Within the space of a week the Bharatiya Janata Party admitted into the party and dropped dismissed Bahujan Samaj Party Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha. Mr. Kushwaha, an accused in the alleged multi-crore Uttar Pradesh health scam, made a show of resigning from the BJP's primary membership, an offer party chief Nitin Gadkari only too readily grabbed. But the setback of an own goal at this stage of the game is not so easily overcome. Indeed, the Kushwaha fiasco came at a time when the BJP had just about recovered from l'affaire Yeddyurappa and had gained a measure of credibility with its Lokpal campaign. Only days earlier, leaders of the Opposition in the two houses of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, had pulverised the Congress, accusing it of a lack of will to legislate against corruption. Mr. Jaitley had topped his accomplished act in the Rajya Sabha with witty coinages, among them “fleedom at midnight” — a reference to the late night adjournment of the House following the government's refusal to put the Lokpal legislation to vote. Razor-sharp and ready to kill, the principal Opposition party seemed finally to have returned to form. Reports from poll-bound Uttar Pradesh suggested a partial BJP recovery resulting from two factors: the erosion in Mayawati's forward caste support and Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, which drew its strength essentially from the BJP's once-core voters.
But clearly the party of the Hindu Right wanted too much too soon. Even as it breathed fire on corruption, it admitted a clutch of corruption-tainted Ministers from the BSP. Mr. Gadkari assumed that Mr. Kushwaha's OBC origins would neutralise the perceived corruption. It turned out that the party chief had not bargained for the fiery Uma Bharti, the BJP's one-time OBC mascot and current Chief Minister hopeful. Apprehending a threat to her OBC turf, Ms Bharti led a protest that threatened to consume the party. Worse, against the backdrop of Mr. Kushwaha's induction, the BJP's fight against corruption appeared hollow and stage-managed. In one stroke, Mr. Gadkari had made nonsense of Mr. Jaitley's sterling performance in Parliament. The snowballing protests and knee-jerk reactions aside, the Kushwaha episode raises fundamental questions about the BJP and its leadership. What is the party's strategy for the next general election? Can it afford to continue to be guided by Mr. Gadkari, whose surface charm and geniality have scarcely masked his inexperience in dealing with realpolitik? The BJP was banking on a reasonable showing in U.P. to gain momentum ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The party will have only itself to blame if that dream goes up in smoke.