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Opposition on their knees but BJP has troubles brewing within

For a party that derives its electoral prowess from PM Modi and is under direct supervision of master strategist Amit Shah, BJP looks like a house in disorder.

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On the face of it, the Bharatiya Janata Party is on a roll. Opposition parties are on their knees. Nothing negative sticks to the government at the Centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains Teflon.

The Centre can keep extending the free food grain programme and depositing money into farmers’ accounts. And PM Modi can denouncerevdi’ (freebies) culture as dangerous for India’s development. What his government gives for free are for Garib Kalyan and Kisan Samman — welfare of the poor and in honour of farmers. What other political parties offer are ‘revdis’. Modi’s Cabinet and his party are full of dynasts. But he can slam opposition parties for dynastic politics.

The Prime Minister can deny Chinese army’s transgressions into Indian territory to the country’s top political leaders: “Nobody has intruded into our territory….” Yet, he can make them duck for cover over national security issues.

He can push Ctrl + Alt + Delete, and the much-hyped things get erased from public memory — demonetisation, doubling farmers’ income, $5 trillion economy, 100 ‘Smart’ cities, et al.

Nothing said by the opposition sticks to PM Modi. Because most Indians believe that he can do no wrong and the opposition can say nothing right. Modi’s colleagues in the BJP can, therefore, bask in the reflected glory and relax. They are probably becoming too complacent.

What else can explain the BJP leadership’s failure to notice the emerging fault lines in the party? And the seeming nonchalance about what’s happening in states? Even at the Centre, there is a sense of drift in organisational affairs.

Also read: Why Dhankhar and Murmu are perfect fit in Modi’s Mission 2024

What headlines say

Let’s look at the news headlines over the weekend. First, Union Minister Smriti Irani braves political storm over daughter’s allegedly ‘illegal bar’.

BJP leaders’ response: Silence. Nothing from ministers or senior BJP leaders all through Saturday. No official reaction from the government or the party. While her detractors had a field day on social media, the famed ‘IT cell’ on the other side kept waiting to be deployed. Irani was left to fend for herself, rebutting allegations in a press conference at her residence. Sooner than later, her colleagues would have to back her. But their failure to promptly come to her defence must disappoint her. If they had some questions about her version, they could have asked her directly, instead of clamming up. It was Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi who urged the opposition not to “demonise” a young girl’s “audacious” attempt to “pursue her dream”. While a couple of leaders like Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga and Vanathi Srinivasan tweeted in her defence, top BJP leaders and ministers have stayed silent. The BJP on its part shared Irani’s rebuttal on its official Twitter handle and her legal notice to Congress leaders in its official WhatsApp group. The message is: It’s Smriti Irani’s battle to fight.

Second news headline was: 6 minors rescued, 73 arrested from ‘brothel’ run by Meghalaya BJP vice-president.

Bernard R Marak, who was on the run, accused NDA’s chief minister Conrad Sangma of “political vendetta” for “using the police” to raid his farmhouse.

The BJP, a part of the Meghalaya government, chose to defend Marak. In a statement Sunday evening, the Meghalaya BJP said that it’s vice-president was ‘unjustly framed and maligned’. He appears to be a victim of a political vendetta, said the BJP, virtually indicting the government of which it’s a part. Incidentally, Marak had in 2017 quit as a BJP district president after his party colleagues objected to his plan to hold a ‘bitchi-beef’ festival (bitchi is rice beer) to celebrate PM Modi’s three years in power at the Centre. He had even promised to bring down beef prices if the BJP came to power in the state. He has been climbing up the organisational ladder since then.

Third news headline was: BJP made Eknath Shinde CM with heavy heart, says Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil.

After all, former CM Devendra Fadnavis didn’t do all the hard work to bring down the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government to become deputy CM. Once the high command decided that Shinde would be the CM, Fadnavis went public saying he wouldn’t be part of the government. Later, he disclosed the sequence of events. He said in Nagpur that Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda asked him to be part of the government.

“I spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji and following the conversation, I decided to obey their instructions,” The Economic Times quoted Fadnavis as saying. Read between the lines. He “obeyed” Nadda’s and Shah’s “instruction” to join the government only after the PM persuaded him. So, a reluctant CM, Uddhav, has been replaced by a reluctant de facto CM — deputy CM in this case. No wonder, the two-member BJP-Shiv Sena cabinet has been running the entire government for about a month.

There is a pattern here though. Every time a leader outside the BJP high command’s core team of loyalists forms a government, he must struggle for weeks before he can get his team. When Shivraj Singh Chouhan toppled the Congress-led government in Madhya Pradesh in March 2020, he had to wait for 25 days before he could get a team.

In 2019, when B.S. Yediyurappa became CM after toppling the Congress-JDS government in Karnataka, he ran a one-man administration for three weeks before he could get a team and then another week to finalise the allocation of the ministers’ portfolios.

Fourth headline over the weekend was: Day after announcing son’s candidature, BS Yediyurappa puts ball in the BJP court.

Forced to step down as the CM and then sidelined in the party, Yediyurappa virtually declared his retirement from electoral politics, saying that his son Vijayendra would contest from his home turf, Shikaripura. This came in the backdrop of the BJP high command ignoring Vijayendra’s claim for a Legislative Council seat in May. Apprehensive that his son wouldn’t get even the assembly ticket, BSY declared his candidature from Shikaripura on Friday, only to retract the next day and leave it to the BJP leadership to decide. BSY is obviously not ready to go down without a fight.

Also read: Palaniswami-led AIADMK is bad news for BJP in Tamil Nadu but it opens up opportunities too

Internal bickering in several states

Now go back a few days. You would find that news headlines from Uttar Pradesh tell a bigger story in Yogi Adityanath’s state. There was a political storm when deputy CM Brajesh Pathak wrote to the additional chief secretary (medical and health) Amit Mohan Prasad, raising questions about the transfer of doctors when Pathak was away. The letter conveniently found its way to social media, embarrassing CM Adityanath. Pathak is considered close to Amit Shah while Prasad, who faced the deputy CM’s ire, enjoys Yogi’s trust. Prasad is part of Team-9 that meets at the CM’s residence every morning to discuss the government’s agenda for the day.

Then there was a rebellion by junior minister for Jal Shakti, Dinesh Khatik, who shot off a letter to Amit Shah, alleging that officials were not following his orders because he is a Dalit and he was not given any work. It was a veiled dig at his immediate boss, cabinet minister Swatantra Dev Singh, who is also Uttar Pradesh BJP chief. Again, Khatik’s letter was all over the social media. Swatantra Dev Singh — named Congress Singh until he joined politics — was a Shah protégé but he has grown closer to Yogi since his induction in the government.

Speaking of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, his list of detractors seems to be only growing, with Uma Bharti being the latest to attack him — over liquor policy, this time.

A couple of weeks ago, BJP MLA Narayan Tripathi left the Chouhan government red-faced, saying that government officials were working for the BJP.

There are constant dissensions and bickering in the BJP in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, you name it.

For a party that derives its electoral prowess from PM Modi and is under direct supervision of master strategist Amit Shah, the BJP is looking like a house in disorder. There are broadly two camps emerging in the ruling party — those who enjoy the blessings of the high command and those who don’t. And the trust deficit between the two is deepening. 

The author is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal. 

(Edited by Prashant)

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