Rumblings within the monolith

Rumblings within the monolith



At the height of the Cold War, author Arthur Koestler made what seems a prophetic remark. He said the next ideological war would be fought not between capitalists and communists but by communists and ex-communists.

That cynical remark by a later vehement critic of the Soviet experiment seems to be coming true, in a different setting, in a different context. The rumblings within the Bharatiya Janata party, once known for its discipline and solidarity, seem to be torn with dissensions and coming apart. It has not yet reached the critical mass of an open revolt but the signals are all there. The recent pronouncement by  the patriarch LK Advani, who had been on a silent mode for some time, that his party has never regarded its political opponents and critics as ‘enemies or anti-nationals’, and that they need to do some introspection and ‘look back, look ahead and look within’ is significant in this context. He has also stressed the need for ‘democracy and democratic traditions’ within the party. It is also somewhat in the line of the pronouncement he made some years ago at the mausoleum of Jinnah in Karachi of the Pakistan founder’s remarkable speech at the inauguration of Pakistan’s Parliament for reconciliation. His own party had never forgiven him for that.

Still smarting under the relegation that the 75-year age limit the new dispensation had stipulated for those contesting elections, Advani , who had held the Gandhinagar seat in Gujarat for six terms has found himself totally eclipsed. This must have been what prompted him to make the statement underlining the need for maintaining democratic traditions in the ‘larger national setting.’ That the new candidate for that seat is Amit Shah, a Johnny come lately, must have been even more galling.

‘In our conception of Indian nationalism, we have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as anti-national,’ Advani went on. ‘The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at the personal as well as political level.’  Their party had always been in the forefront of demanding protection of independence, integrity, fairness and robustness of all democratic institutions, including the media, Mr Advani added. As one who had suffered incarceration during the Emergency and who coined the famous phrase, ‘when they asked us to bend we crawled,’ he should know.

According to sources what hurt Advani most was that the news of the candidature of the Gandhinagar seat was conveyed to him not by the party president but by a minor functionary. And so as Amit Shah, BJP chief filed his nomination for the seat with a show of strength and much fanfare Advani thanked his voters for the faith they reposed in him and electing him ever since 1991. ‘Your love and support have always overwhelmed me’, he wrote.

He said elections are ‘also an occasion for honest introspection by all the stakeholders in Indian democracy - political parties, mass media, authorities conducting the election process and, above all, the electorate.’

Ever quick to respond on the twitter handle, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dashed off this eulogy to his mentor with a straight face, ‘Advani Ji perfectly sums up the true essence of BJP, most notably the guiding Mantra of 'Nation first, Party next, Self last.’ Proud to be a BJP Karyakarta and proud that greats like LK Advani Ji have strengthened (sic), fully employing his penchant for coining phrases to devastating effect, but are somehow lost in translation.

Without irony he elaborated about internal democracy. ‘The triad of Satya (truth), Rashtra Nishtha (dedication to the Nation) and Loktantra (democracy, both within and outside the Party) guided the struggle-filled evolution of my Party. The sum total of all these values constitutes Sanskritik Rashtravad (Cultural nationalism) and Su-Raj (good governance), to which my party has always remained wedded,’ Modi added.

The party had dropped many leaders on the basis of the 75-plus age ban, but Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi had been exceptions in 2014 and though the party swept through those elections, these veterans were kept away from the decision-making caucus and made members of the mentors' club, the ‘Margadarshak Mandal’.

After the BJP high command decision to drop these two veterans, speculation has been rife in Madhya Pradesh party circles that Lok Sabha Speaker and eight-time MP from Indore, Sumitra Mahajan, might also face the same fate. Fondly referred to as Taai in that city that has been declared the cleanest in India, she might just about escape the ban, as she has just turned 76, though her name does not figure in the first list of candidates. This seat is critical because the Congress is toying with the idea of naming Jyotiraditya Scindia as its candidate.

Like Panipat or Plassey or even Kurukshetra, this capital of the Maratha fiefdom has always played a crucial role in the fortunes of the country’s history. Scindia has a huge following in the Indore region due to his the royal connections, and in all likelihood, would get the substantial Marathi votes from the region, which has been a stronghold of Mahajan. The crafty Digvijaya Singh, could also ‘return the favour’ to Scindia by asking the party to let him contest from Indore and be made the sacrificial goat at Bhopal.

To thicken the plot, as the confusion over Mahajan’s candidature increased, it is reported that at the core committee meeting she seemed to have suggested, without irony, that either she or Narendra Modi contest the Indore seat.

It is not only the age factor that is creating dissensions within the ruling party. There is also the gender angle and one of the most vocal spokespersons of the party in Maharashtra and on television, and the most articulate, Shaina NC, has expressed dismay and anger at the minimal representation for women in the list of candidates cutting across parties.

In this the only exception seems to West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik who had both allotted 41 and 33 per cent for them respectively. All other parties, she said, need to ‘wake up’ as they have so far paid only ‘lip service’ to women’s causes. Of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, she pointed out only 13 women have been fielded by the main parties.

‘Ability requires opportunity and talent needs to be showcased,’ she said. ‘Leadership across the board needs to give more women politicians a chance for us to prove our electoral competence. All parties need to wake up.’

‘Women are 50 per cent of the electorate. Upset and appalled to know that other than Mamata Banerjee, who has given 41 per cent and Navin Patnaik, who has given 33 per cent to women candidates, all other parties only pay lip service to our cause. What is worrisome is that we are still having dialogues and discussions on the most basic rights that any human being should be entitled to. That’s why a 33 per cent reservation must be a collective, concerted, conscious effort of all women in public life,’ she said.

Sulking within the party is not confined during election time or at the distribution of tickets alone. It has a long history and some of the trenchant critics, and greatest sulks, have been leaders who had been overlooked during cabinet formation or in the selection for plum positions. Overnight these leaders turn critics and could with equal vehemence attack the leadership as they defended them when they were aspirants. his category cuts across vocations and expertise, they could be administrators, or theatre personalities or media celebrities. And when they turn critics they do it with a virulence that even the most trenchant critics are not capable of.

Koestler was probably right; the wars will be fought not between aliens and those who crossed the mountain passes, the barbarians at the gates. They would be fought between brothers. As the saying goes, the kites of Nagpur during the season are cut not by those in Aurangabad, but by those there itself.