For all of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
leader Arun Jaitley's claim that his party has a "galaxy" of
leaders, it has had to fall back on an old and controversial
warhorse, Rajnath Singh, for the second time to be the party
What this means is that, in actuality, the BJP's cupboard is bare
so far as members of leadership potential are concerned. Moreover,
the potential embraces a whole gamut of complicating factors.
As a result, there is no easy ascent to the top. The BJP's greasy
pole, therefore, which is the phrase denoting upward mobility, is
greasier than in most parties.
Nothing demonstrated the conflicting ingredients of the leadership
battle than the rise and fall of Nitin Gadkari. If, in the
Congress, the scions of the Nehru-Gandhi family parachute down to
the top of the party pyramid, in the BJP, it is the patriarchs of
the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who determine who will
descend from above to take charge of the party.
The starkness of this choreographed procedure has been highlighted
twice in Rajnath Singh's case. The first time was in 2006, when
then party president L.K. Advani was ousted by the RSS for
committing the unpardonable sin - in the saffron brotherhood's
eyes - of praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah on a visit to Pakistan in
Even at the time, the choice raised eyebrows because Rajnath Singh
was - and still is - regarded as a "provincial", the unflattering
word used by Jaswant Singh when he was dismissed from the BJP for
repeating Advani's folly of lauding Jinnah in a book.
But provincials are apparently the kind preferred by the RSS
because they lack the faint traces of cosmopolitanism, which
includes fluency in English, which the BJP leaders based in Delhi
tend to acquire.
So, when Rajnath Singh's term ended in 2009, the RSS turned to
another provincial in a state which is farther away from the
national capital than Uttar Pradesh, which is Rajnath Singh's home
But, in choosing the little known Maharashtrian, the RSS hadn't
considered how his business ventures will come to haunt him. The
praise which a saffron scribe heaped on Gadkari's business acumen
when he became president is unlikely to be repeated now.
What the toing and froing between Rajnath Singh and Gadkari show
is that even if there are leaders in the BJP who consider
themselves capable of being the chief, the special predilections
of the RSS keep a lid on their aspirations. So, it isn't only the
absence of secular credentials which is a hindrance to someone
like Narendra Modi's prime ministerial hopes; the penchant of the
RSS for the less sophisticated is another roadblock before the
party's smooth functioning.
Gadkari's involvement in a scam also undermines the party's
offensive against the Congress on the issue of corruption.
Throughout the period when civil society activists were agitating
on the subject, the BJP had to remain in the background because of
the scandals surrounding its chief minister in Karnataka at the
time, B.S. Yeddyurappa. Now, Yeddyurappa's exit from the BJP will
not help the party much.
The BJP's hope, therefore, that its return to power will be
facilitated by the Congress' decline under the weight of
corruption and policy paralysis may not be fulfilled. Not only has
the party failed to fill its leadership vacuum caused by Atal
Behari Vajpayee's retirement, it has also been unable to firm up
its economic policies as in Vajpayee's time.
As much is evident from the role of a spoiler which it plays in
the context of the government's economic initiatives. As the BJP's
opposition to foreign investment in the retail sector, and earlier
to the Indo-US nuclear deal, shows, it has opportunistically
forsaken its traditional rightwing image and taken a leftward turn
in the belief that "socialism" still has a future in the country.
But the leadership wrangles, the taint of corruption and absence
of clarity on economic issues are blocking the party's forward
movement. Whatever impetus the party had acquired from the
Ramjanmabhoomi agitation has long been dissipated.
Although the recent upsurge among its cadres helped to bolster
several leaders in the states - Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Singh
Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh - they
cannot move to the national level for various reasons, of which
Modi's disadvantage is well known.
The others cannot be elevated for two reasons. One is that it will
create a vacuum in the states and the other is that their ascent
will be resisted by the ambitious Delhi-based leaders - Advani,
Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and others. In a way, therefore, Jaitley's
boast about a "galaxy" of leaders is true, but it is a liability
rather than an asset.
is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com