Veterans feel the squeeze as BJP goes for generational shift

The Edwin Lutyens-designed colonial structure at the BJP’s Ashoka Road headquarters is wilting to accommodate modern day requirements of the party. 

Since last couple of years, an air-conditioned conference hall has come up and the central dwelling has been redone to give it a sleek corporate office look.

The structural changes taking place at the headquarters are perhaps smooth but not the generation shift in the mid-thirties’ old party, expedited since the last June declaration of making Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi party’s campaign chief and later in September as the PM candidate for 2014.

The muted discontent amplified into open rebel, led by party patriarch LK Advani, against the rise of Hindutva poster boy marketing his successful Gujarat chief ministerial stint built on the edifice of development politics. 

Modi’s growing clout funneled by party president Rajnath Singh’s unhindered support has also thrown up bouts of resistance, played out again during Lok Sabha ticket distribution, from the wounded generation – flagged by L K Advani, M M Joshi and Jaswant Singh (now suspended from the party) – and their lieutenants, not ruling out Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar.

The rumbling within the party has thrown up several questions – was there a need for better consultation with old guard on decision making? 

Did the first generation leaders fail to see the writing on the wall? And if they did, could they have avoided humiliation? 

These and many more questions are agitating minds of party leaders and cadres on the threshold of 2014 big political fight. 

Much of the heat is flowing due to Modi’s strong belief in functioning through manufactured consent and his strong likes and dislikes – a style statement coined as ‘Gujarat model’, say party insiders.
 
The chasm among the leadership was widely apparent during the ticket distribution exercise as Advani, feeling insecure of Modi’s design, told the party president about his desire to shift from Ahmedabad to Bhopal for contesting election. 

His last minute stand of not attending poll panel meeting unfolded a drama that forced even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat to exercise his authority to give him an honourable exit. 
 
Advani ultimately opted to retain Gandhinagar but after Modi had persuaded him and Rajnath left him to decide his seat.
 
The original Hindutva icon, leaders suspect, merely attempted without actually wanting to change his seat because of the desire to secure his Gandhinagar victory with handsome margin and leaving that responsibility on his pupil-turned-competitor Modi. 

That insecurity germinated from a botched attempt made to push Advani and his near contemporary M M Joshi to Rajya Sabha so that they are out of the active electoral politics, said sources from Advani camp. 

Weeks later Advani appears to have conquered his fear for the moment. Modi, who accompanied Advani to file his nomination paper in Gandhinagar on Saturday, credited the party patriarch for mentoring him.
 
Similarly, Joshi, much to his disliking, had to vacate his Varanasi constituency for Modi, who opted it as his second constituency besides Vadodra in Gujarat so that the input of religion is not lost in his new development avatar.

Since Joshi is no Advani, the former had to move to Kanpur harbouring an ambition to play at least a night watchman’s innings if Modi makes it to the South Block. 

Joshi, like others of his era, realises that this would be his last five years of productive politics.
 
The last of first generation leader, Jaswant Singh, too faced music. 

Singh, a senior leader from Rajasthan, who held key cabinet portfolios in Vajpayee’s government, was denied a ticket from his home constituency, Barmer. 

Singh came under the twin fire of Modi as well Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje.  

The Rajput leader is believed to be one of the senior ministers of the NDA regime who had persuaded the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee to chide him for 2002 Gujarat riots to follow “Raj dharma” but it did not happen owing to objection from Advani, who decades later might be viewing it differently now.

Raje is said to have retaliated for Singh’s wife getting an FIR registered against an artist who had painted the Rajasthan CM as a goddess.
 
Big picture

Another leader who did not hesitate in putting up her dissent was Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj. 

She tweeted her objection to ambush induction of controversial BSR Congress leader B Sriramulu, in an attempt to disassociate from tainted reputations in this season of anti-corruption fervour made contagious by Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. 

But, Swaraj’s disapproval didn’t fly as Jaitley publicly told her not to lose focus on the big picture, which, for the BJP is simply about making Modi the PM so that he can turn the rest of India’s states into versions of Gujarat. 
 
Cricket commentator Navjot Singh Sidhu, the outgoing MP from Amritsar, was denied a ticket and forced to make way for Arun Jaitley. 
 
Modi has been able to drive through the party’s rough terrain owing to the fact that he has captured some peoples’ imagination as an alternative to the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. 
 
Many regional parties are also in the fray, but since several pollsters claim that the popular mood in the country indicates that the BJP will be the single largest party in the Lok Sabha.
 
British author Andy Marino in his book “ Narendra Modi – A political Biography” sums up his last chapter, “ And Now, Prime Minister?”, recalling what the Gujarat CM told him about the establishment in Delhi. 

“He calls it the Delhi Club. ‘I will never be part of that,’ he says. The Delhi Club – a metaphor for an overrated Indian political elite – is anyway a colonial relic, soon to be overtaken by a new, meritocratic India…,” writes Marino. 

Will the narrative be the same for the first generation BJP leaders?

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