If leaders fail to lead, their followers will take over the leadership and lead instead. This is what is precisely taking place in the faction-ridden Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Last week, when the 140-member-strong BJP Parliamentary Party met to decide its conduct and stand for the current session of Parliament, the deliberations reflected the sudden winds of change that shook the entire leadership. For the first time in decades, people sitting in the audience and not those occupying the dais, dictated the tone and tenor of the dialogue. As usual, the platform was occupied by the BJP’s Gang of Four-L K Advani, Chairman of the Parliamentary party; Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley ( leaders of the Opposition) and party president Nitin Gadkari. Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley spelt out the agenda—let us assert ourselves in the House but also let Parliament function normally. Their logic was the party anyway had enough ammunition to nail the Government on issues like the CAG report on CWG. They were also of the opinion that the BJP should stick to issues and refrain from targeting individuals. But the young parliamentarians were in no mood to give up. They wanted their leaders to refrain from striking a peace deal with the Government. A large number of them were taken aback at the soft attitude of the BJP leadership, particularly after former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyuarappa resigned. They were expecting the party to take the moral high ground and go after Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and other top UPA functionaries. None other than the fiery, former cricketer Navjot Sidhu led the charge of the young brigade. He not only opposed BJP-UPA detente but also pleaded for a powerful offensive against the Government. He left no one in doubt that the cadres were unhappy with the party’s half-hearted attack on the administration. Sidhu wasn’t alone in this fight. Even party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain and Gujarat state in-charge Balbir Punj strongly supported his demand to go for the jugular. All were in favour of disrupting parliamentary proceedings and demanding Sheila Dikshit’s resignation. They didn’t want the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi to be spared either during the debate. It was this assertive, defiant mood of its young MPs that forced the party to disrupt the House and seek Dikshit’s ouster. Earlier, the BJP leadership and the Government had agreed that only Sports Minister Ajay Maken’s statement on Suresh Kalmadi’s appointment as Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising committee would be debated—and that too under a no-voting provision so that the Government’s numerical weakness wouldn’t be exposed.
For the past few months, a sizeable number of young BJP MPs have been talking about the party’s failure to nail the Government on various issues. Most of them feel the BJP, by its failure to bring other Opposition parties together, has lost the chance to demolish the UPA’s political stability. With scam after scam tumbling out of the Government’s cupboard, a credible Opposition could have brought the weak UPA government to its knees. The MPs are particularly annoyed with the leadership for bailing out the Government on the price rise and various other issues in Parliament. Contrary to their expectations, the party and the Government colluded to accept an amended draft of the resolution censuring the Government. Though it was a BJP-sponsored resolution, the party didn’t get the credit. The BSP and the Samajwadi Party are also upset with the UPA and are looking for a suitable political environment to weaken the Government by voting against it in the House. They were expecting the BJP to take the lead in creating suitable conditions for issue-based floor coordination. Since the BJP doesn’t have a leader who enjoys neither the trust of its own cadres or of other non-Congress parties, it is the UPA that has gained by default.
The emergence of a vocal and assertive voice against the party’s elite signals the democratisation of the organisation that has been hijacked by non-elected individuals. Those who have a stake in its future have decided to take up issues that concern their political core constituency and voters. For them, a visible, credible and effective fight against the Congress appears to be the only weapon to win the election. Recent opinion polls have exposed the real and imagined support of all the national leaders. It is hardcore Hindutva icon and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who has emerged as the most powerful alternative to the Congress, followed by other BJP chief ministers like Raman Singh and Shivraj Chouhan. But they have not been given their due by the party’s central leadership so far. It is the credibility and performance of the BJP’s chief ministers which has enabled the party to retain electoral relevance even as its national leaders have become increasingly irrelevant. The rise of the backbenchers in the BJP has delivered a message that is loud and clear. Either lead, or vacate the seats for the deserving to take over. firstname.lastname@example.org