New Delhi: Even as the country’s main Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is poised to undertake a crucial brainstorming session next week to revive its political fortunes, the party continues to be buffeted by dissidence among several regional units, including Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
In almost all instances, the central leadership, which has been struggling to manage dissidence within its ranks after the party’s outright defeat in the 15th Lok Sabha elections, has been approached to prevail upon the situation.
On Friday, the latest episode involving Vasundhara Raje, former chief minister of Rajasthan, spilled over, with 57 of the 78 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) in the state reaching Delhi to make a case for her.
In protest: Rajastan BJP MLAs gather outside party leader L.K. Advani’s residence in New Delhi on Friday. Subhav Shukla / PTI
They were responding to an informal communication from the central leadership signalling that Raje should step down as leader of the party in the state assembly. After meeting party president Rajnath Singh, the MLAs approached L.K. Advani, former president and current leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha. They were, however, denied an audience.
The core group of the BJP, an informal grouping of the top national leaders, had decided on 6 August that Raje should step down as the legislative party leader, assuming responsibility for the defeat in the assembly election in December and the Lok Sabha earlier this year. State party chief Om Mathur and organizational secretary Prakash Sharma had already resigned.
“Decisions in the party are taken unanimously and have to be followed by everyone,” Singh said after meeting the legislators.
Striking a defiant tone, MLA Rajendra Singh Rathore, who led the Raje supporters in Delhi, told reporters after meeting Singh that the state legislature party can re-elect Raje as their new leader “if a situation like that is thrust upon them”.
While senior leaders agree that any road map ahead could prove a non-starter in the wake of state-level defiance, the leadership doesn’t seem interested in any tough action ahead of the organizational election. Election to the post of party president is due next January and state leaders and national executive members from respective states are slated to play a major role in the poll.
“A strong central leadership is a must for any plan to be executed. The state leaders need to follow the directions, but unfortunately for the party, it’s not happening as intended,” said party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Regional outfits of the BJP have begun to assert themselves ever since the party suffered its second successive electoral defeat that triggered infighting among the second rung of its national leadership. It started with the Uttarakhand state unit sending back the central envoys, Naqvi and general secretary Thavarchand Gehlot, who had been sent to scale down the dissidence and ensure the continuation of the incumbent, chief minister B.C. Khanduri.
The central leadership later capitulated to the demand of the dissidents and state health minister Ramesh Pokhriyal took over as chief minister.
Senior party leader Arun Jaitley suffered a similar fate in June when the Karnataka unit, led by chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, declined to patch up with the so-called Bellary brothers, state tourism minister G. Janardhana Reddy and revenue minister G. Karunakara Reddy. Jaitley was rushed to Bangalore to defuse the problem. Jaitley declined comment.
The state unit of Punjab also rejected the demand of the central leadership on the urging of Amritsar member of Parliament Navjot Singh Sidhu seeking replacement of Rajinder Mohan Cheema as chairman of the Amritsar Improvement Trust.
Another instance of rebellion came from Madhya Pradesh, when the party’s state election committee passed a unanimous resolution against supporting any candidate nominated by the leadership for the state Rajya Sabha by-polls.
Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan visited Delhi and met Advani and Jaitley “to convey the sentiments of the state leadership”. Party insiders said the BJP’s central leadership wanted either outgoing Rajya Sabha member Hema Malini or actor Smriti Irani to be elected to the Upper House from Madhya Pradesh, which was rejected by the state unit.
The defiance of the central leadership is not limited to Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. A section of MLAs in Bihar complained several times to the leadership against deputy chief minister Sushil Modi for being too close to coalition partner Janata Dal (United) and state chief minister Nitish Kumar. Eventually, a secret ballot was conducted and Modi was retained.
“These are the side effects rejecting Advani as the leader for the next five years. The state leaderships are trying to make a counterpoint as a sign of defiance,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor in the department of political science at Delhi university. “Before trying to rein in the state leadership, the BJP needs to first sort out the central leadership struggle, without which no plan for the road ahead can work for the party.”