The last thing the Bharatiya Janata Party needed, in the wake of bitter factional quarrels at party headquarters, was for a State satrap to raise the banner of revolt. In the event, Vasundhara Raje’s conciliatory message must come as a relief to the leadership. The former Rajasthan Chief Minister signalled she would fall in line just when the rebellion, triggered by the party’s decision to remove her from the post of leader of the BJP’s legislature wing, appeared to be gathering strength. Ms Raje had taken the central leadership head on, insisting that she had majority support in the party — a claim seemingly buttressed by the legislative hordes descending on Delhi. It did not help the BJP central leadership that the unedifying spectacle was captured live by television channels hungry for more delicious news of trouble within the Hindutva ‘party with a difference.’ The leadership’s logic rested on the fact that Ms Raje had led the Rajasthan unit to two successive defeats: in November 2008, the BJP narrowly lost the Assembly election to the Congress, and in the 15th general election, held six months later, it could win only four of 25 Lok Sabha seats. The leadership also cited the precedent of B.C. Khanduri who resigned as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, accepting responsibility for the loss of all four Lok Sabha seats from the hill State.
Ms Raje’s counterpoint was that in a democracy the choice of who leads the legislature party must be left to the legislators themselves. So why did the former Chief Minister back off? The aggression she displayed over three days suggests that the retreat may well be a tactical ploy. She evidently calculates that before long she will be back in favour. In any event, there are far too many examples of BJP rebels coming to grief. Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh were larger-than-life figures when they left the party to strike out on their own. Ms Bharti now runs a rag-tag outfit while Mr. Kalyan Singh is a shadow of his former self. Unfortunately for the BJP, there are too many fires raging in its backyard for it to draw any satisfaction from the seeming conclusion of this episode. Many saffronites, including Ms Raje’s supporters, have questioned the double standards of a party that punished her even as it rewarded those assigned key responsibilities in the general election. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has added to the pressure by continuing to meddle in the affairs of the party. To be fair, the BJP put up an impressive performance in the first budget session of the 15th Lok Sabha. However, with so much weighing on its mind, it is a worried party leadership that will head out to Shimla later this week for yet another Chintan Bhaitak. And Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah and Partition-revisionism may be waiting for it there.
A sentence in the first paragraph of “Dealing with Vasundhara Raje” (Editorial, August 19, 2009) was “The leadership also cited the precedent of B.C. Khanduri who resigned as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, accepting responsibility for the loss of all four Lok Sabha seats from the hill State.” It should have been “five Lok Sabha seats”.