the two and why is the BJP disunited?
First of all, Mr Advani has still not given up his dream of being NDA&’s prime ministerial candidate, as he thinks that the alliance may accept him and give him one more chance. His supporters claim that he is physically fit and is suitable to fulfil this role. Mr Modi is a showman and is spending a lot of money to project himself. His supporters are opposed to Mr Advani&’s claim and say he should gracefully retire.
Secondly, Mr Advani has become a party to the fight rather than the arbiter that he was all these years. Until yesterday, the party was looking forward to Mr Advani&’s arbitration on any issue; today, he is leading a group against Mr Modi and there is a vertical division in the party about the elevation of the Gujarat CM.
Thirdly, younger leaders like Ms Sushma Swaraj and other prime ministerial aspirants are trying to shoot from Mr Advani&’s shoulder. Even the BJP chief Mr Rajnath Singh has not gone beyond saying Mr Modi is the most popular leader. The fight has intensified because of this silent support from the second rung leaders including Ms Uma Bharti, Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Jaswant Singh, who have also stayed away from the Goa executive not wanting to be party to Mr Modi&’s possible elevation.
Fourthly, the parent body ~ the RSS ~ is not the same as it was a decade ago. The RSS was not able to ensure a second term for Mr Nitin Gadkari as BJP chief a few months ago and had to agree to Mr Rajnath Singh when Mr Advani put his foot down. The relationship between the RSS and the BJP is also not the same as it was, even though the RSS still has its control over the party. Mr Advani is having a last ditch fight with the RSS too.
Fifthly, Mr Advani may sincerely want to ensure that the NDA does not break. It might do so if Mr Modi is made the PM candidate. Mr Advani is keen not only to keep the NDA flock together but also to expand it. With Mr Modi, secular parties may not want to be associated with the BJP. While he may polarise votes, the BJP may still need support from other parties to form the government.
Sixthly, Mr Advani knows that the party is poised for a hat-trick in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and may capture Rajasthan in the next round of Assembly polls. Mr Modi knows that as well and would like to claim credit for the victory if he becomes the campaign committee chairman. Mr Advani wants to block him.
That Mr Advani is sulking is clear from the way he and the leaders supporting him have stayed away from Goa on health grounds. The BJP has to do some introspection before deciding on Mr Modi as its campaign committee chairman. Since there is no hurry to name Mr Modi, except that he is getting impatient, the decision could be deferred. Without Mr Advani and his supporters’ consent, it would not go well and may divide the party. A united face is what is required before the next round of Assembly elections.
The NDA allies are watching the goings on Goa. The Congress too is keeping a close watch on the happenings in the BJP with delight. Back in 2002, the Goa executive had extended full support to Mr Modi, with Mr Advani backing him, while Mr Vajpayee was critical of him. Today, the fight is between the old guard and the new. Will Mr Advani retain his hold on the party or is it the beginning of the end of the BJP?