It would be facile to call the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) disturbed state of affairs a clash of egos among its leaders. It is, but there’s more to it than just a mere ego clash.
The “clash” between party president Rajnath Singh and general secretary Arun Jaitley has been the stuff of headlines for a week or so now. Jaitley refused to attend the meetings of the party’s central election committee. Jaitley is said to be angry at the appointment of one Sudhanshu Mittal as the co-convenor of the party for the north-eastern states. Mittal owes his elevation to Rajnath Singh. Why Mittal was brought into the inner portals of the party by Singh is anybody’s guess. His organizational abilities certainly were not a reason.
Singh is a Hindi heartland politician while Jaitley is an established Delhi “player” with access to the media, powerful private sector executives and a host of other resources that Singh does not have. While not a fault line, this insider versus outsider division has created problems for the BJP earlier too—for example, when Uma Bharti walked out of the party.
Then there is the oft-commented on “second generation” infighting in the party. At a more generalized level, the Singh-Jaitley tiff broadens into this squabbling. Other leaders enter the faction fight in this domain.
These are, however, only proximate reasons for the malaise that afflicts the BJP. The current situation shows a leadership failure on the part of senior leaders such as L.K. Advani and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The “first generation”, it appears, did not either have the time or the inclination to quell the fighting among second generation leaders. Today, Advani finds himself almost helpless in restoring order in the party.
If the matter were a mere inner organization issue, it would not matter much. But the BJP is also a party at the head of a coalition that has the potential to challenge the ruling United Progressive Alliance. If organizational squabbling were to mar its electoral chances, there would be others who would have to bear the consequences. The success of a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy crucially depends on the presence of a strong opposition. If that opposition self-destructs, it is the polity that has to pay the price.
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