New Delhi: In the traditional working of a political world, power flows outwards from the centre, but it appears to be quite the opposite in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the script for change in the next general elections being written by influential regional satraps. It’s not just Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh have also emerged as mass leaders capable of winning a mandate in their states. And with no one clear leader in Delhi, analysts said the state leaders will gain more prominence in the coming months as the party gears up for the next Lok Sabha polls and seeks to settle the sensitive issue of a prime ministerial candidate.
Unlike the era of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, the party’s top hierarchy now has a string of leaders considered “equal” in stature – Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and president Nitin Gadkari. Advani, 85, continues to command influence, but there is already talk in party circles that the prime ministerial candidate will only be the “first among equals”. According to A.S. Narang, former IGNOU professor, the BJP was beset with confusion on the choice of its prime ministerial candidate. “There is the issue of elders (elder leaders) versus younger (leaders). Within the younger leaders, including Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari, there is a question of who is bigger. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is also not giving a clear vision,” Narang told IANS.
The RSS is, however, widely believed to have a veto over most BJP affairs, and Gadkari is said to have become the party president with the blessings of the organisation. Gadkari’s generous praise for Chouhan on agricultural growth at the recent party meet in Surajkund near here set tongues wagging on whether the leadership was trying to project the Madhya Pradesh chief minister as a foil to the unmistakably powerful but controversial Modi. The party denied it, but the speculation persists. “It is only natural that a chief minister will be praised by the party chief for good work,” a party leader speaking on the condition of anonymity told IANS.
Modi, Chouhan, Raman: Satraps who may now script BJP’s fortunes
The BJP had set for itself the goal of increasing its overall vote share by at least 10 percent and expansion of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) following its defeat in two successive Lok Sabha polls. It had also sought to strengthen itself in states where it is weak. With talk of Lok Sabha elections being held earlier than 2014, the party’s strength remains in states where it has established leaders including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Bihar and Himachal Pradesh and to some extent Karnataka – where former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa is in a rebellious mood. The BJP is a force even in states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
Modi, clearly in contention as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, has not shied away from flexing his muscles. Analysts said satraps would harbour ambitions of playing a role at the central level as they emerge successful in their states. Subrata Mukherjee, a former professor at Delhi University, said the BJP had not been able to define a proper relationship between regional and national leadership. “The BJP is not working out a principle of leadership… the leadership has its set of problems. Bulk of them do not have a base of their own,” Mukherjee said. Unlike the Congress, he pointed out, the BJP did not have a defined formula on leadership. “There are too many claimants (for prime minister). It is a party where the centre does not hold,” Mukherjee said.
The party brushes aside the buzz over leadership. G.V.L. Narsimha Rao, a member of the BJP’s national electoral reforms committee, said the party had abundant choice and choosing a prime ministerial candidate will not be problem. “At an appropriate time will come a decision on this, keeping in mind the best interests of the party,” he said. Unlike the Congress which “never allowed leaders to grow in states”, the BJP has invested heavily in state level leaders, he said. “Everyone (chief minister) has developed a leadership style and governance paradigm.”