Modi and BJP: No, not all is well

While opposition ‘disunity’ hogs headlines, not all’s well within the BJP either, writes Sujata Anandan, forcing the party to fall back on the Ram temple

Modi and BJP: No, not all is well

Sujata Anandan

There seems to be a subdued mood in the BJP of late. Nothing seems to be going right for the party at various levels and much of it has to do with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who have destroyed the party at all levels and subjugated much of its human resource to themselves, personally.

There is deep resentment among the BJP rank-and-file at this and that has caused a clear split in the party down the middle, not clearly visible as yet. Those still supporting Modi are disturbed but hopeful, and others sitting quietly on the sidelines are also hopeful, watching the unravelling of a man they have feared and hated for years.

Conversations over weeks with many insiders reveal that the nervousness of the BJP is based on internal surveys conducted by both the party and the RSS that reveal that it is not just the Muslim minorities and Dalits, who are upset with his government. The disappointment also extends to those sections that the BJP might have considered secure and in the bag - traders, small and medium entrepreneurs, etc still reeling from the effects of demonetisation and a badly implemented Goods and Services Tax.

Others among these include not just farmers, who have not only not received the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) promised at his last campaign by Modi (for which they too voted in large numbers for the BJP) but also fired upon, lathi charged and arrested when they held various protests across the country – for example, in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh and recently in New Delhi.

The BJP has already lost a solid ally in the form of the Telugu Desam Party, which might well tie-up with the Congress before the Lok Sabha polls. But apart from Chandrababu Naidu’s suspicion that Modi and Shah were attempting to promote his rival Jaganmohan Reddy at his expense, there has been a groundswell of reports from the grassroots where even unlettered villagers seem to have caught on to the games the Modi government might be playing with them. This involves the many so-called schemes for the poor announced by the government, wherein they have realised that instead of getting something from the government, they have to end up paying something to the government for their own benefit.

According to a source, a BJP MP brought these concerns to the Modi-Shah duo when he was asked by a constituent what the government proposed to do for them. When he listed out all the schemes including pension and crop insurance schemes, the villager snapped back, “But you are giving us nothing for them. It is we who have to put in our hard earned five or ten Rupees into them. Are we sure we will get it back in ten, 20 or even 50 years? Talk of now. The last time any government did anything for us was when the ‘Narega’ (MGNREGA) scheme was introduced which gave us cash instead of taking it away from us. Do you have anything like that in mind?”

The Modi-Shah duo were apparently not impressed - according to sources, they instead sent him packing rather rudely; the MP then reached out to RSS headquarters in Nagpur and complained to Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. “How am I supposed to win my next election if I cannot give anything to my voters?” he grumbled.

While Bhagwat could not really have interfered with the government at the time, they are incidents such as these that have pushed concerned party persons away from the Modi-Shah duo and into the parallel unit of the BJP which is still lurking in the shadows and waiting to strike at the appropriate moment.

In 2013, the BJP coffers were as empty as that of the Congress and the two parties were evenly placed. The only money seemed to be with Modi

In 2013, the only thing going for Modi was money. Of course, he was capable of great oratory and even greater promises and dreams that made people believe in him, particularly after being faced with the years of arrogance and alleged scams by the UPA. However, in 2013, the BJP coffers were as empty as that of the Congress and the two parties were rather evenly placed. The only money seemed to be with Narendra Modi.

According to informed sources in Gujarat, Modi, even before becoming Prime Minister, had perfected the art of squeezing the business interests of entrepreneurs, big or small, if they did not fall in line with his diktats. Soon after the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Confederation of Indian Industry initially made an attempt to lay down the ground rules for the Chief Minister – henceforward no riots that affected their business interests as well as the people. Many of their factory workers had run away during the riots and it took a lot of effort persuading them to return or hiring and training new workers. Enough is enough, they told Modi. But Modi was made of different stuff.

Any other Chief Minister would have cringed at the combined onslaught of the who’s who among the moneybags of this country and retreated. Modi, however, picked on every noted entrepreneur who had had the temerity to dictate to him and made it clear that if they did not make peace with the Gujarat Chief Minister, they would be the losers.

This was corroborated to this correspondent by dozens of small and medium entrepreneurs similarly harassed by Modi who wanted to return to Mumbai to do business in peace. They had been driven out of Maharashtra by the violent trade union activities of Datta Samant and Bal Thackeray and set up businesses in south Gujarat at the invitation of then Chief Minister Madhav Singh Solanki who offered them a peaceful ambience to do business in Gujarat, besides a tax holiday.

But now, suddenly their peace was disturbed by things like raids by government agencies on flimsy pretexts (a thing that has become common and a pattern with the Modi government now) and they wished for a better deal in Mumbai.

But before they could pack their bags, Modi had swung the prime ministerial candidature of the BJP for himself and there was both hope and despair – hope that he would exit Gujarat and despair that they were still being made to cough up the money for his campaign. “Modi has told all the entrepreneurs, big or small, that we cannot donate to the BJP directly. We have to donate to him and him alone, else we will suffer the consequences.”

Rajnath Singh tried during the 2014 campaign to do a course correction by printing posters with the slogan, “Ab ki baar BJP sarkar.”

Both Nitin Gadkari, the immediate past president of the BJP and Rajnath Singh, the sitting president during the Lok Sabha campaign, knew what was afoot. But they had no choice. So, in a way, Modi bought his nomination to the prime ministerial candidature where older leaders like LK Advani had hoped their hard work over the years in party building would be their best calling card. Singh tried during the 2014 campaign to do a course correction by printing posters with the slogan, “Ab ki baar BJP sarkar.” But a furious Modi came down heavily on his party president and had all the posters and TV ad campaigns pulled back within a day. No one after that has even tried to pretend the party belongs to the BJP and not to Narendra Modi. Their worst fears have come true - they were afraid if they made him a leader, he would swallow the BJP across India the way he did in Gujarat. They were right.

However, in some ways, Modi’s astounding success also sowed the seeds of his failure. The RSS and anti-Modi factions in the BJP quietly came together and began to combat the problem Modi had created for them. RSS pracharaks were placed in key or even subsidiary positions in various ministries and their main job seemed to be to spy on the actions of various Modi acolytes, according to sources in the bureaucracy. Money was allegedly milked out of these ministries in the usual ways of past governments but to the RSS coffers and not that of the BJP controlled by Modi and Shah. But while Modi still has access to plenty of resources from crony capitalists – as is obvious from how he personally structured the Rafale deal in favour of failed entrepreneur Anil Ambani - the RSS and the so-called rump BJP will not be bested or beaten by Modi again on the issue of funds to fight the next elections.

Perhaps Modi has been aware of this for a long time. Sources in Nagpur reveal that there has been jostling between Modi and Bhagwat for control and subjugation of each other for these past four years but neither has succeeded.

It was manifest in Bhagwat’s rap on Modi’s knuckles at the RSS outreach in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan last week in two statements - that government is meant for social work and not to gain personal power and his clear pointer at Modi’s shamsaan-kabristan remark during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls campaign that completely alienated the Muslims of the country.

(This is the first part of a two part article)

This article first appeared in National Herald on Sunday. Read the second part here.

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Published: 06 Oct 2018, 8:00 PM