The story has suddenly shifted from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). And the focus has moved from the issue of corruption to that of infighting. In just a matter of days, it seems, the realization is creeping into news reporting that 2014 is as much a challenge for the BJP as it is for the Congress party.
For over a year now, the BJP has offered as much rich pickings as the Congress did for political controversies. But until now, only the sub-themes kept television channel studios busy: the Modi as the prime minister theme, the Gadkari versus Modi tussle, the Purti story which lent itself to delicious turns of investigation. The national executive meeting of the party came and went with the party president’s appointment next month being seen as a looming issue.
While in many ways this is a party in as big trouble as the Congress, it is interesting to see how many commentators are pointing to that, or in the case of the right wing commentators, acknowledging that. The focus has been on the Congress’s troubles so far, seen from a 2014 prism.
Even after Arvind Kejriwal picked on BJP president Nitin Gadkari, the issue became one of BJP stalwarts being as prone to corruption as the Congress ones. A replay of an older BJP story in Karnataka in a sense, but few were viewing the picture in totality. Then, as rebellion over a clean chit to Gadkari mounted, the story has become the infighting in the leadership.
Looking at the BJP through a 2014 prism points to a less than rosy picture. To keep focusing on Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions is the stuff of television rating points and headlines, but the extent to which a party has to work at being re-elected and getting the numbers before it can deliver a prime minister is less focused on.
Commentary on the BJP’s woes from the perspective of right-wing commentators is more likely to focus on corruption (post-Purti) and how it is no longer a party with a difference than on the factionalism within the leadership.
In recent days, both Swapan Dasgupta and Ashok Malik have tended to focus on corruption of the political class, and how that makes the BJP no different from anybody else. They are less likely to point to factionalism within the party though Dasgupta has dealt with the BJP’s family problem (the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) when he occasionally takes a break from attacking the Congress party’s family problem.
Dissecting the problems of this party ends up focusing on two principal issues: the grip of the RSS on the BJP’s decision making, and the multiple aspirants for both the presidentship of the party and for being its prime ministerial candidate. In recent weeks, Shekhar Gupta has been the most unequivocal in launching into the BJP for its inability to loosen the stranglehold of the RSS (27 October 2012: “Nagpur, we have a problem”). That was last month. Now, with the party’s dissensions out in the open, the RSS problem is drawing more commentary.
What does not get aired enough in terms of names and loyalty line-ups is the factionalism within the BJP. In recent days, Aarti Jerath in The Times of India’s Crest edition has dealt with the factionalism in a long analysis of the BJP’s crisis and its “simmering leadership issue”, titled “Pari-war” (10 November 2012). She attributes the party’s internal differences to “the tussle for control of the BJP between the apolitical monks who reside in Nagpur and those versed in the art of tackling the rough and tumble of politics in a parliamentary democracy”. She names rival claimants for the party’s presidentship.
But to take the naming further is to get into the seemingly irreconcilable rivalries within the younger leadership that are well-known but seldom dissected in political commentary. Those remain in the realm of gossip in Delhi’s media circuit.
Earlier this year, Pratap Bhanu Mehta attempted a larger analysis pithily titled “Bharatiya Janata Parties” (22 May 2012) in The Indian Express. It began with a quote attributed to Arun Jaitley on how most politics is mathematics, and then went on to examine why the BJP is more a collection of state parties than a truly federal central party. “The BJP’s problem is that it has no centre, of any kind, that is an asset to states.”
Given that so much BJP reporting centres on Narendra Modi in a superficial way, it also helps to understand what that means for the rest of the country if more perceptive reporting is done, on both the man and the party. A Caravan magazine story on Modi earlier this year (“The Emperor Uncrowned”, 1 March 2012) helped us understand the man and the environment in which he functions.
It is the media’s job, after all, to give us the true measure of the men, women and parties that rule us.
Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website thehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.