A few months back, Nitin Gadkari was dead meat. The spate of corruption charges against him – and were some of his acts innovative?! – had made one think that his 1st term itself might be curtailed. There was absolutely no question of him getting a second term. However, media reports now indicate that not only has he salvaged his first term, he has also become the front runner for a second term. This exposes the faultlines of the BJP’s internal politics, and its double-speak on issues like corruption.
What has changed since the corruption charges emerged of course, is the 3rd successive win of Narendra Modi in Gujarat and his push for a national role. Any political party, especially one which so proudly claims that it has no pre-set ascendancy plans like the Congress, would have rushed to make Modi the President of the party. But herein lies the rub. Making Modi the party President would put paid to the ambitions of several other PM aspirants. The shrill attacks against the Congress on corruption notwithstanding – its time for some bare-knuckled politics for now!
Modi may be acceptable to the RSS, but he is clearly not their favorite. Between Gadkari and Modi, they like Gadkari more. Gadkari is a Maharashtrian Brahmin, something that gives the RSS immence comfort in itself. Narendra Modi is only an OBC. Further, unlike Modi, Gadkari is not a divisive figure. He’s the classic “light weight” who no one dreads; hence he becomes the most acceptable figure to all.
The clear divide in the BJP is along the Swaraj-Advani v/s Jaitley-Modi axis. Both these sides know that they cannot easily beat the other one. If Modi has a great growth story to sell (much of it wrongly claimed by him as his though), he also has an acute problem with his saffron politics, most unacceptable of them all to Nitish Kumar. Modi’s elevation to the Center is in serious threat, largely because of the BJP’s allies. No one wants Modi to become the PM. Nitish has openly threatened to walk out. An eager Congress, with no hopes of its own in Bihar, has been eyeing the JD(U) opportunity with keen interest.
Nitish Kumar presents an opportunity to Swaraj as well. For Nitish, anyone but Modi is acceptable. To her credit, Swaraj has conducted herself far better as a statesperson than Modi has. She may be a hawk, but she couches her hawkishness in a politically moderate language. She is as fiery an orator as Modi, but her political appeal is more national compared to Modi’s. Swaraj has ruled at the Center in a coalition set up; Modi has always ruled in a huge-majority situation in a single state. Besides, Swaraj is a woman, and she knows how to appeal to women. Modi in contrast is a bit of a problem when it comes to women. The controversy about his wife – does she exist at all? –, his utterances on the anaemic women of his state actually being so because they are beauty conscious and his downright derogatory statement against Shashi Tharoor’s wife are bound to rankle women voters outside Gujarat.
In the fight between Modi and Swaraj, the winner is Gadkari. The BJP must think that it’s ok to live with a tainted President for now. But it’s not ok to have the party split in half which is what would happen if either of them walks out. Gadkari’s elevation then is evidence of the party’s internal struggles, not an assertion of his abilities. No one credits Gadkari with anything the party has achieved in the last three years – least of all the Gujarat success. Gadkari is like Bangaru Laxman who was a complete light weight. Gadkari can never become PM. Gadkari is a threat to no one. No one takes him seriously. He’s the biggest “mukhota” possible. For now, he represents the best possible compromise for the party. Swaraj and Modi will have to wait for a more opportune time to strike.
But what about the party’s stand against corruption? When it has demanded the PM’s resignation some 30+ times, all of them merely on the basis of mere hints of corruption, how can it re-elect a President who is accused of far more serious corruption charges? But the party learnt to make compromises much earlier, when it tolerated Yeddy and the Reddy brothers forever. Eventually, it was Yeddy who left the party; not the party that sacked him. And if he decides to return, the party will undoubtedly plan a grandiose welcome back for him. Likewise, in the Lokpal matter, the party turned its back on Anna after first backing him, on the key issue of whether the Lok Ayuktas should be part of the Central Lokpal Act. In Gujarat, the party had no qualms about not having a Lok Ayukta for the last 8 years; and when it was eventually compelled to have one, it tried to foist a pliant man for the position. Oh have no doubts….the BJP learnt to make compromises with corruption a long while back.
That brings the focus back on what the party really stands for. It’s Hindutva image has become a liability, except in Gujarat and maybe MP. Hindutva has of late, meant disapproving allies, and regressive cultural symbolism, exemplified by the likes of Asaram and Mohan Bhagwat. If its not Hindutva, what else can it be? Corruption it cannot be as discussed above. It could have been growth, taking from Modi’s track record, except that the party has shot itself in the foot by opposing the reforms of the Congress. Since September last year, the Congress has wrested the growth mantle from the BJP. It cannot even be national security, since the BJP today propounds a hawkish policy, while its most successful leader ever Vajpayee, was the dove who brokered the 2003 LOC ceasefire which has saved 10000 soldier lives till date (read today’s Indian Express – Shekhar Gupta’s editorial page article). The party doesn’t know where to stand on Pakistan. Today, BJP supporters are a confused lot – the party is behaving a lot like Mamata Banerjee, an expert at opposing, but a total failure at constructive suggestions.
Gadkari’s 2nd term will give the Congress a fresh lease of life. For in the end, the people have to choose between available alternatives. If all of them are equally corrupt, or at least equally tolerant of corruption, then they might as well choose someone who is less communal. Not surprising then that the Congress openly declared yesterday at Jaipur that it was hunting for allies.
The real truth is that Gadkari’s 2nd term is indicative of fractious internal politics of the BJP, not an endorsement of his capabilities. It marks a new low for the party. The party has yet again killed its anti-corruption credentials. Its bad days for the country’s leading opposition party….