There is a turmoil in the saffron brotherhood, as the old order clashes with an emerging one led by personality dominant Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who brooks no opposition and covets complete control.
It is this tectonic shift, which is causing friction between the ‘plates’ within the larger saffron fold as well as governance issues between a domineering BJP government and it’s smaller NDA constituents.
Thus, you see the TDP-BJP pact under strain in Andhra Pradesh, the BJP-PDP governance unease in Jammu and Kashmir, the Shiv Sena straining at the leash in Maharashtra and the poll imbroglio in Nagaland, at one end of the spectrum.
On the other end are the headline-hogging travails of Vishwa Hindu Parishad supremo Pravin Togadia and the India enthralling Padmavati pantomime. Serious national matters reduced to surly spectacles.
As the man in total command of the Government and the party, both national governance as well as the ruling party’s politics rotates on a single axis, Narendra Modi. It is he who exercises a cast iron control over the administration through a network of civil servants - both serving and retired - personally loyal to him and manning critical nuts and bolts positions in the governance juggernaut. By the last count, there must be seventy such officers - serving and retired - from Gujarat alone sprinkled all over key governance positions, outside his parent state. The latest is retired IAS officer PK Pujari (1981), who has taken over as Chairman of the Central Electricity Regulatory Authority(CERC) while state’s chief electoral officer BB Swain and IPS officer Rajiv Ranjan Bhagat (Gujarat 1998) stand cleared for a take off to Delhi with more lined up on the runway.
A tamed bureaucracy is easy to deal with, the party is a different kettle of fish altogether. There is a handpicked and selected chief Amit Shah to handle this onion-peal institution. For all the speculation that surfaces from time to time, Shah remains intensely loyal to Modi and possesses the uncanny ability to read a manual in a mere nod of his boss. Modi nevertheless remains the political strategist and man Friday Shah, the executioner though the state space is interspersed with favourites like Kailash Vijayvarghiya in Madhya Pradesh and Gulabchand Kataria in Rajasthan, to cite just two examples.
Not only his governance but Modi’s national politics is also an extension of his state stint-euphemistically termed the Gujarat model. Sent packing from the state after Shankersinh Vaghela’s rebellion in 1995, Modi returned to Gujarat as chief minister in 2001. His 13-year stint in the state was marked by the decimation of all or any who could prove a threat to his dominance of the party. Ditto, the government.
These ranged from the likes of veteran Keshubhai Patel, Atmaram Patel, former chief minister Suresh Mehta to AK Patel, late Haren Pandya and former union textile minister Kashiram Rana to name a few. These were replaced by a leadership personally loyal to him. Interestingly, all the Sangh Parivar organs during Modi’s tenure in Gujarat have split down the middle into those owing allegiance to him while those who did not are deemed opponents.
It is the same pattern which has unfolded in Delhi. The tantrums surrounding the sidelining of RSS stock mate Sanjay Joshi in the 2014 pre-parliamentary poll era and the margadarshak mandal ‘exhibits’ post it, are ample proof. The less said about the lesser minions the better. Both Jan Sangh-BJP veterans of RSS stock-Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat and LK Advani in Delhi-mentored Modi. Both reduced to picture postcards have all the time to ruminate at leisure.
Dr Pravin Togadia, the current international President of the VHP, is also a vintage mate of Modi. The two youthful had been together in choreographing a lot of ‘backstage’ performances within the Gujarat BJP. Togadia and many other BJP leaders, who occupy a vintage perch in positions of power today (forty of them), also figured in a high profile public stripping of a minister of their own government.
Atmaram Patel was stripped of his dhoti at a function, attended by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then chief minister Suresh Mehta, which was organised by the party at the Sardar Patel stadium in Ahmedabad on May 20,1996. It was a fallout of the internecine politics of the BJP, where the ruling group (Keshubhai Patel-Modi-Togadia) targeted the rebels owing allegiance to Shankersinh Vaghela. Criminal proceedings were initiated against Togadia and 40 others and they were charged, among others, with attempt to murder. Keshubhai Patel returned to power in 1998 and his government promptly moved to withdraw the case but it lingered in judicial alleys.
The case hit headlines afresh last month when the court issued warrants for the arrest of the 41 including Togadia days after he named Prime Minister Modi and alleged victimisation at the hands of the Centre. On January 30, the Court took up the case and lo and behold, the 21-year-old case was over in less than two hours with Togadia and the rest free birds! Togadia was quick to send a placatory message to the Prime Minister. “Let us sit together to resolve our differences. You sit with Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and the Maulvis of India. We can come together too for the betterment of the country. I am an old friend, we have had meals together.”
Earlier in December, Togadia survived a scare at the VHP meet in Bhubaneshwar where he almost lost his leadership. He holds Modi responsible for his plight and made it known at the meet. He knows that Modi is unrelenting and impatient with opponents.
Togadia’s VHP also figured in the opposition to the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Pandmavat. The film actually became a political football in the tug of war within the saffron brotherhood. It was a saffron plug and play performance. Veteran political analyst Radhika Ramaseshan, in her syndicated column, hit the nail on the head when she pointed out the near absence of any violent Karni Sena reaction in the four states, which are ruled by BJP’s Rajput chief ministers, UP (Yogi Adityanath), Uttarakhand (Trivendra Singh Rawat), Himachal Pradesh (Jai Ram Thakur) and Chhatisgarh (Raman Singh) while Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat had a torrid time. Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Kirar caste), Manoharlal Khattar and Vijay Rupani are not Rajputs. In the internal dynamics of the present dispensation, Raje and Chauhan have long been ripe for the binning.
Though a pracharak himself, Modi’s relations within the saffron brotherhood after becoming chief minister in 2001 has been an uneasy one. His virtually personal animosity with fellow sanghis Sanjay Joshi and late Haren Pandya is well known. In January 2004, former deputy head of RSS for Gujarat Laljibhai Patel, a respected name, had gone on indefinite fast in support of farmers terming Modi autocratic and vindictive. The veteran had again in October last year led a farmers agitation in Gujarat.
Modi’s skirmishes with the VHP in Gujarat too go back to November 2008 when its general secretary Ashwin Patel was arrested on charges of sedition under his orders. The arrest was in the aftermath of LK Advani’s visit to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s mazar in Pakistan and the VHPs trenchant critique that swept the then chief minister in its swirl.
Interestingly, the RSS was muted in its reaction to the Gujarat election results terming it as ‘alpvyap vijay’ or borderline victory that reflects popular disapproval. A day after the results, a message was sent to BJP chief Amit Shah through Ramlal, the party general secretary (organisation), expressing the RSS reservations over the inappropriate use of language, the violation of certain norms, which are the hallmark of the Sangh’s moral code and the need for introspection. The one-page message was handed over to Ramlal who is a link between the mother institution and the political, governance outfit, on December 19 last year by two joint general secretaries of the RSS for onward transmission.
Even in the run-up to the Gujarat polls, it was the RSS that flashed the first warning signal of the defeat the ruling party was facing in the state leading to the slew of corrective measures by the Modi government at the Centre.
Apart from reservations on some of the government measures like demonetisation, GST, agrarian unrest and now Rajasthan by-election results, it is the Prime Minister’s penchant for absolute power and causing schisms to root out contrarian beliefs within the brotherhood as well as allies that is a cause of concern in the parent body.
For now, the TINA factor works but those at the helm are aware of the fate of the Congress after the ‘Indira is India’ contagion afflicted it. Congress-yukt BJP seems headed the same way. On January 27, the BJP central committee announced the list of 44 of the 51 names for the ensuing Tripura assembly elections. All the Congress MLAs, who had switched sides, had found a berth in the BJP list. Floating feathers never nest an enduring abode.