New Delhi: It lost the latest general election by an unexpected margin.
It expelled a senior leader over a book.
It is preparing to respond to harsh criticism of the way it is run from another senior leader.
And it faces insubordination, almost rebellion, from a state leader who refuses to toe the party line.
Analysts and experts see these as clear signs that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), once the model for other parties in terms of organizational structure and discipline, needs new leaders who can stem the rot.
Leadership issues: BJP president Rajnath Singh (centre) and senior leader L.K. Advani (to Singh’s right) at a meeting in Delhi on Saturday. The party is in the middle of a major ideological and organizational crisis. Subhav Shukla / PTI
“What is very clear is that L.K. Advani (leader of the party in the Lok Sabha) needs to step down not because it will immediately solve all problems but because his authority has been so diminished in the last one or two years that it is hard to see the BJP make a fresh beginning, even in electoral terms, under him,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank. “His stepping down is the only chance for the BJP to start afresh.”
The BJP, which has been facing a major ideological and organizational crisis since its defeat in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year—its second successive defeat in these elections—witnessed further chaos on Tuesday after senior party leader and former cabinet minister Arun Shourie demanding that ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) take over the reins of the party.
Meanwhile, former Rajasthan chief minister and BJP leader Vasundhara Raje, who has been resisting calls from the party’s leadership to quit as leader of the opposition in the state assembly, met BJP president Rajnath Singh and Advani on Tuesday, but the two sides didn’t reach a resolution on the impasse. Raje had earlier laid down certain conditions for quitting.
The latest crisis in the party began last week when senior leader and Lok Sabha member Jaswant Singh was sacked from the party for praising Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in his latest book. Then, Shourie, who has been critical of the way the party is being run, in an interview to television channel NDTV 24x7 on Monday, compared BJP President Rajnath Singh to “Humpty Dumpty”, fuelling speculations about his exit from the party. “The BJP today is like a kite without a string. Unless it’s got hold of swiftly... I don’t see people within the party who now have such authority,” he told the channel. News agency PTI reported late on Tuesday evening that the party has asked Shourie to explain his comments.
Meanwhile, a close of aide of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, Sudheendra Kukarni, also announced his dissociation from the party to have “freedom of expression.”
Historian and columnist Ramachandra Guha said that a crisis in a political party that has lost two elections in a row is the golden law of democratic politics. “Disarray follows defeat, that is the law of democratic politics. The (ruling) Congress faced it in 1998, the Janata Party faced it in 1977, so the crisis is not uncommon for a defeated party,” Guha said.
Guha agreed with Mehta that a change in leadership may bring fresh life to the main opposition party. “Advani’s staying on is no solution because he has performed badly, his campaign did not work and age is also not on his side.” Advani is 81.
Sudha Pai, a professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said even fresh leadership may not entirely solve the crisis. “If Advani puts (in place) someone who supports him (as the leader), that will not lead to a fresh beginning. But a fresh leadership will bring some kind of recovery to the party, because it has been long overdue.”
After the party’s strength in the Lok Sabha was reduced to 116 seats from 138, Advani—projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate—had offered to quit as its leader in the Lok Sabha. However, he decided against this subsequently, although pointed questions about the party’s leadership were being raised by Singh, Shourie, and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha. According to Mehta, the party’s biggest problem has been its inability to find a replacement for Vajpayee. “They have no internal mediating mechanism left,” he said.
The BJP, however, is putting up a brave front and claims it is merely going through a temporary crisis.
“In the life cycle of every political party there are ups and down like this. It does not last for long… It’s a transition phase for the party. If the party was in power, it would not have been visible. But it is not linked to the loss in election. I am sure the party will overcome it,” G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a member of the BJP national executive and a psephologist, said.
That’s not entirely loyalist-speak. “You cannot write off BJP. It is a party that has around 120 seats and has a strong cadre base in many states,” said Guha.