No matter how much emphatically RSS and BJP leaders officially dissociate themselves from the statement of the senior RSS ideologue, Mr M G Vaidya on Monday, suggesting that the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi was behind Mr Ram Jethmalani’s demand for the party president, Mr Nitin Gadkari’s resignation, public perception might not be easy to change.
There are two reasons why it would not: one, Mr Modi and Mr Gadkari have been known to be at loggerheads. Mr Modi had refused to attend the party’s national executive at Mumbai in May and agreed to join only after Mr Gadkari had dismissed Mr Modi’s arch-rival, Mr Sanjay Joshi from the national executive. Mr Gadkari paid a high price to buy peace with Mr Modi. All his efforts to mollify Mr Modi earlier had failed. Although Mr Modi never really was friendly with Mr Gadkari, he turned openly against him after Mr Gadkari took Mr Joshi back into the party after six years and tasked him with working out the strategy for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Mr Gadkari needed to please Mr Modi before the May national executive, because one of the main items on the agenda was to make a recommendation to the national council for an amendment to the party constitution to give Mr Gadkari a second term. In effect, it meant Mr Gadkari would lead the party in the 2014 general election. Reflecting the party’s concern at factionalism in different states and the virtual revolt by some regional leaders, Mr Gadkari, in his inaugural speech, talked repeatedly of the need for unity and discipline. His message to the rank and file was that while the mood of people was decisively anti-Congress, the BJP could benefit only if it got its house in order. “If we rise to their expectations, they will surely give us a mandate to form the next government and an opportunity to serve the nation.”
However, Mr Vaidya’s comment suggests that the conflict between Mr Modi and Mr Gadkari persists, more so in the context of the former aspiring to be the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA. There are at least three other claimants to the position within the BJP – Mr L K Advani, Mr Arun Jaitley and Ms Sushma Swaraj – and Mr Gadkari should, given the conflict with Mr Modi, prefer to promote one of them, rather than the Gujarat strongman. That is Mr Modi’s worry. And that is what is suggested by Mr Vaidya’s comment, even though there may not be truth in Mr Modi actively working behind the scene to instigate Mr Ram Jethmalani to resign to put pressure on Mr Gadkari to quit. The politics of Mr Modi could be to help create such a situation that Mr Gadkari voluntarily gives up his second term as party president.
Mr Modi might also be aiming at a barter deal with Mr Gadkari: he would allow him to enjoy his second term, provided he promoted him as prime ministerial candidate. Factions within BJP, much like factions within Congress, have been known to strike barter deals among each other. The removal of Mr Sanjay Joshi by Mr Gadkari and Mr Modi’s support to Mr Gadkari’s second term was after all a barter deal. Whether the RSS leadership likes it or not, the BJP, its political child has not turned out to be as monolithic as its mother: today a half-dozen factions control the power structure of the party, creating what amounts to a seniority system in the allocation of party and government posts, and dividing power among them. Elections are due in near future in some states which are either the present or past strongholds of the BJP: notably, Gujarat and Delhi. The RSS would like the party to work, think and act as one organisation. But alas, factionalism, which has grown deep roots in the party, would not go away with the blowing of a whistle or cracking of a whip. It is there, and the RSS leadership has to live with it. It can only hope that the intra-party factions act with cooperation and agreement about sharing of power.