|CURRENT ISSUE NOVEMBER 22, 2004|
|Sanyasin Outcast |
Uma Bharati may have walked into the trap set by her enemies but her suspension only highlights the intense power struggle within the party. The BJP under L.K. Advani has begun to unravel itself.
|By Priya Sahgal|
It was glasnost Advani-style and it turned out to be one of BJP's worst embarrassments. At the first meeting of the new party officials on November 10, BJP President L.K. Advani broke tradition when he allowed TV cameras in. Always eloquent when flashlights are on, Advani was all set to send an iron-fist message to the wayward children of the parivar: behave or be damned. He was particularly critical of the way in which some leaders rushed to the media to settle scores. The house needed order. He went on: "Some prominent leaders are indulging in indiscipline and speaking against their colleagues. There is a limit as to how much indiscipline can be tolerated." He named three: Uma Bharati, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain. He didn't anticipate-nor did anyone at the meeting-that one of them would revolt.
Provoked by the censure, Bharati was on her feet to refute: "There are four-five people in this hall who do off-the-record briefings against us. These make the headlines the next day. To counter these we have to do on-the-record briefings and this is regarded as indiscipline." As the triumvirate of Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh looked on aghast from the dais, Bharati picked up speed: "These are Rajya Sabha leaders who have no other work but to hold such off-the-record briefings." Advani tried to cut her short: "The matter is closed. When I say it is closed, it means closed for all."
Not for the sanyasin, always itching for a fight. "You can take disciplinary action against me if you like but this is something that needs to be said," Bharati shot back and didn't wait for a reply. She stormed out of the meeting, ignoring former president M. Venkaiah Naidu's pleas to her to stay back. A visibly shaken Advani asked for TV cameras to be removed-this is not what he wanted to be telecast-but Bharati in fury was already on TV screens. He could not have missed the irony: the event he expected to be a televised image of a happy, united house ended in open embarrassment. At the party briefing that followed, Arun Jaitley said, "What she said was said in front of all of you. You are free to analyse it any way you like." There was no scope for spin here. It was all on the record.
After such defiance, what forgiveness? Bharati's suspension from the primary membership of the party and the revoking of her post as general secretary were foregone conclusions. As a bewildered Advani tried to rationalise the rebellion, most of her colleagues were writing off her political career. However, jubilant VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore quickly offered rehabilitation: "If Uma leaves active politics she is welcome to join the VHP." There is some speculation that Bharati may join the VHP as her performance as chief minister had been quite pathetic.
The sanyasin, famously emotional and volatile, was walking into the enemy's trap. Fed up with her tantrums ever since she was forced to resign as Madhya Pradesh chief minister in August, the leadership was finding it difficult to manage Bharati. (But then, don't forget that a Bharati wrapped in the Tricolour was for a while seen as a potential Hindutva mascot.)
Some didn't even bother to hide their joy. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Babulal Gaur was hosting a lunch when the Bharati dhamaka hit Bhopal. Immediately laddoos multiplied and Gaur endorsed the disciplinary action: "It was the right decision and I welcome it." He said various ministers considered close to Bharati had called him up to show solidarity. For the first time in over two months he seemed relaxed and sure. The immediate Bharati effect would be felt in the elections of the local bodies on November 20. For the party, the loss of its charismatic backward leader may mean losing the OBC vote bank in the state.
The manner in which Bharati behaved may have made her suspension inevitable. But it has not made her message redundant. When Venkaiah Naidu offered his resignation as party president last month, he complained about infighting and alleged that some colleagues were planting stories against him in the media. One of the reasons why the BJP foisted its leadership again on 77-year-old Advani was because the so-called Gen Next had discredited itself. Each one saw himself or herself as the heir and the other as the usurper. None of Naidu's colleagues was willing to accept him as the leader. Sushma Swaraj even refused the post of a general secretary in his organisation. Others like Pramod Mahajan sulked in silence.
Naidu himself was not above playing factional politics. The Naqvi- Naidu-Sanjay Joshi trio ruled at the BJP headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road while Jaitley conducted his own personal politics from his office next door. Bharati made a credible point: they were leaders without a mass base unlike the sanyasin who ended the seemingly infallible Congress raj in Madhya Pradesh. The two general secretaries who had grassroots support, Rajnath Singh and Mahajan, were perceived as threats and isolated at the party headquarters.
Before Bharati walked out of the meeting, Advani had commented that even television reviews in newspapers led with news about BJP leaders rather than small-screen personalities. But then, the only leaders on the ascent in the BJP were those who flourished before the camera. Certain leaders' fetish for press conferences and aversion to mass rallies came in for censure at the RSS meet in Hardwar. The moral guardians in the parivar also pointed out the culture of individualism as a deviation from the cause. Says RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav: "There were complaints about the behaviour of leaders, the arrogance of power and the fact that leaders without mass base were coming up."