New Delhi: Public snubbing by some senior leaders and a row with a crucial regional ally marred the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) two-day national executive meeting in Patna, which concluded on Sunday.
Analysts said India’s main opposition party—which has lost two successive national elections to the Congress party—has emerged weaker still from a meeting that was meant to have been its show of strength.
Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and actors-turned-politicians Shatrughan Sinha and Hema Malini stayed away from the gathering at the Bihar capital.
The four are unhappy about the allocation of Rajya Sabha seats from the party, officials said on condition of anonymity. “I am concerned by the way the party is being run. Why are senior leaders like Yashwant Sinha, (former Uttarakhand chief minister) B.C. Khanduri and (former Union minister) Arun Shourie being cornered?” Shatrughan Sinha, a member of Parliament from Patna, said on Saturday. The BJP is part of the ruling coalition in Bihar, led by Janata Dal-United’s, or JD(U), Nitish Kumar.
Sunday’s proceedings were overshadowed by the chief minister ordering a probe into an advertisement that showed him alongside BJP’s Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Kumar also called off a dinner with the BJP brass on Saturday over this issue.
Modi has been accused of abetting anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, while Kumar will require the support of Muslims to retain power when Bihar votes in assembly elections later this year. The police raided the offices of the advertising agency that brought out the ad in regional dailies.
The BJP has distanced itself from the ad. But reacting to Kumar’s action, BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who also hails from Bihar, said the JD(U) should understand that the BJP “would not compromise on self-respect”.
An analyst said the feud will hurt the BJP, although it wasn’t serious enough for the alliance partners to snap ties over.
“Both parties seem to be testing the waters before entering the heat of the polls and arriving at the seat-sharing formula,” said Vivek Kumar, associate professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
“But the standoff and the two-day conclave have further weakened the BJP’s position, exposing its inbuilt paradoxes and strained relationships with its allies,” he added.
The controversy has established that the BJP, to some extent, remains an untouchable party, Vivek Kumar said, referring to the difficulties the supposedly “anti-Muslim” party has historically faced in tying up with India’s “secular” parties, who depend on Muslim votes for survival.
But JD(U) president Sharad Yadav said the “relationship is quite old... an unpleasant incident took place yesterday (Saturday). It has passed.”
The BJP meet ended with a rally to mark the launch of the party’s assembly election campaign. Veteran leader L.K. Advani, who has himself been at odds with the BJP’s emerging leadership over the past year, stressed the need for “greater discipline” while addressing the rally.
The BJP also issued a resolution condemning the Congress-led Union government for “a vicious and vindictive campaign against our state governments”.
PTI contributed to this story.