New Delhi: In a thinly veiled revolt against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, a group of party veterans has demanded not only a thorough review of the reasons for the poor performance of the BJP in the Bihar assembly elections but also “of the way the party is being forced to kow-tow to a handful”.
Two days after the BJP’s disastrous performance in an election that Modi and Shah threw everything into – and less than a day after the party’s parliamentary board blamed alliance ‘arithmetic’ for the defeat – L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar issued a joint statement declaring that the Bihar results show “no lessons had been learnt from the Delhi fiasco.”
The ‘Delhi fiasco’ is a reference to the assembly election earlier this year in which the BJP was trounced by the Aam Aadmi Party.
“To say that everyone is responsible for the defeat in Bihar is to ensure that no one is held responsible,” the veterans said in a signed statement released on Tuesday night. “It shows those who would have appropriated credit if the party had won are bent on shrugging off responsibility for the disastrous showing in Bihar” – a clear reference to the Prime Minister and Amit Shah.
“The principal reason for the latest defeat is the way the party has been emasculated in the last year”, they said, demanding a thorough review. “This review must not be done by the very persons who have managed and who have been responsible for the campaign in Bihar,” they added.
The party responded to this criticism by stating that it was only following the principle of “collective responsibility” set by Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A statement signed by Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Venkiah Naidu — all former party presidents and current ministers — said the party would welcome guidance and suggestions by “our seniors”. The three pointed out that the BJP had won the general elections in May 2014 and several state elections “under the leadership of Narendra Modi.”
Advani had strongly resisted the naming of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013. Joshi was asked to vacate his own constituency, Varanasi, for Modi and contest from Kanpur. In July this year, at the peak of controversies such as the Vyapam scam and the allegations against Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje for their links with Lalit Modi, Shanta Kumar, a former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, had said the BJP was no longer a party with a difference. The four have been totally sidelined by the current BJP leadership.
The Bihar mandate – in which the NDA has won a mere 58 seats in the 243-member house – has been seen by many as a comment on the 18-month performance of the Narendra Modi government. The opposition, including the Left, had said it indicated a personal defeat for Modi, who had been the face of the NDA campaign. The entire campaign was led by Amit Shah while Modi addressed around 30 public meetings, putting his own reputation on line.
Yet, senior leaders of the BJP, including home minister Rajnath Singh, have said no blame can be pinned on the Prime Minister. After its initial assessment of the defeat – followed by a meeting of its 12 top leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi – the BJP attributed the result to its failure to gauge the effectiveness of the Grand Alliance, though Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has hinted that the controversial statements by some of the party’s “hotheads” may have also played a part. Rajnath Singh said, “We couldn’t understand the mood (in the state). Social equations were against us in Bihar. I have addressed at least 50 rallies.”
Sources said the statement issued by the veterans had been planned at short notice. This evening, when the leaders gathered at Murli Manohar Joshi’s house, the statement was drafted within 10 minutes and issued.
On Monday, Arun Shourie, one-time admirer of Narendra Modi and now one of his fiercest critics, told NDTV that the defeat was expected to intensify the internal dissent against what many claim is the “high-handed” functioning style of Modi and Shah.
Hours before, in a stinging attack, BJP ally Shiv Sena said, “Those who had taken the Delhi Assembly election lightly will have to take the Bihar results seriously because this was a direct fight between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi.”