BJP: Party with a difference or too many differences?

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What's the NDA and its leader BJP upto? After crippling the Parliament for the entire monsoon session, the opposition block is now all absorbed in the perennial debate: Who will be its PM candidate for the 2014 polls?

After JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar expressed his reservation about Narendra Modi being projected as the PM candidate, now it's time for Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's liking for Sushma Swaraj as the probable PM. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), another NDA ally, said it was too early to decide on Swaraj's PM candidature.

BJP: Party with too many differences?

All this has not only put the BJP leadership in a zone of discomfort but also gave the Congress, which had found an easy escape route despite being tainted by corruption charges to the core due to the BJP's rigid protest in the Parliament, a chance to mock it.

Unfortunate state of affairs for BJP and NDA

The NDA is clearly in a disarray. The party, in the first place, is lacking a unified leadership at the top to hold the alliance together. The BJP governments in Karnataka and Jharkhand are struggling to provide good governance. The BJP government in Karnataka has clearly lost its credibility, thanks to the shameless display of power politics by some of its leaders, while in Jharkhand nobody knows how long the alliance between the BJP and local parties like the JMM will survive. Governments of various BJP-ruled states have also been tainted by the coal scam and the Congress managed to upset the BJP's offensive to a large extent because of that.

What happened to the party with a difference?

The saffron party, which once claimed itself as the party with a difference, has failed to reform its leadership, ideology and organisation once the Vajpayee era ended. In terms of leadership, the national leadership of the BJP never tried to nurture regional leaders and gradually elevated them into the top brass once the two giants in Vajpayee and Advani exited the scene and this consequently, created a big vacuum in the party ranks. The vacuum in political leadership has encouraged forces like the RSS and other allies in the NDA to call their shots on behalf of the saffron party.

In terms of ideology, there is an identity crisis for what was a winning formula during the days of Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not going to work today. The BJP had succeeded in making its coalition work for there was a moderate force called Vajpayee who succeeded in keeping together diverse elements, apart from the pro-Hindutva ones, under one roof. It was precisely because of Vajpayee that a non-Congress coalition government succeeded to complete its full term starting from 1998, something which the Janata government of 1977 could not do.

Congress capitalised on BJP's failure but BJP can't hit back

But yet Vajpayee had to lose in 2004 owing to several factors. The middle-class was particularly angry with the NDA government for the hollow 'India Shining' slogans and an anti-incumbency mood was made stronger by the 2002 riots. On the other hand, a comparatively cleaner image offered by a rejuvenated Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh at that point of time looked a better choice to the voters.

The circle has come full in the last eight years and now the Sonia-Singh duo stands tainted to a point that there is no doubt that the Congress would have been shown the door had elections taken place now. But unlike in 2004, when Manmohan Singh appeared a probable alternative to Vajpayee (though he failed the nation unthinkably), there is no candidate for the BJP to show as an alternative to the corrupt Singh regime. There is a clear turmoil in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar on how to go about it? Should Hindutva be given a priority or realpolitik like neo-liberal economy and secular credentials? The latter option is more necessary but then again, it will dilute the BJP's 'party with a difference' tag.

It's a game of chaos in a multi-fractured party

Against such a background, projecting Sushma Swaraj as a probable PM candidate doesn't settle the issue. According to a Wikileaks revelation made a year ago, the RSS doesn't really trust the Hindutva credentials of Delhi-based Sushma and Arun Jaitley, both Advani aides, and instead chose Nitin Gadkari as the party chief.

According to the leaked cable, the RSS, which has assumed a big responsibility in the BJP's affairs following the 2009 poll debacle, thought Gadkari as a better candidate despite the fact that he was a regional face and with no poll experience, just because he was close to the former's ideological stand. Besides Swaraj and Jaitley, other leaders like Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha or Venkaiah Naidu also do not have the RSS background, while the organisation played a vital role in sidelining Jaswant Singh and Vasundhara Raje, the cable said.

RSS's interference and the backlash

The BJP has been clearly fragmented by the RSS's interference. The only face that it has today is Narendra Modi, particularly after the Gujarat CM transformed his image a great deal in the last decade. But Nitish Kumar's protest and Bal Thackeray's backing Sushma would again create a fresh concern for the RSS. According to some experts, this is a new kind of federalism gaining shape in Indian politics. It is not a typical centre-state structural tug-of-war but an assertion of regional voices and they do not abide by the national leadership anymore. The RSS and Shiv Sena also had a clash of opinions over the 'Mumbai for Maharashtrians' campaign.

Nitish Kumar's opposition to Modi can be considered a vote-politics strategy for it is a quest by the Bihar CM to project himself as a loyalist to secularism (or minorityism), but Bal Thackeray's move is propelled by individualistic designs. Thackeray doesn't want either Gadkari (for the two don't share smooth terms in Maharashtra politics) or Modi in the PM's post. He is also aware of the two leader's rapport and Raj Thackeray's growing ties with Modi might seem to be a big threat to Shiv Sena's future in Maharashtra. Bal Thackeray will not like Modi's ascendancy even he had said a couple of months ago that he wanted a Hindutvawadi PM for both are seen as big Hindutva icons and growth of one will only reduce the space for the other.

Thackeray even tried to gain an upper hand when he slammed Modi last year for trying to project a secular image of himself. "Modi should not give the Hindus the poison of secularism in a pursuit to capture the throne in Delhi," the Shiv Sena patriarch had thundered then. The senior Thackeray also knows that Sushma, not a RSS person, does not enjoy great terms with either Gadkari or Modi.

Bal Thackeray does not have a good relation with Jaitley, who again is close to Nitish Kumar and SAD leadership. Advani's recent blogging on a non-Congress, non-BJP leader assuming the responsibility of the PM's office was not liked by Bal Thackeray either, even though other NDA parties could feel elated.

Little chance of BJP emerging a united force

I can't see a charismatic personality evolving and act as a glue factor in the BJP, even in two-year time. Narendra Modi is the only hope to succeed as the PM but can he become one? If he becomes the PM, who will be his successor in Gujarat? The Congress will be more than happy if he wins the December elections this year and remain confined within the limits of Gujarat and not go for an all-India role. The NDA is still playing the waiting game but at some point of time, the allies will have to meet the fact and choose a PM candidate. Who will succeed in reining in forces like RSS and Shiv Sena and work towards a unison to serve the interest of governance? The BJP might have lost even before the game started.

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