Then, reality struck. “India Shining” evoked popular anger. The Congress built broad coalitions. The BJP was delivered a shock defeat. Since then, its organisational-political crisis, and that of its sole Hindutva ally (Shiv Sena), has spilled out in the open.
Uma Bharati has been expelled from the BJP. Rather than ‘explain’ her anti-BJP outbursts, she hysterically lashed out at its senior leaders for committing the same “indiscipline” she is accused of. Bharati said the BJP has become a party without “ideology or principles”. She didn’t spare even Vajpayee for the Kargil conflict. As for L K Advani, she said she “would rather die than offer flowers at Jinnah’s mausoleum”.
Bharati’s criticism of the BJP is three-fold. She accuses its leadership of discriminating against the low castes (Other Backward Classes — OBCs), underprivileged classes, and women. Second, she says the BJP has jettisoned suraj (good governance), swadeshi (economic self-reliance), and its commitment to building a Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Third, she urges Vajpayee and Advani to prevent the BJP’s hijacking by a bunch of “terrorists”. They should relaunch the party because the BJP “experiment has failed”.
It’s irrelevant to ask if Bharati’s attack is motivated solely by her resentment at having been denied the Chief Ministership of Madhya Pradesh. What matters is that she has pitched it to appeal to party cadres and made a major issue of her OBC identity.
Her Ram-Roti yatra to Ayodhya, designed to expose the BJP’s lack of commitment to its own trade mark identity, is drawing good crowds. There’s some sympathy in BJP ranks for her because the 2003 MP election, which the party won a three-fourths majority riding on an anti-incumbency sentiment, was very much her victory.
Bharati quit the chief ministership following an August 2004 warrant from a Hubli court on communal offences. She expected she’d be given back the post after being discharged by the court. When she wasn’t, she revolted.
A year ago, she was suspended from the BJP for defying party president Advani, but was readmitted at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s instance. When she staged her second revolt, the RSS wasn’t with her. She had antagonised it by attacking its senior leaders, Suresh Soni and Sanjay Joshi. Besides, the RSS didn’t wish to be seen as endorsing her ‘indiscipline’ in defying the parliamentary board’s decision to nominate Shivraj Singh Chauhan as chief minister. Most MLAs ratified this manipulated choice.
The Bharati problem arises because individual leaders in that ‘disciplined party’ build personality cults and behave as if they were indispensable. The party doesn’t know how to contain them. The BJP itself projects some leaders — e.g. Vajpayee as larger-than-life. The Bharati problem is also rooted in the BJP’s grave leadership crisis and succession battle.
A solution to the succession tussle has defied the party. This was witnessed during the disastrous, aborted presidency of Venkaiah Naidu. His ignominious exit after the BJP’s defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections only aggravated the crisis. Advani failed to establish his authority and undermined himself by lavishing praise upon Jinnah.
BJP leaders calculate that the long-term gains from her exit would outweigh the short-term losses from her ambitions. However, they shouldn’t delude themselves that Bharati is just another malcontent like Madan Lal Khurana, Keshubhai Patel, Shatrughan Sinha or Babulal Marandi.
Bharati embodies a special combination of Mandal and Kamandal — OBC self-assertion, and fanatical Hindutva. Only two BJP OBC leaders have personified this combination. They both produced “magic moments” for the BJP in the Hindi heartland. These were Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, and Bharati in MP, both Lodhs.
They were critically important in allowing the BJP to grow out of its narrow traditional base — the upper-caste Hindu middle class. If the anti-Babri mobilisation expanded the BJP’s potential appeal, they greatly helped realise the potential. Kalyan Singh was expelled from the party. He returned to it as a weak, subdued leader. Now Bharati too stands expelled.
Two other BJP leaders, Bihar’s Sushil Modi and Gujarat’s Narendra Modi are OBCs too. But the Gujarat CM let murderous Hindutva overwhelm his OBC profile, especially through the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom. Sushil Modi has faced formidable competition from Nitish Kumar, also an OBC.
The Bharati episode overshadows the upturn in the BJP’s political trajectory after the Bihar elections. In just two weeks, the BJP has returned to crisis mode. Even greater is the BJP’s self-inflicted damage on its “social engineering” project — of extending its appeal from the ‘savarnas’ to marginalised layers, especially OBCs.
It’s no aberration that the project’s author, K N Govindacharya, has quit the BJP. He was responsible for planning Advani’s rath yatra in 1990, which triggered the party’s meteoric rise. Govindacharya through Bharati is now promoting an organisational alternative to an increasingly pro-corporate BJP. He has just floated a ‘steering’ committee of the Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan to correct India’s “lopsided foreign policies”.
Bharati’s expulsion spells the end of the “social engineering” strategy. But the BJP has no-alternative half-way coherent strategy. Its gains in Bihar came largely from allying with the Janata Dal(U). These are unlikely to be lasting.
The BJP faces the prospect of being pushed to the heartland’s periphery — being confined to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP. In MP, its base will be eroded by Bharati. It’s easy to laugh at Bharati’s assertion that “I am the BJP”. But it does contain some truth, at least in MP. Bharati will launch repeated onslaughts on BJP leaders. These, and her attempt to position herself as an authentic Hindu nationalist, might win her support from sections of the RSS. The attacks will certainly put the BJP on the defensive.
There’s no reason to believe that BJP leaders can develop imaginative policies and programmes to overcome the party’s marginalisation. They are clutching at straws. That’s not strategy.
Praful Bidwai is a veteran Indian journalist and commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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