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Why PM Modi has reasons to be disappointed with his BJP colleagues

It’s too much to expect from PM Modi, aged 72. He has to run the country. He has to get votes for the BJP. And now he is expected to play arbiter and keep the flock together.

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It’s not very often that an Independent candidate in an Assembly election gets a call from the Prime Minister of India—that, too, to sit out. “Mera tum par poora haq hai. Main kuchh nahin soonoonga…mera Kripal aisa nahi kar sakta (I have full rights over you. I won’t hear anything…my Kripal can’t do this),” the PM made an emotional appeal to Kripal Parmar, a rebel Bharatiya Janata Party candidate in Himachal Pradesh’s Fatehpur constituency. The former state BJP vice-president argued that BJP’s national president, J.P. Nadda, had “humiliated (jaleel kiya)” him for 15 years. When he told the PM that his call should have come two days earlier—because the last day of nomination withdrawal was over—Modi sounded miffed as he hung up, saying, “achha bhaiya, achha ji.” An ordinary BJP worker arguing with PM Modi! The next day, the BJP expelled Parmar along with four other rebels from the party.

The audio-video clip of the conversation went viral on social media on Saturday. Neither the PMO nor the BJP has denied it so far. Opposition Congress is gleeful. “Wish the Prime Minister called up (Xi) Jinping with this hanak (confidence) to sit out, give up (occupation of Indian territory) and go back,” Indian Youth Congress president Srinivas BV taunted on Twitter. His other Congress colleagues are also having a field day. “Naddaji failed—now Saheb himself is dialing rebels. Forthcoming defeat has made saheb sleepless,” tweeted Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate. Opposition leaders must think that Modi calling up BJP rebels rather than focusing on the economic, national security and foreign policy challenges would rile the people.

Well, that’s not how they are known to react to Modi. The joke is not on him. The BJP would rather make a virtue of it: Look at the PM’s commitment to his party. For him, the BJP’s interests are supreme. Modi’s yatras—domestic, at least—are all about the BJP while the Bharat Jodo Yatra is about rebranding Rahul Gandhi. The Congress has even invited Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray to join Gandhi in what looks like an attempt to rope in Shiv Sainiks and Nationalist Congress Party workers to make a success of his yatra in Maharashtra.

Addressing a rally in Solan on Saturday, Modi said, as reported by The Indian Express: “You don’t have to remember anyone (candidates)….This is Modi who has come to you….Your every vote for lotus will come directly to Modi’s account as a blessing.” He was virtually staking his own brand for the BJP. The Prime Minister of India, despite the enormous responsibility his office entails, is taking time out to dial BJP rebels, while Gandhi looks detached from the Congress’ fate in Gujarat and Himachal. As for the impact of the audio clip, the Congress may think that it exposes the vulnerabilities in the BJP camp. But, for all we know, Modi pleading with a rebel candidate may even end up uniting the BJP’s rank and file behind official candidates.

The audio clip, however, underlines a larger problem — growing indiscipline and factionalism in a cadre-based party, with the top leadership looking helpless. BJP rebels contesting on about a quarter of the 68 seats in Himachal, home turf of Nadda, must alarm Modi and the party’s chief strategist, Amit Shah. Nadda is suddenly looking out of his depth in his home state, with BJP rebels contesting on two of the four constituencies even in his home district, Bilaspur. BJP’s slogan of “naya riwaz banayenge” or “making a new tradition” (by retaining power) has taken on a new meaning. If PM Modi has to step in to douse the fire on BJP national president’s home turf, that says a lot about the party leadership.


Also read: Modi faces no political costs for suffering he causes. He’s just like Iran’s Ali Khamenei


Factionalism and arbiter Modi

What must worry Modi is the fact that this phenomenon is not limited to Himachal Pradesh. Internecine wars are ongoing in the BJP in several states—from Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, you name it. The BJP high command removed B.S. Yediyurappa and replaced him with Basavaraj Bommai as the chief minister of Karnataka. Bommai has been a disaster though, with the BJP-led government courting one controversy a day and the chief minister looking clueless. So much so that the high command had to induct Yediyurappa into the BJP parliamentary board to try to co-opt him.

In Madhya Pradesh, Jyotiraditya Scindia loyalists have turned the heat on CM Shivraj Chouhan. Energy minister Pradhuman Singh Tomar walked barefoot on pot-holed roads in Gwalior to “experience the pain” others feel. Panchayat and rural development minister Mahendra Singh Sisodia, another Scindia loyalist, called the state administration “nirankush” or autocratic and blamed chief secretary Iqbal Singh Bains, a Chouhan confidant, for this. BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, whose growing bonhomie with Scindia has raised curiosity in the party circles, took a jibe at CM Chouhan on Saturday. The BJP would have formed the government in 2018 if Shivraj Chouhan hadn’t resigned “in a hurry” after the elections.

In Uttar Pradesh, deputy chief minister Brajesh Pathak, who is said to be close to Amit Shah, has been training his guns at additional chief secretary Amit Mohan Prasad, who is close to CM Yogi Adityanath. Many other ministers have been speaking and writing against senior bureaucrats in the state, a move that’s being seen as a pushback against the powerful CM. In Haryana, prolonged tussle between CM Manohar Lal Khattar and home minister Anil Vij doesn’t make news any longer. Rajasthan BJP is similarly witnessing intense infighting with former CM Vasundhara Raje facing challenge from a host of CM aspirants about a year ahead of elections.

These infightings are not new. What’s, however, surprising is the BJP high command’s failure to stop them. In fact, it’s getting worse by the day. For a party led by a popular PM and one of the best strategists, this failure is surprising. It may be partly because the high command (excluding the PM), instead of being a neutral arbiter, has become a party. In all these states, there is a faction that’s said to have the backing of the high command and another that is cornered and must fight for survival. Those in the latter category have their hopes in Modi but the Prime Minister can’t be expected to get involved in the day-to-day organisational affairs.

There are, however, occasions when he is compelled to intervene- like he is doing in Himachal or like he did in Karnataka by inducting Yediyurappa in the party’s parliamentary board. Earlier, in Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis was taken aback by the high command’s decision to make Eknath Shinde the CM, despite him having spent months plotting the fall of Uddhav Thackeray-led government. He refused to be part of the government. He stuck to his decision despite calls from Amit Shah and Nadda. As Fadnavis disclosed later, it was only after the Prime Minister’s intervention that he agreed to become deputy CM.

It’s too much to expect from Prime Minister Modi, 72. He has to run the country. He has to get votes for the BJP. And now he is expected to play arbiter and keep the flock together. The PM is readily doing all the heavy-lifting for the BJP but he may have reasons to be disappointed with his senior party colleagues.

DK Singh is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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