By: Prof Pradeep Mathur Chief Consulting Editor ICN Group
This was to happen one day and it is not happening a day sooner than expected.
BJP, the party with a difference, is now riven with deep dissensions which may snowball into a major crisis in the coming weeks.
Dissensions in a political party are no news. BJP too had its disgruntled leaders right from the Jana Sangh days to the present time. But while the dissenting leaders in other political parties like the Congress, CPI , Janta Dal and DMK broke away and floated their own parties BJP never witnessed any big or small split even when any of its leaders found himself in sharp disagreement with the top leadership .Right from Balraj Madhok to Govindacharya and Jaswant Singh before the Modi era and Arun Shourie to Yashwant Sinha in the Modi era those who disagreed with the supreme commander were sidelined and eased out from position of power and authority in the party.
However, it may not be so this time. If eased out from the position of the Chief Minister of U.P. it is unlikely that Yogi Adatiya Nath will go back to Gorakhpur and do meditation in the prestigious math that he overlords. Yogi is in a mood of rebellion and he is most likely to dig in and fight even if its leads to a vertical split , the first of its kind , in the monolith called the BJP of Modi and Shah.
Yogi has a strong case in his defence. He has his own reasons to stand up and counter the onslaught of Modi-Shah and company on his position the Chief Minister of U.P. Yogi has his armoury, known and unknown , to fight a war. Perhaps Modi and his associates have some idea about this and ,therefore, they are moving very cautiously against him.
An open warfare between the two sides will seriously compromise BJP’s prospects in the next year’s assembly elections in U.P. and the Lok Sabha elections in the year 2024. This is both the concern and cause of Modi’s desire for a change in the BJP leadership in U.P.
BJP did attain a spectacular victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but at present, it is not in a position of great strength in the country. Four states of south India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana plus West Bengal and Punjab are unlikely to return any BJP candidates in the 2024 elections. The BJP has poor to highly uncertain prospects in the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh Uttrakhand and Odisha. Roughly there are 200 plus constituencies which BJP should better write off as it would not be in a position to put up any formidable challenge to its opponents.
The top BJP leadership is aware of this ground reality. It knows that to return to power it must keep a tight control on the Hindi heartland comprising five states of U.P., Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana which togather account for nearly 200 Lok Sabha constituencies. Since U.P. is the most vital of the Hindi heartland states the Modi and his associates cannot take any chances about U.P., especially so when it also houses Prime Minister Modi’s constituency of Varanasi.
Yogi also knows the critical importance of U.P. for BJP in the coming elections. However, he is unwilling to work as a protégé of Modi and Shah and they cannot blame him for this. First he was not the choice of Prime Minister Modi for the job and became the Chief Minister on his own strength, a fact an unforgiving Modi has not been able to digest. Modi responded by interfering in the politics of U.P. and taking decisions about the state without consulting the chief minister. Yogi put up with all this humiliation till Modi sent his trusted bureaucrat A.K. Sharma to Lucknow and asked Yogi to make him his No. 2. Yogi put his foot down and now their differences have come out in the open so much so that both sides are now drawing their battle lines.
Prime Minister Modi with his larger than life-size image is the supreme and unquestioned leader of the BJP. But then Chief Minister Yogi is also no pigmy. He has strong Hinduvat credentials and anti-Muslim image, the two things that brought Modi to the pinnacle of power. RSS loves it and appreciates his commitment to a simple, saintly and non-exhibitionist lifestyle. Yogi’s unblemished character and unquestioned honesty is also a big plus point in the eyes of not only RSS leaders but also a large chunk of conservative Hindu public opinion.
Yogi knows this and also knows how to play his political cards. He has sensed that quite a few big faces in the government, party and the RSS are not happy with the style of functioning of Modi and Shah and has befriended them. Nitin Gadkari coming all the way to Lucknow to inaugurate a small flyover and Rajnath Singh, a fellow Thakur, becoming the first one to wish him on his birthday are clear indicators of the success of this strategy.
The Covid mayhem in U.P. in the past two months with pictures of bodies floating in the Ganga no doubt put Yogi on the back foot. Perhaps his detractors in Delhi were waiting only for such an opportunity. But the Covid catastrophe was not limited to U.P. and the Centre too had its share of the blame for it. Anyway, it did not put Yogi on the defensive for long. If he has not been able to do much in U.P. a severely depressing economy, complete Covid mismanagement including the goof-up on vaccination, as well as the crushing defeat of BJP in West Bengal elections have also severely dented the image of the Prime Minister and he is no more the Modi of 2014 or 2019.
However, what options Yogi has if with the help of a friendly Governor and an obliging Vidhan Sabha speaker Modi and company eases him out from the position of chief minister?
Yogi will most likely split the BJP legislature party in U.P., take his supporters out and form a rival party. He already has the cadres of his Hindu Vahini to prop up the new party and campaign in the coming assembly elections. He may offer his party as an alternative to the BJP and seek support from those BJP leaders and cadres who feel sidelined and unfairly treated in the Modi era. And he may as well get it. RSS will have no option but to be a silent spectator in that case.
The coming weeks are very crucial for BJP as both sides have perhaps reached a position of no return. Where this tug of war takes the ruling party and what would be its impact on the U.P. assembly elections early next year only time will tell .