Close on the heels of BJP patriarch L K Adani’s inglorious exit from electoral politics, one of his protegees, Uma Bharti, too has announced her intent not to contest 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP has accommodated Bharti as the party vice president though. Yet the way BJP biggies are losing clout within the party and power structure is raising many eye brows.
Along with Advani and Bharti, the two other seniors, Shanta Kumar of Himachal Pradesh and Kariya Munda from Jharkhand, have also announced to step back from elections. Another probable to join this club of semi-retired BJP politician is former party chief Murli Manohar Joshi who may soon find himself out of the ensuing electoral battle.
All these senior politicians obviously hail from Hindi belt. They are the ones who built the BJP from scratch when it was going through its darkest phase. Advani helmed the party soon after the BJP was reduced to two seats in the Lok Sabha after the 1984 elections. He was also the man who led a virulent campaign against the Muslim Women Bill denying Muslim women the right to alimony after the Shah Bano case which brought the triple talaq issue into sharp focus.
Advani through the triple talaq issue dented the entire secular discourse labelling it ‘’pseudo secularism’’. Advani thus strategically managed to sell the BJP to a large chunk of middle class in the guise of ‘minority appeasement’ successfully generating a sense of victimhood within the Hindu majority.
His third major contribution to BJP’s growth was to take the saffron ideology and the party to the poor masses through his relentless campaign on the Ram temple issue. His rath yatra from Som Nath to Ayodhya in 1991 and again a year later pushed the BJP into the mainstream of Indian politics. Consequently, the BJP led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed its first short lived government that survived only for 13 days. But the BJP had now arrived, courtesy Advani.
Similarly, Shanta Kumar was the first Himachal leader from Jan Sangh ranks to take charge of the state as its chief minister. He nursed the party there transforming it as an alternative to the Congress whose writ ran in Himachal till Shanta Kumar broke the monopoly of the party of independence. Kariya Munda is the man who popularised the BJP among the tribal population in Jharkhand. His efforts brought Jharkhand to the BJP kitty. Similarly, Uma Bharti was instrumental in popularising the BJP among masses of Hindi belt through her provocative and hate-filled speeches at the peak of Ram temple-Babri mosque controversy.
All these veterans suddenly find themselves marginalised now. These Hindi belt heroes of the BJP are not the only ones who have been slighted under the Modi-Shah BJP rule and virtually forced to fade out. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet colleagues like Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie were so marginalised that they were compelled to revolt against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Another popular face from BJP and Advani loyalist Shatrughan Sinha has already crossed over to the opposition ranks after being pushed to the wall within the BJP.
All of them are Hindi belt BJP leaders who found themselves in a virtual wilderness within the party that they nursed with their sweat and blood and brought it to power. Not only the organisational grip of the Hindi-belt leaders within the BJP is over, ministers like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and others hardly have any clout in the government. Modi’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, for instance, is said to be just a cosmetic figure in her ministry which is largely run by the PMO. Rajnath Singh is the titular head of the powerful security establishment run by the Home Ministry. But all major security issues are decided at the PMO and the NSA Ajit Doval, a close confidante of the PM.
The power balance within the BJP has shifted from the Hindi speaking north India to the Gujarati speaking western India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes from Gujarat and is known for running the show all by himself. BJP President Amit Shah, too, comes from Gujarat and is a known Modi loyalist who runs the party with an iron grip. All key bureaucrats managing the PMO have also been shifted from Gujarat to Delhi as eyes and ears of the Prime Minister who is believed to take all important decisions by himself.
It is, in fact, a major shift in Indian balance of power from the North to the West. If you look back at Indian history, you don’t find the North never so marginalised as it finds under Narendra Modi.
Right from ancient times till five years back when Modi took charge of India as the Prime Minister, the centre of Indian power has been the North. But now, with virtual exit of men like Advani, the Hindi speaking North India has been completely pushed to a corner. Can Modi sustain this kind of power concentration in himself and in one region is anyone’s guess.
But this kind of absolute concentration of power in a democratic set up like India with its diversity does not bode well for the country.