Communication is consolation. But when powerful persons cry foul about the vices of others while trumpeting their own virtues, the tone for prurient power play is set. Normally, power unites. But today's political weather is the BJP's summer of discontent and dissidence. The party, solidly united at the top, is cracking in the middle and lower levels. There is hardly a state where saffron factions aren't engaged in internecine verbal wars. While the central leadership claims that PM Modi has given the nation a clean, stable and strong government, incumbent CMs and regional party chiefs in almost every BJP-ruled state are accused of corruption and nepotism. The party that won the general elections four times over the past two decades and in over two thirds of the states is a goner in the dissonance and defiance department. In Kerala, an FIR was filed against its party chief for bribery, which goes against the Sangh Parivar culture. Rebels are up in arms in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tripura, Delhi and Goa.
The BJP has acquired greater nationwide acceptability in a much shorter period than the Congress, which was rewarded for its role in the Independence struggle. But the BJP won the mandate by offering an alternative agenda, institution and ideology. The Congress started to shrink after it failed to reign in local leaders or denied them their share of federal power. Like an ambitious amoeba, the Congress cloned itself endlessly. The 135-year-old Congress is reduced to a tiny dot as its apostates thrive in different political garbs. The BJP suffers less from excessive personality clashes than ideological adulteration.It has expanded its footprint through massive mergers and acquisitions of small parties or by inducting avariciously ambitious individuals with a caste/community base. On the face of it, the confrontation in various states is fuelled by prominent factional leaders. But the real reason is the disproportionate indulgence bestowed on defectors from Congress, TMC, BSP, JDU etc. Undoubtedly, these political pilgrims from other dispensation added couple of thrones to the BJP's tally of state governments. But they also pierced excruciating thorns into the souls of the faithfuls. Samples of dissidence in a disciplined party:
Agitating BJP veteran Kuruba Sharanappa Eshwarappa, former state president and former chief minister, and now a mere minister, has sown chaos in the party. The powerful dyed in the wool leader feels side-lined because Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa promotes Congress crossovers and JD(U) runagates. For the first time in BJP's history, a minister has written a formal letter to the Governor alleging chief ministerial corrupt, "I am at pains, to bring to your kind notice, some of the recent actions of our Respected Chief Minister relating to my Department, which amounts to direct interference in the affairs of Ministers in-charge of Departments, in clear violation of Karnataka (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1977 and also against the established practices and procedures relating to the affairs of the State Administration." The MLAs who were ignored to accommodate defectors in the Cabinet have made life difficult for BSY. Despite total support from the Centre, his government is teetering and underperforming due to constant internal threats. A dissident MLA remarked: "Some of them go to Delhi and have stated that this is a government of three parties. Such things would not have happened had the people given a full mandate to the BJP".
Uttar Pradesh is in the news not because of a visible revolt against Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Indeed, numerous BJP MLAs have lambasted the deficiency in governance, particularly during the second Covid wave. Some of them have vocalized against caste domination. But the frequent visits of central leaders to Lucknow and holding individual meetings with ministers and MLAs have made the administration vulnerable. During the past two months, both Yogi and prominent state leaders have been visiting Delhi and meeting top leaders, including Modi. The induction of AK Sharma, a retired bureaucrat, in UP politics just a year before the elections has contributed to scuttlebutt about Yogi's authority being curtailed or even his removal. Sharma was Modi's trusted secretary in Gujarat and a key PMO official. The entry pass given to Jitin Prasada, till recently a Rahul Gandhi altar boy, into the BJP is seen as part of a larger strategy to weaken Gorakhpur's Guru. The stakes are high in UP - the outcome of the UP polls could influence the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the complexion of the Rajya Sabha. Yogi is hardly involved in organisational matters. But as the poll countdown has begun, the central leadership seems to be in a haste to billet leaders who are not Yogi supporters. Moreover, the BJP's dismal performance in the panchayat elections has given fodder to dissidents for sniping at the CM.
Like in the Congress previously, the battle between pro- and anti-Chief Minister factions has turned Madhya Pradesh into a battleground of betrayal. Shivraj Chouhan could rule Bhopal only after two dozen-odd Congress MLAs led by Jyotiraditya Scindia joined the BJP. While the Yuvraj is yet to become a Union Minister, most of his underlings have been made ministers over original and senior BJP leaders. Narottam Mishra, the Home Minister, was a strong CM contender after masterminding the coup on the Congress government. But he lost out to Chouhan. His supporters were denied Cabinet berths. During the last few weeks, dissidents have been meeting and talking about a leadership change but no support from New Delhi is forthcoming.
Tripura and Goa, the smallest states in BJP's fiefdom, are sites of factional fights between original saffronites and quislings. In Tripura, top national leaders had to rush to Agartala to control the dissidence against Biplab Deb who became chief minister after a large number of TMC MLAs joined the BJP. After the ghar wapsi of Mukul Roy to the TMC, his loyalists in the Tripura government are waiting to abandon the BJP. They are mounting pressure on Deb demanding more powers and better portfolios. In Goa, CM Pramod Sawant is being challenged by Health minister Vishwajit Rane. The BJP had formed the government with the help of over a dozen Congress defectors. Vishwajit is the former Congress CM Pratap Singh Rane's son. And it was an ongoing battle between factions which paralysed the BJP during the pandemic. Both its old or new political guests and believers were conspicuous by their absence in helping the COVID victims. It is evident that the defection game has become counterproductive for the BJP. Over 25 per cent of its sitting MLAs and MPs are turncoats. In Bengal, over 80 per cent of its MLAs received their political baptism in other parties. As more state elections loom in the next two years, the rift and rivalry between various cliques could become deeper. Barring the top leadership, the BJP has undergone massive ideological dilution in its drive to win and retain power at any cost. Compromises with core values will only escalate the tensions within. It is not BJP vs. BJP. The real punch up is between authentic Swayamsewaks and opportunists of the multicolour variety. There is no place for united colours in a monochrome universe of saffron.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)