Internal strife spreads as BJP gropes for direction

Internal strife spreads as BJP gropes for direction
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First Published: Thu, Jun 18 2009. 12 53 AM IST

Troubled party: BJP leaders (from left) Sushma Swaraj, L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Jaswant Singh, among others, at a meet. Manvender Vashist / PTI
Troubled party: BJP leaders (from left) Sushma Swaraj, L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Jaswant Singh, among others, at a meet. Manvender Vashist / PTI
Updated: Thu, Jun 18 2009. 12 53 AM IST
New Delhi: Even before the country’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is able to resolve the leadership struggle among its national leaders, some of its state units were facing a crisis on Wednesday with former Uttarakhand chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari revolting against the state chief minister B.C. Khanduri.
With Parliament convening on 2 July for the crucial six-week budget session, when the government will move for passage of the Union budget for 2009-10, the crisis has prompted analysts as well as some BJP insiders to question the ability of the party to do justice to its role as the main Opposition party.
Others believe this also presets the agenda for the party’s executive meeting scheduled to begin on 20 June.
Troubled party: BJP leaders (from left) Sushma Swaraj, L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Jaswant Singh, among others, at a meet. Manvender Vashist / PTI
The crisis
Ever since the Lok Sabha results came out on 16 May, the BJP that won 116 seats and is the second largest party in the Lok Sabha after the ruling Congress, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Initially, it was the offer by L.K. Advani, projected as the prime ministerial candidate in the run up to the elections, to resign from the post of the leader of the Opposition; almost immediately afterwards some senior leaders such as Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha threw a challenge to Advani, questioning his decision to appoint Sushma Swaraj as the deputy leader in Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley as the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
In the last one week, Jaitley and Sinha quit from the posts of general secretary and vice-president respectively. While Sinha, unhappy over Advani’s decision to appoint Jaitley as the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, demanded a revamp of all the party organizations, the latter put in his papers due to the internal strife. The BJP officially claimed that Jaitley’s resignation was to fall in line with the “one man one post” rule of the party. Koshiyari, who is camping in Uttarakhand Bhavan in the national Capital, with a few rebel legislators from the state, claimed that he has resigned from his Rajya Sabha membership to work for the organization. Party insiders say Koshiyari was lobbying hard to get himself appointed as the chief minister.
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“Ours is not a Page 3 party now. It’s a Page 1 party, and we are there on front pages of newspaper every day,” quipped Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, vice-president of BJP.
The implications
However, analysts as well as senior party leaders admit that the intensifying troubles in the BJP pose a major threat to the democratic system in the country, especially after the recent election reduced the Left parties, which served as a constructive opposition in the previous Lok Sabha despite its legislative support to the UPA government, to a minimal force.
A party leader, who has worked in BJP’s ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, said the Hindu organization was “highly worried” about the developments in the BJP. “The BJP, as the main opposition party, has to play a crucial role in the pending issues such as terrorism and corruption etc. that the government has to handle. The party seems to be failing in its responsibilities,” the leader who didn’t want to be named said.
The BJP, which had won only two Lok Sabha seats in the 1984 national election, emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha in 1996. Based on its ability to consolidate Hindu votes in north India, it managed to assume power at the Centre in 1999 as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance. Despite its poor performance in the recent general election, the BJP continues to be a powerful political force and is in power in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh on its own and is part of the ruling coalition in Bihar and Punjab.
The RSS leader said a united party is essential for keeping the checks on the government too. “A failed opposition puts the credibility of Indian Parliament at stake. There are a number of issues on which the party has to take stand on the basis of its ideological moorings. For example, the Women’s Bill. The party has to take a stand on it. It will not be able to do it unless it is united,” he added.
A section of BJP leaders have been demanding a quota within quota for women belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes in the legislation for reserving 33% seats for women in Parliament and legislative assemblies. The party officially supports the law in its original form. He said the differences among the top leadership should not reflect in the party’s performance in Parliament.
“Can we afford the party taking one stand in the Rajya Sabha and another one in the Lok Sabha on the same issue. There were instances like that,” he said without mentioning the instance.
However, Raman Singh, the Chhattisgarh chief minister, who returned to power in the state in the 2008 assembly polls, disagreed. “The BJP will play the role of opposition very effectively and in a democratic system, the legislative process has to follow certain procedures in which the opposition has a crucial role. It is wrong to say that the BJP is in disarray. The party will do the right intervention at (the) appropriate time.”
What next?
Prafull Goradia, a political analyst and the author of book The Saffron Book, which tracks the right-wing Hindutva movement in the country, feels that the BJP has not matured as a stong Opposition. “A strong and effective Opposition is absolutely essential in a democracy . It is unfortunate since independence the idea of Opposition has not crystalized... They (BJP) must realize that the floor space (in Parliament) is more important for them than the ruling party.”
However, Goradia did not agree that the BJP was a “divided house”. According to him, the current troubles in the party were due to “some struggle for succession and some are eyeing to lead the party in future”.
However, party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy sought to play down the nature of the crisis saying that the current developments were “just a phase that a defeated party faces”.
“It’s a phase every party goes through and this is a transition. The churning which is visible today had started well before the Lok Sabha polls. The loss has only aggravated the process,” Rudy added.
Naqvi added that the two-day meeting of the national executive on 20 June in New Delhi and the proposed brainstorming session in August would find ways to settle the troubles in the party.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint
santosh.j@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 18 2009. 12 53 AM IST