People in Uttarakhand are witnessing an interesting political battle — between Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat and his predecessor, Trivendra Singh Rawat. The incumbent CM first sought to blame his predecessor for the fake Covid-19 testing scam during the Kumbh Mela, saying it happened before he took over and he has ordered an inquiry into it. Trivendra Singh shot back Saturday, demanding a judicial inquiry: “I am not against the special investigation team (SIT)…but people have more faith in the court.”
Such lack of trust in police investigation on the part of someone who was the chief minister until three months back must really hurt the pride of men and women in uniform in Uttarakhand. But this column is not about politicians’ trust deficit in state police or central investigation agencies. It’s about the cacophony in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that’s getting louder by the day and expanding geographically— in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Goa, Tripura, you name it.
Something is rotten
Look at Karnataka where the oust-Yediyurappa campaign started right after he ousted the Congress-JD(S) government. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has said he is ready to resign if the BJP high command wants it. If he thought it would prompt Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah to publicly declare support for him, he was misreading the mood in Delhi. No such declaration came. Even BJP president J.P. Nadda hasn’t made any categorical statement to quell prolonged speculation about a change of guard in Karnataka. Yediyurappa is an astute politician, he can’t but listen to their silence. BJP general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, Arun Singh, might deny the possibility of a change of guard but both Yediyurappa and his detractors know how silence often speaks louder than words.
In Rajasthan, former chief minister and the BJP’s only mass leader, Vasundhara Raje, seems to be preparing to run solo if the party high command that has been backing her detractors in the state unit doesn’t relent.
In Goa, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant is embarrassed by his health minister one day — with the latter demanding a high court inquiry into deaths in a Goa hospital due to alleged oxygen shortage — and by his power minister another day for not sanctioning infrastructure upgrades.
In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s detractors are holding meetings and denying the possibility of a change of guard too often and too frequently for him to sleep peacefully.
In UP, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, under attack from party MPs and MLAs for Covid mismanagement, seems to have fended off attempts to undermine his firm grip on power, for now. On Saturday, PM Modi’s trusted lieutenant, A.K. Sharma, was appointed UP BJP’s 17th vice-president, an underwhelming achievement for such a powerful ex-IAS officer who resigned from service to join politics. But it may be just the beginning of what could be a protracted battle for Yogi Adityanath.
Things fall apart
So, what’s wrong with the BJP? Why is such a disciplined party suddenly such a divided house in states? Why does the command-and-control system in the BJP seem to be collapsing? It reminds one of The Second Coming by Irish poet W.B. Yeats: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/the falcon cannot hear the falconer/Things fall apart/the Centre cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Incidentally, Yeats had written it a century ago when Spanish flu had shaken up the world. I remember quoting these lines to describe the chaotic state of affairs in the UPA II government. Its use in the context of today’s BJP is probably over the top. There is no challenge whatsoever to the supreme authority of Modi and Shah. The Centre can very much hold, provided it wants to. And ‘anarchy’ would probably affect only those who refuse to hear the falconer.
But the Centre does seem to be struggling to control the falcons in states, given how the BJP crisis-managers are criss-crossing the country, with Bhupendra Yadav making two trips to Gujarat, B.L. Santhosh visiting UP, Karnataka, Goa and Tripura, and Arun Singh spending three days in Bengaluru last weekend. The less said, the better, about the crisis in West Bengal BJP.
There are four strands to this crisis in the BJP in states.
The first can be attributed to assertions by regional satraps who refuse to toe the line of the high command for their own political survival. Yediyurappa and Raje fall in this category; they won’t read signals from the high command to make way for their political successors.
The second strand involves soaring ambitions of senior BJP leaders who are close to the party high command and who think their time has come — say, for instance, C.R. Patil in Gujarat, and Narottam Mishra and Kailash Vijayvargiya in MP.
The third category comprises political turncoats who want a share in the power pie for which they had switched their loyalty. Sudip Roy Barman, who had quit the Congress to join the BJP in 2017, is throwing up a challenge to CM Biplab Deb in Tripura. Vishwajit Rane, the Goa health minister who is causing so much discomfort to CM Pramod Sawant, is an import from the Congress. A.H. Vishwanath who finds Yediyurappa lacking the ‘spirit’ or ‘strength’ to run the government came to the BJP from the Janata Dal (Secular).
The fourth strand of the crisis is the ghar wapsi or ‘reverse migration’ of those who had defected to the BJP, hoping to get better rewards or protection — say, Mukul Roys and Rajib Banerjees of West Bengal.
All these four categories of trouble-makers together seem to pose a big challenge to the BJP in states.
A moot question here is why it’s happening now, given that Modi remains the most popular leader in the country, notwithstanding the dent that the pandemic management might have caused. Not that there was no infighting in the BJP before the Modi-Shah era. But its scale today is perplexing, especially when compared to its near-absence during Modi’s first term in office. Is it because popular regional satraps, and even lesser mortals, are drawing their own conclusions from defeats and below-par performances in assembly elections — that Modi on his own can’t swing the elections for them even if he himself doesn’t face any challenge at the national level? So, they should be masters of their own fate! Is it because power, and not ideological convictions, has come to define their politics in the BJP? So, as long as they are relevant to the party’s scheme of things in terms of retaining or attaining power, dissidence or rebellion as a bargaining tool is par for the course. Or, is it because they find the party leadership vulnerable, now that the pandemic has started exposing the underbelly?
There are no easy answers. But the fact is if a party helmed by the most popular leader in India and one of the sharpest political strategists—Modi and Shah—is looking like a house on fire in states, the central leadership can’t escape the blame.
The author tweets @dksingh73
Views are personal.