Knives are out in the BJP on factors behind the party’s debacle in the Karnataka Assembly election with groups vying for supremacy within the party ahead of the general election taking a diametrically opposite view on the handling of the Yeddyurappa issue.
Senior party leader L.K. Advani has blamed the party leaders for pussyfooting on its former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa when it became apparent that he was ‘unabashedly indulging in corruption.’
However, Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and ardent supporter of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, maintained that the cost of losing Mr. Yeddyurappa has been ‘reasonably high’ and one “must blend issues of governance with some prudent politics.”
In an interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN, Mr. Jaitley suggested that ‘strong position’ taken by the party on some issues led to serious divisions in the rank and file.
Senior echelons of the party were divided on the question of disciplinary action against Mr. Yeddyurappa after he was indicted by the Lokayukta on charges of illegal mining. The Advani camp was in favour of a firm action but another section advocated a cautious approach given the former Chief Minister’s influence among his Lingayat community.
Even after Mr. Yeddyurappa was forced by the leadership to quit as Chief Minister, Mr. Modi had kept a line open with the Karnataka strong man. It was certainly not a coincidence that Mr. Yeddyurappa, who was miffed with a section of central leaders, landed at the Mumbai National Executive of the party after it became known that Mr. Modi — who had stayed away from the National Executive in protest against re-induction of his arch rival Sanjay Joshi into the party — would be there.
As general election nears, the battle within the BJP on the question of the prime ministerial candidate is expected to intensify between the Advani and Modi camps. While the Modi camp is banking on his bond with the party rank and file plus his untested ‘pan-India’ appeal, ‘Advani is the best bet’ advocates are working on the thesis that the Hindutva plank of the party would not work in the current political environment; in addition to unacceptability of a divisive personality like Mr. Modi to the existing and potential electoral partners.
For several months now Mr. Advani has been openly talking on how it is imperative for the party to work towards a scenario of NDA plus if it has to ensure a viable government.
In his concluding address to the National Council delegates Mr. Advani in March first week while expressing disappointment over the failure of the party to benefit from the disenchantment of the people with the UPA had asserted that in order to oust UPA, the party must work closely with all the like-minded parties both those within the NDA and those outside the NDA to reassure the people that a strong, viable non-Congress alternative, with an agreed agenda of good governance, is available before them.
The Modi backers however believe that allies would be forced to rally round the party if it manages to win 150 odd seats on its own which in their view is achievable with the Gujarat Chief Minister as the 2014 general election face.
Writing on his blog, Mr. Advani said he would have been surprised if the BJP had won in Karnataka as the party had let down the voters by violating the norms of ethical conduct in dealing with the former Chief Minister and disagreed with commentators that the party lost because it threw out Mr. Yeddyurappa while the Congress president Sonia Gandhi chose to look the other away round on the omissions and commissions of Virbhadra Singh and gained Himachal Pradesh.
“Let me first point out that BJP did not throw out Yeddi; it is he who broke away from the BJP and decided to form a factional party of his own, the KJP. In fact, when it became apparent that he was unabashedly indulging in corruption, if the party had immediately taken firm action, the course of events would have been quite different.
“But for several months, frantic efforts went on somehow to keep placating him by condoning his peccadilloes. The justification given was that if the party did not adopt such a ‘pragmatic’ approach we would lose the only government that we had in the south,” he wrote.
In his CNN-IBN interview on a specific question whether there was a possibility of return of the former CM, Mr. Jaitley said the ‘issue is not on party’s agenda’ now and went on to add that he could not predict about future.
He also dismissed reports that Mr. Modi’s magic did not work there, saying “This was not a Modi election.”