Amit Shah rendered BJP workers irrelevant, and they will come back to bite him in 2019.
The BJP has a crisis brewing at home. Its MPs, MLAs, leaders and workers are all getting disillusioned and carping. And so are many of its allies who once helped the party shed its image of being a Brahmin-Bania organisation.
On 13 December, two days after the party’s defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, BJP president Amit Shah held a meeting with office-bearers in New Delhi. A backbencher whispered to his colleagues sitting close by: “Hamaari party ki haar hui hai, lekin karyakartaon ki jeet hui hai (our party has lost but the workers have won).” They giggled in muffled tones.
It changed into wry smiles soon, as Shah skirted the reasons for the defeat and meandered, talking about Peshwas and the battle of Panipat that paved the way for the British rule in the country. Therefore, the party must win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he said, and drew comparisons with the battle of Panipat.
Barely four months to go before the next battle, Shah should be worried about his army. The party leader who snickered about the victory of workers even as the BJP lost Madhya Pradesh at the 13 December meeting was referring to the near-irrelevance of workers in the party’s scheme of things. The common gripe among the BJP’s MPs and MLAs today is that the workers are tired of carrying out instructions from the top without getting anything in return.
So, if you visited the Rajasthan BJP headquarters in Jaipur during elections, you would be struck by its deserted look. The BJP workers in other states haven’t been very happy either. While they are supposed to “ask not what the country (read the party) has given you”, they have no say in the party’s decision-making process.
“It (the assembly poll results) is good. They (central BJP leadership) needed a wake-up call,” a BJP MP and an ardent Modi fan told this writer, pointing out how the “one-way traffic” (constant instructions from the high command to MPs, MLAs and workers whose views are never sought) is not helping the party.
Under the patronage culture developed by the Congress and other parties, a trickle-down system of benefits’ transfer was the standard practice, ensuring that everyone from the top to the bottom had a piece of the pie. Under the BJP regime, everything is seen to be concentrated at the top, with even the MPs and the MLAs complaining of having no say in the party and the government.
Four BJP MPs left the party in the last one year – Nana Patole from Maharashtra, Thupstan Chhewang from Jammu & Kashmir, Harish Chandra Meena from Rajasthan and Savitribai Phule from Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. Party insiders believe more resignations are in the pipeline ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP, the world’s biggest party, is supposed to be a fighting fit election machine but the vital cogs seem to be shaky now.
There is disquiet in the larger NDA umbrella, too. After the departure of Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, some more constituents are showing signs of fraying. Chirag Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party has suddenly become critical of the BJP’s Ram temple agenda. It’s not for nothing that his father, union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, is considered the weatherman of Indian politics. He may continue in the NDA but is said to be unhappy with the ‘crisis of conviction’ in the saffron party.
When the BJP-led government had decided to take the parliamentary route to nullify the alleged dilution of the SC/ST Act by the Supreme Court, Ram Vilas Paswan sought to reap political dividends by holding rallies across the country. He did two – in Delhi and Patna – before being reportedly asked by the BJP top brass not to pour ghee in the fire. And the LJP chief complied. The BJP was wary of the upper castes’ reaction to its move in Parliament.
“Duveedha mein dono gaye, na maya mili na Ram,” said a BJP ally, referring to the saffron party’s equivocation on SC/ST issues. After the nationwide outrage over the 2016 Una Dalit flogging incident, union minister Ramdas Athawale and BJP MP Udit Raj wanted to visit Una; both were reportedly asked by the BJP top brass to back off.
The BJP had made great efforts in the run up to and after the 2014 general election to woo non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs and non-Jatav Dalits. It allied with various organisations that represented these groups. That was one of the reasons for its electoral successes in the past five years.
Ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections though, the BJP strategists do not seem much concerned about allies leaving the NDA. Upendra Kushwaha was sending desperate signals to the BJP for negotiations but Amit Shah couldn’t spare time to give him an appointment. Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, a part of the government in Uttar Pradesh, has been publicly airing his grievances against the BJP, but he has failed to attract Shah’s attention. The BJP’s equations with other NDA constituents are not great either.
If the BJP insiders are to be believed, the party’s top brass is not really bothered. They believe that most of the NDA constituents had gained significantly from the Modi wave in 2014 and they don’t count for much on their own now. In a Modi-versus-Rahul Gandhi or a Modi-versus-the Rest contest that 2019 election could be, the results would be determined by the popularity of an individual.
But if there is one lesson that the recent assembly election results offered, it was that an individual’s popularity is no guarantee for electoral success.