How will the entire Opposition cope with the situation in the wake of the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha? Will the Opposition be able to unite ahead of the 2024 elections? Do the non-BJP parties have any fighting chance at all with a combative Prime Minister Narendra Modi dismissing them as just a “bunch of corrupt” leaders?
These are all legitimate questions and need to be answered or acted upon as time is of the utmost essence. The journey ahead is treacherous for the Opposition as Mr Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah eat, drink, think and act to win the electoral game. All is fair in love, war and elections.
But the wider question is neither asked nor replied to by the evergreen television news anchors who excel in asking, pillorying, lampooning and even questioning the sense of purpose of the hapless Opposition. The question is the state of affairs in the ruling party.
The fact is that the blitzkrieg action against Rahul Gandhi caught almost the whole of the BJP unawares. No one has the courage to open their mouths. The world’s largest party, whose founders and patrons took pride in fighting against the Emergency during the Indira Gandhi period has suddenly been turned into a “Margdarshak Mandal”. Has anyone seen L.K. Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi open their mouth in the past nine years? This is not to say that all in the ruling party were oblivious to what was in store for Rahul. But discretion is the better part of valour.
It is almost the same situation with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its chief Mohan Bhagwat, who have been playing the second fiddle to the second Hindu Hriday Samrat after Bal Thackeray. The party as well as the RSS have been caught in the “feel good” bubble so much so that they only see themselves as disciplined soldiers and hail the leader. In the past nine years, Narendra Modi has not gone to Nagpur even once to pay his respects to the Sangh’s top brass. This clearly shows the RSS’ devaluation. After Amit Shah became the party chief with the blessings of the Sangh, the whole game changed in favour of Mr Modi.
Despite the nationwide controversy over the Adani issue, the Sangh, which earlier used to act as the moral compass of the BJP, has not said a word on the matter. It was always the Sangh which took the high moral ground while deciding issues regarding the BJP. Remember, it was the RSS which had asked Nitin Gadkari not to press for a second term when the Purti controversy broke. In retrospect, everybody who is anybody in the BJP admitted privately at that time that Mr Gadkari was not found pliable enough by Mr Modi, who had by then emerged as the party’s PM candidate.
The “Margdarshak Mandal” is akin to the three monkeys of the Mahatma — whose motto was “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.
The electoral success achieved by Mr Modi since May 2014 has brushed under the carpet the costs involved for the party and the price paid by it. The BJP’s slogan in 2014 “agali bar Modi sarkar”, and not “agali bar BJP sarkar”. The slogan was approved by the then party chief Rajnath Singh, who had been specifically brought in to replace Mr Gadkari.
The process of the whole of the BJP being turned into a “Margdarshak Mandal” started then. The refrain often heard from BJP members, especially the “bhakts”, that how can anyone attack the PM, is indicative of the view that only the supreme leader matters, the rest are just cannon fodder. The growing importance of Sambit Patra, Amit Malviya, Smriti Irani, Piyush Goyal and Himanta Biswa Sarma signals that propaganda matters. The BJP has always thrived on propaganda. It is now at a new level: “likes” are the new normal.
Only “Lord Ram” matters, not the monkey brigade. But the increasing attacks over the Adani issue are slowly, surely chipping at the image of a strong leader. His silence is deafening for the Opposition and extremely puzzling for the BJP faithful. Arvind Kejriwal seems in a race with Rahul Gandhi to target Mr Modi. Mamata Banerjee is slowly warming up.
Politics doesn’t work in a vaccum. Mr Modi may have succeeded in turning the BJP and RSS into a “Margdarshak Mandal”, but a potential challenge could come from ultra-hardliners like Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath being groomed by the Sangh Parivar.
The BJP’s supreme leader knows that if he fails to be aggressive at the right time, he might get marginalised. If Mr Modi wants to be a Mandal champion and play the OBC card to be more acceptable in the Hindi heartland, Yogi Adityan-ath is aggressively pushing his bulldozer strategy to target the minorities. He does not feel insecure. The Ganga Arati is on, so is the construction of the magnificent Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Other things can wait.
In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje’s silence can’t be seen as her surrender to the supreme leader. Maharashtra could be another dicey state where his charisma and magic could become ineffective due to invisible forces in the Parivar and outside.
Rahul Gandhi’s remarks against Veer Savarkar have come in handy for the BJP to make a serious attempt to drive a wedge in the Maha Vikas Aghadi, given the fact that the Hindutva icon is revered by the Shiv Sena headed by Uddhav Thackeray. The BJP has already embarked on the exercise of taking out the Savarkar Gaurav Yatra throughout the state to connect with a new generation and reach out to them with Savarkar’s thoughts and ideals.
Interestingly, Mr Modi and Mr Shah are relying a lot on local leaders in poll-bound Karnataka. The state BJP chief’s statement that Karnataka will witness a tussle between Savarkar and Tipu Sultan gives away the signal that the ruling party has little to show on the development front and is therefore attempting to divert the battle to its favourite pitch.
The strong leader has been virtually forced to declare Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as the CM candidate in the state when the OBC issue is at play.
That the Gujarat experiment of putting up a lightweight leader as a CM cannot work in major states is a grudging admission by the strong leader that he has his limitations. The BJP’s worry over the coming Karnataka battle is indicative that it is not on a very strong a wicket there and a keen tussle is on the cards.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi