In 2014, the Modi-Shah duo ushered as the de facto power centres in the new BJP. It was also a beginning of the abandoning of the sane and moderate voices in the party.
Back in March, a video of BJP veteran LK Advani and PM Modi went viral on social media. The video shows PM Modi walking up to a stage following which the leaders present on the stage stood up in respect to welcome him. The leaders including Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Manik Sarkar greet him with folded hands. PM Modi too returns the gesture. As LK Advani gets up to greet, PM Modi ignores him and walks ahead. The stunned Advani freezes for few seconds, seemingly humiliated.
Modi’s disregard for the senior members of the BJP is nothing new. The days of Advani and Joshi in BJP were over and it was signalled the day Modi’s close associate Amit Shah was made the party president. Shah after taking the office immediately proceeded to complete the next task- ensure Modi’s dominance in the BJP. The senior leadership of the party was always varying of Modi being declared the Prime Ministerial candidate. As a result, Margdarshak Mandal was created and party veterans were sized to a limited role-practically removing them from all the decision making bodies of the party. Once the poster boys of BJP LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were fitted in this newly constituted committee.
While BJP defended the move saying that it is only expanding its think tank, keeping these veterans out of the highest decision bodies of the party—BJP parliamentary board and central election committee whispered the truth. The Modi era had ushered in BJP and the Modi-Shah duo were the de facto power centres in the new BJP. It was also a beginning of the abandoning the sane and moderate voices in the party.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee:
We may well remember that in the aftermath of 2002 Godhra Riots, Atal Bihari Vajpayee-the then Prime Minister of India wanted Modi to step down. “Modi has to go,” said Vajpayee to Advani after the riots posed a question on his leadership abilities and responsibilities. No one can forget the public showdown between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi-then Gujrat CM when the former decided to give Modi a class on “Raj Dharma” in front of the media persons. The pale look on the face of Modi and his quick rebuttal was evident that he was stung by Vajpayee’s words.
At the following National Executive Meet of BJP, Narendra Modi took to the dais and announced that he will step down. However, before Vajpayee could say anything, a section of attendees got up from the audience and started sloganeering against this decision. Vajpayee tried to calm the crowd but failed. Another veteran leader Arun Shourie recalls that Vajpayee felt that the coup was staged against him. When Margadarshak Mandal was created, Vajpayee too was restricted to it.
Murli Manohar Joshi:
Murli Manohar Joshi’s knocking down was even more humiliating. The RSS Pracharak turned BJP leader had served as the president of the party. He had even worked as an HRD Minister in the NDA government. It was proved that Modi was serious about driving the senior leaders out when he made Joshi run pillar to post to get the Lok Sabha ticket from Varanasi in 2014. Though Joshi- the sitting MP from Varanasi tried his best, he couldn’t get a ticket from Varanasi and PM Modi himself contested from the constituency. Joshi was scuttled to Kanpur. He was also among the leaders who had jointly issued a strongly worded statements against PM Modi’s way of functioning after the defeat of the party in Delhi and Bihar Election. “A thorough review must be done of the reasons for the defeat as well as of the way the party is being forced to kowtow to a handful, and how its consensual character has been destroyed,” the statement said.
Arun Shourie who was the cabinet minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was one of the few senior leaders who had supported the candidature of Modi for Prime Ministership. However, a year later, the supporter turned his tunes and became a staunch critic. During his term as a minister in the Vajpayee government, Shourie rose to fame as one of the astounding politicians. The sidelining of the senior members of the party did not go down well with him. Often, he has criticized PM Modi for his authoritarian leadership. He had even said that the current government has failed to keep a distinction between RSS and BJP. Shourie had even called Modi a dictator.
Yashwant Sinha, another senior leader from the Advani camp left BJP this year citing his unhappiness over the Modi govt’s functioning. Sinha, who has been a vocal critic of Modi’s policies had condemned Modi’s economic policies. After quitting the party, he even remarked that the situation created by Modi in the country is “worse than Emergency”. On several occasions, he accused the Modi-Shah duo of subverting the democracy and undermining institutions like Elections commission, Supreme Court and gagging of the press.
Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj on the way out?
As 2019 comes closer, the BJP is gearing itself for the mega challenge. With several issues hanging over the head, it will not be easy for the BJP to win. As seen in the several assembly elections, the campaigns that started with the agenda of development ended up in divisive politics. In Uttar Pradesh, though, it paid a huge dividend for the BJP. With Yogi Adityanath as the Chief Minister, the BJP has thrown away the moderate Hindutva approach it adopted in 2014. The only moderate faces remaining in the cabinet now are Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh. The three of them are also from the Advani camp.
It is well known that during the 2013 National Executive Meet, along with Advani, Sushma too was not convinced with declaring Modi the PM candidate. However, she agreed later on and even got a post of external affairs minister in Modi’s cabinet. On the other hand, the reputation of Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh have severely damaged during their term as Finance Minister and Home Minister respectively. The Kashmir issue increased CFV and inability of the Home Minister to go beyond the “Kadi Ninda” remark has earned him a tag of a weak Home Minister.
On the other hand, the increasing NPAs, tumbling GDP growth and economic policies of Arun Jaitley have drawn widespread criticism. Though, Arun Jaitley is one of the popular ministers in Modi’s cabinet his tenure is not stainless. Thus, there is a possibility that the three may not see a cabinet post in 2019. Well, with the sane voices already being plucked out, will the three mark the last phase of diminishing moderate leadership in the BJP?