The Elephant in the Room that BJP Dissidents Aren’t Ready to Talk About

The Gang of Four may be upset about having to kow-tow to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah but they are all silent about the polarised campaign that the two party leaders ran in Bihar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets senior BJP leader LK Advani on his 88th birthday in New Delhi on Sunday. Credit: PTI Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets senior BJP leader LK Advani on his 88th birthday in New Delhi on Sunday. Credit: PTI Photo

The rocket fired by the BJP’s veterans is clearly an embarrassment for the party and for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Gang of Four – L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar – had been quietly put out to pasture after the electoral victory in May 2014, neither to be seen nor heard.

But the humiliating defeat of the BJP in the Bihar elections has given them a voice. The statement issued by them – drafted with help from Arun Shourie, say reports – does not name names but clearly points fingers at Modi and his confidante Amit Shah, who had taken full charge of the election campaign. Till this combo was winning elections, it was impossible to criticise them; two losses in a row makes them vulnerable and the veterans have seized the opportunity to twist the knife in.

But study the statement carefully and it becomes evident that this is more guided by pique than high principle.

“The party has been emasculated in the last year,” they say, adding that there should be a review that “should cover the way the party is forced to kowtow to a handful and how its consensual character has been destroyed”. In short, had they been in the decision-making process, things would have been fine. The problem is with the Modi-Shah combine’s style rather than substance or strategy.

Surely, with scores of elections under their collective belt, Messrs Advani, Joshi, Sinha and Kumar could come up with their own assessment of why the BJP lost? The current leaders of the party hastily concluded that it was nothing but arithmetic that won the Mahagathbandhan of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rahul Gandhi the Bihar election. In other words, the collective votes of the JD (U), RJD and Congress were more than what the NDA could muster. Shah had famously said that in the end chemistry – the appeal of Modi for the Bihari voter – would triumph over arithmetic, but that did not happen. Thus, according to the BJP’s strategists, the party did not lose; it was the Grand Alliance that won, thanks to pure arithmetical superiority.

Neither the high-minded veterans nor the younger stars feel comfortable facing the essential truth – the venal bid to polarise Bihari voters on the basis of religion and caste simply failed. The BJP formula – cause divisions with whatever methods possible, and then sit back and reap the benefits – did not work this time. Arun Jaitley is the only one who has said – or, rather, hinted – that “irresponsible statements” made by some BJP members and sanghis could have had a negative effect. But the bitter truth is that it was not just fringe elements that were trying to raise the temperature with communal innuendo. Amit Shah’s famous “crackers in Pakistan” speech or the Prime Minister’s unwarranted claim that a portion of caste reservation quotas were going to be handed over to “some community” were clearly spelt out messages from the very top that everyone understood. The BJP has to ask itself why such blatant attempts to evoke fears among Hindus did not excite voters and draw lessons from it.

It has also been suggested that the RSS is not displeased at the turn of events because it wanted Narendra Modi cut to size. The statement by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat about the need for a review of reservations has been interpreted as a way to trip, if not sabotage the BJP’s chances in Bihar.

This is a facile attempt to show that the RSS and Modi are at loggerheads. Immediately after the election results, Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh made it clear that Bhagwat’s statements had no impact at all on the eventual results. Nothing in the past year and a half has remotely suggested that Narendra Modi is unhappy with the RSS or vice-versa. From placing RSS men in key cultural institutions to making changes in the education system to installing RSS office-bearers in ministries, this Modi sarkar has done it all.

So while there may be some dissent, a bit of grumbling by Bihar MLAs and even this so-called rebellion of the veterans, the question at the heart of it all – ‘Did the BJP’s decision to polarise voters in the name of religion cost them the elections?’ – will remain unaddressed. That is too incendiary a line of inquiry for anyone to pursue with an open mind. Moreover, it would strike at the very roots of both the organic ideology of the sangh parivar and the BJP’s electoral strategy over the past few decades. L K Advani should know. He used communalism to great effect in the 1990s.

But unless the BJP truly examines the efficacy of such hate-mongering, and comes up with an entirely new plan, it will find that while its core supporters stay with it, others will simply move away. Not just the much-reviled ‘liberals’, ‘pseudo-seculars’ and Muslims, but even fence sitters will be repelled. Communal polarisation is not a fail-safe formula in a diverse and essentially secular country such as India. Sadly, not even the “dissidents” within the BJP are willing to recognise this.

  • ashok759

    Memories can sometimes be conveniently short. Some years ago, an earnest colleague had suggested the basis for an amicable solution to the Ayodhya dispute. Advaniji smiled and asked him, Then what will we fight the next election on ?

    • sicunder kahn

      it’s probably not a question you might be willing to answer, but i will ask anyways. who was that colleague?

  • kurrien

    The BJP used the wrong math. Instead of arithmetic they used division and subtraction to find addition. What were they thinking. At this rate they are bound to lose elections after elections. I guess it is difficult for the leopard to change it’s spots. Once again Nemesis triumphs over Hubris.

  • Sreenivasan R

    Lack of self-belief caused the panic and in the process a slew of disastrous steps! Need to ask tough questions. That is the only way to betterment