There is turmoil in the BJP. Let us see why. Let us see where it will lead to.
To appreciate the crisis, consider first the past.
There was rivalry between Narendra Modi and Sanjay Joshi when Keshubhai Patel was the Gujarat Chief minister. The CM favoured Joshi over Modi. Subsequently Modi became Chief Minister to marginalize Joshi. Joshi was then inducted in the central party as a general secretary.
Consider the present.
Modi sulked over Joshi’s induction in the central party. He used his clout as a powerful Chief Minister considered invaluable to the party. He flirted with other regional party leaders. Rumours were floated that he would start his own party. In order to downgrade LK Advani the RSS amended the party constitution to give Nitin Gadkari a second term as party president. This did not please central BJP leaders loyal to Advani. Modi threatened to boycott the national executive which was to anoint Gadkari for the second term. Gadkari desperately needed support from outside the central leadership. Modi wrote that he would attend only if Joshi was removed from his post.
Gadkari with the blessing of the RSS obliged. Sanjay Joshi resigned from his post in order to maintain party unity. Modi attended the executive meeting. Following that Karnataka’s BS Yeddyurappa, at odds with Advani, also agreed to attend the executive. The executive meeting in Mumbai was held with great fanfare to hail Modi’s attendance. To rub salt on Advani’s wound Yeddyurappa said that Modi should be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. In this entire unsavoury episode the only leader to emerge with some dignity was Sanjay Joshi who resigned for the sake of the party by obeying the RSS.
Now consider the future.
Has the BJP preserved its unity? Not quite. In the public rally held after the executive meeting in Mumbai both LK Advani and Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj boycotted the rally. Excuses trotted out about previous engagements may be conveniently trashed. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley attended the rally but left before Modi spoke. Later in the day Jaitley in a public statement while criticizing the UPA government openly invited West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to quit the UPA and join the NDA. This unconventional public invitation is pregnant with meaning. It indicates the future course of action that will likely be followed by the Advani supporters.
If Modi can bully the RSS so can Advani. To find the soft spot for hitting Modi and Gadkari was easy and obvious. Inviting Mamata Banerjee was the give away. Mamata cannot alienate the minority vote. She would join only if Modi was marginalized or even eliminated. The same holds true for other NDA leaders like Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav. One wonders if the RSS had calculated that. Projecting Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate and the main vote getter implies that the BJP would be prepared to go it alone and strive for a single party majority. Advani and his supporters would rule out that option and stick with the NDA as the future alternative. Thanks to the RSS the BJP has sharpened a split personality. How will the party swing? Will it remain united or split?
This trouble arose because of a basic flaw in the RSS. It favoured unity above discipline. Surely open blackmail by a chief minister to compel the dismissal of a loyal party functionary by the party president does not indicate commitment to any kind of discipline. At what cost has temporary unity been achieved? The days ahead will reveal that. The honourable and principled course for the BJP for long term gain was to maintain discipline regardless of threats held by Modi. If Modi had split BJP its remainder would have retained credibility to bounce back. Perhaps the RSS sacrificed Joshi for temporary reprieve to confront Modi at a later more suitable time. Such compromise and rationalization never delivers good results.
In fact the Sangh Parivar’s commitment to discipline is a myth. It has always described blind obedience as discipline and refused to confront the indiscipline of its top leaders.
Twenty seven years ago there was an episode that resulted in a member of the national executive being sacked from his post for alleged indiscipline. Unlike Sanjay Joshi that member did not meekly quit his post but resigned from the primary membership of the party. In his resignation letter to the party president of that time, Atal Behari Vajpayee, he wrote:
"I must say that I was surprised by your request that I resign from the National Executive for my 'inability to abide by the discipline imposed by its membership. You deem me undisciplined for informing the press that the General Secretary of the party, Shri Lal Krishna Advani, and the Bombay unit of the party, were undisciplined for brazenly violating the resolutions of the National Executive. You consider me undisciplined for exposing the indiscipline of others, but have no word of reprimand for those who oppose your own formal policy statements as well as resolutions of the National Executive. Discipline, let me remind you, enjoins a code of conduct on all members of the party, including its President and General Secretary… you conceded that the General Secretary was wrong …Privately you may deplore this fact, but what good is private anguish? The party's image and credibility are totally tarnished by the wide divergence between its precept and practice and by your pathetic inability to impose your will."
In the last two decades nothing much has changed. Except that earlier LK Advani was the wrongdoer. Today he is the victim.