Current Issues Politics

Differences brewing within The Party with a difference

by Pradeep Mathur

Once acclaimed by L.K. Advani, its ideologue and veteran leader, as the party with a difference, BJP is now no different from other parties. Once proud of its exemplary discipline and organizational unity the BJP is at present riven with simmering discontent, mutual bickering, and indiscipline and intraparty disputes.

It is not that other political parties have not seen their leaders working at cross purposes. But it makes news when this happens in BJP. For one, BJPs leaders and followers come from RSS background where independent thinking is at a discount as everyone has to subscribe to a given thought framework. Then there is a deep impact on the BJP mind of age-old Hindu tradition to consider guru as god and obey the elders even when they are wrong.

While BJP loyalists are sure to dismiss any suggestion of intraparty disputes and dissensions within party ranks and dismiss any such talk as Opposition propaganda, the following developments are too obvious to be ignored:

  • A senior cabinet minister allows his followers to flaunt a four- year- old video of a meeting he addressed in Constitution Club in Delhi in which he narrates how he welcomed and treated with respect the agitating farmers of his state when he was the chief minister long time back. He reportedly refuses to intervene in the on-going farmer’s agitation on behalf of the government and defend the three controversial farm acts.
  • Another senior Cabinet minister says that in a democracy people have right to disagree with what the government does and it is not proper to deny them this right. When he talks to the press another senior minister stands by his side. 
  • A senior party leader, now serving as Governor, openly supports the case of agitating farmers, expresses regret over Government insensitivity over the death of agitating farmers and says he would not mind being sacked for his support to the agitating farmers.
  • A very senior RSS leader, who wants to remain anonymous, expresses unhappiness over the way things are now taking place in the BJP and says he does not know how this party is functioning, especially in relation to elections in West Bengal
  • Some leaders in Delhi, including one former legislator, municipal councilor and long-time party workers leave the BJP and join the Aam Adami Party.
  • A sitting MLA in Haryana leaves the party and says that the party’s attitude towards the agitating   farmers is unacceptable.
  • Jat leaders in Western U.P. say that they made a mistake by voting for BJP in the last elections and express regret for having indulged in communal clashes with their Muslim brothers with whom they had been living peacefully for generations.  

These are only a few instances of widespread discontent against the BJP leadership among those who have been committed members and loyal supporters of BJP and have contributed a lot to take BJP at the pinnacle of power and glory. Generally poor performance in elections causes disaffection against leadership and differences within a party. But not so in BJP. In its 40- year history the BJP, and before this its predecessor the Jan Sangh, won and lost many an election but never witnessed discontent in its rank and file or grumbling against the leadership. This did not happen even when the party suffered a very humiliating defeat in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections in which it could win only two seats. Though all senior leaders including Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani lost the elections no one in the party questioned their right to lead or showed any disrespect to them. The same was the case in the year 2004 when the BJP-led NDA lost elections and paved the way for the Congress-led UPA government of Dr. Manmohan Singh.

However, when the party is firmly in the saddle and holds sway on the political spectrum of the country it is simmering with discontent. Indiscipline and covert defiance of top leadership is, therefore, a much bigger embarrassment for BJP as compared to other parties where independent opinion is not a taboo. It is, therefore, understandable that the leaders and followers play down differences within their party.

What are the reasons for these differences in BJP when it is passing through a golden period in its history? The on-going farmers’ agitation is no doubt a factor. Not many BJP leaders come from the farming community but they are aware that the farmers’ agitation is fast eroding their support base among the masses and it is bad for their political health.

No doubt the farmers’ agitation is a big reason for misgivings against the top leadership in the BJP. However, it will be wrong to attribute all the problems entirely to the farmers’ agitation. It is a catalyst but not the whole reason.

In fact, the main problem is cultural. Most of the erstwhile BJP leaders and workers were brought up and nurtured in an environment which is very different from the party’s new ecosystem. Mostly belonging to urban lower middle-class families, the RSS leaders and workers who were the BJP cadres were given to simplicity, sacrifice and commitment to basic values of life. Their reference point was always the ancient past. A self-satisfied and rather contented lot, they did not mind if someone said that they lacked ambition. An ambitious forward-looking, technology-driven and management-controlled view of India with the Western societies as model of development was not their cup of tea.

A lot many BJP leaders and workers in the Hindi heartland states of U.P., M.P., Bihar and Rajasthan did not realize that at the behest of the new leaders of Western states of the country the party was slowly and steadily transforming into a world which was unknown and uncertain for them. The changes first amused the hardcore Hindi heartland BJP crowd. But when the trend consolidated, they found the adjustment difficult. This cultural mismatch is at the root of the disillusionment and dissensions in the BJP. Given to an embedded sense of self-righteousness a traditional BJP worker finds it difficult to imbibe the new mantra — the end justifies the means howsoever questionable these may be. 

Where will this cultural mismatch and strong intraparty differences lead to? Will there be a split in the party? Most certainly not. The BJP or any possible breakaway group cannot survive in politics without a pronounced Hindutva identity and the Hindutva identity cannot afford more than one political party. The Hindu Maha Sabha and the Ramraja Parishad, which were pretty strong political organizations in the early years after the Independence lost their moorings after the Jan Sangh was launched as a broad spectrum Hindu party. The only Hindu party to have survived other than the BJP is the Shiv Sena but it is more because of its strong Maratha identity. No doubt internal differences will weaken the BJP but it is highly unlikely that any   intraparty tug-of-war will lead to a split in the party. All differences, howsoever serious those may be, will be resolved by the intervention of the RSS in the name of Hindu unity. The political opponents of BJP should, therefore, not wait for this to mature into anything which will benefit them. Time to be aatma-nirbhar.

Prof Pradeep Mathur is a veteran journalist, and former professor and Course Director at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, NewDelhi. He is the Chief Editor of Align India News Portal.

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