BJP’s post-Karnataka gloom: Neither united nor untainted

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s problems seem to be increasing with the approach of the state assembly elections later this year and the general elections in 2014.

Not only has it lost a crucial poll in Karnataka as a result of allegations of sleaze against its former chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, but similar charges are now being levelled against an incumbent chief minister, Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who was being projected till recently as a better bet for the BJP than Narendra Modi because of his low-key, non-polarizing style.

However, he is now facing accusations that he palmed off prime land at throwaway prices to relatives. Predictably, the charge has brought his main adversary within the party, Uma Bharti, to the forefront with her assertion of having ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption.

It may be recalled that when the so-called ‘sexy sanyasin’ was readmitted to the BJP last year after six years and asked to campaign in Uttar Pradesh, she was specifically advised to keep away from Madhya Pradesh, where she was once the chief minister. But now that she is a vice president of the party, there is no question of reining her in.

This latest internal tussle on graft is a reminder of what happened in Karnataka, where Yeddyurappa’s ‘lapses’, which were described by the then BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, as moral rather than legal failures, encouraged his detractors in the party like Ananth Kumar in the state and L.K. Advani at the centre to target Yeddyurappa. Since then, Advani has come out in the open with his criticism of the party’s handling of the Karnataka situation as ‘absolutely opportunistic’.

If Advani appears to have become more assertive of late, the reason perhaps is that his prime ministerial hopes have been rekindled by the support he is getting from diverse sections – Sushma Swaraj, the Shiv Sena, Uma Bharti and Varun Gandhi, et al.

These expressions of support, coupled with the problems faced by the other major claimant, Modi, must be music to Advani’s ears. The time is clearly past when he felt that the next prime minister may not be either from the Congress or the BJP, or when he petulantly stayed away from the party’s rally in Mumbai in 2012.

As for Modi, it isn’t only that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata

Dal-United is dead against him on this issue in order to preserve his not-so-secure Muslim base in Bihar, conspiracy theorists in the BJP have seen in the latest Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the alleged involvement of former Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria in the Sheikh Sohrabuddin fake encounter case as a move to implicate Modi.

As it is, Modi’s factotum, former Gujarat home minister Amit Shah, is already facing a charge-sheet in the case. The turning of the needle of suspicion to Kataria can make life difficult for the Gujarat chief minister as the level of prominent suspects goes up.

The realization by Modi that his chances are not all that rosy may have persuaded him to backtrack on the question of death penalty for Maya Kodnani, which was sought by the Gujarat government a few weeks ago following her conviction in the Naroda Patiya massacre in 2002 where 95 people were killed.

Since the death penalty was described by the saffron outfits, Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Gujarat and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, as an attack on Hindus, Modi must have realized that he would be alienating his core group of supporters, the communal-minded Hindus, if the state government did not make a u-turn.

How he will explain his volte-face is not known, for he hasn’t held a question-and-answer session with this usually admiring audiences for some time, preferring instead to address them long-distance through video presentations, as he did to the Gujarati diaspora in the US recently.

But he cannot be unaware that it will not be easy to continue to brush aside any links with the 2002 riots because the episode is bound to crop up from time to time.

Just as the spectre of the riots is pursuing Modi, the hate speech given by Varun Gandhi in 2009 has started troubling him again following reports that the judicial exoneration which he received was flawed because the prosecution did not pursue the case seriously. A large number of witnesses against Varun turned hostile to suggest that they had been influenced by money or muscle power.

The reopening of the case is not good news for the 32-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who was appointed the BJP’s youngest ever general secretary following the judicial reprieve to give his career a boost since the party wants to project him as its answer to Rahul Gandhi.

What these cross-currents show is that the BJP will find it difficult to approach the forthcoming contests either as a united party or an untainted one in terms of sleaze and secularism.

(18-05-2013-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

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