BJP’s larger stock-taking

The attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s current leadership by its most senior veterans continues to force a quiet churn, and where it will end is not yet clear. On Wednesday, four BJP elders — L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi, Shanta Kumar and Yashwant Sinha — > charged that the “principal” reason for the party’s defeat in Bihar was the manner in which it had been “emasculated in the last year”. Their insistence that responsibility be fixed made it clear that they were targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s team — specifically, BJP president Amit Shah. The BJP’s first response was to have a counter-assertion of collective responsibility, by three former party presidents, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari, all members of Mr. Modi’s Cabinet. In the days after, sundry party members have joined issue with one of the two groups. But it would be deflecting from the difficult questions posed by the Bihar verdict if the repercussions were to be seen as simply an organisational tussle between the incumbents and the marginalised in the party’s power structure. The Bihar vote is a larger challenge for the BJP, one that demands clarity on the principles by which the Central government and the ruling party engage with the citizens of India.

It is not only that Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah ran a highly centralised campaign in Bihar, leading from the front in the absence of a chief ministerial candidate. >A defeat as spectacular as this, because of the BJP’s slide in Bihar’s electoral stakes since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and the aura of invincibility around Mr. Modi, was bound to have organisational reverberations. But that is where it would have ordinarily remained, no matter how destabilising. However, in Bihar the BJP ran a sectarian campaign that included, on occasion, polarising statements by the Prime Minister and the BJP president. In the event, warnings about a possible BJP defeat being celebrated in Pakistan, with all its Muslim-targeting innuendo, and reservations being protected from encroachment by a particular community, went rebuffed. It’s early days, and the defeat may yet draw the BJP brains trust to relative moderation. Irrespective of such recalibration, or the lack of it, the Prime Minister must also acknowledge the anxieties that the campaign caused. His office does not give him the flexibility to play multiple roles. When he goes out to campaign for his party, he does not cease even for a moment to be Prime Minister. When he deploys party rhetoric, he does not speak only to potential voters, but to all Indians. What will happen in the BJP’s organisational circles will continue to be of interest, but the Prime Minister needs to level with Indians outside of party fora.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 10:18:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/bjps-larger-stocktaking/article7874623.ece

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