It is amusing to see sanctimonious Congress-wallahs strutting all over TV studios commenting on the internal bickering in the BJP. It is even more amusing to hear them preface their remarks with, ‘it is an internal matter of the BJP; that said…’! The problem lies in what was said after the conjunction. Their carefully crafted homilies only serve to expose thinly disguised glee at the discomfiture of their principal political rival.
Notwithstanding the furore generated by a 24/7 media which has its own agendas in looking for cataclysmic conspiracies where there were none, what has been happening in the BJP cannot even be described as internal strife. It may at best be described as internal bickering, the proverbial storm in a tea cup. For in politics as in everyday life it is the comparison of consequences that determine the relative import of an event. The media would have loved to endlessly debate the consequences of Narendra Modi’s elevation (sic) as the Chairman of BJP’s national election campaign committee.
Though they were not specifically named Chairmen, first the late Pramod Mahajan and later Arun Jaitley strategized BJP’s election management in the past. Therefore naming Narendra Modi as Chairman of the campaign committee could hardly be called elevation. It could just be media spin to create noise in its competitive quest for TRPs at the best or to scare off BJP’s potential allies at the worst, a terribly uncomplimentary idea to be ascribed to a free media. What the BJP did was to take the first tentative step – to test the waters as it were – before ‘entrusting Modi with higher responsibility’, to use a phrase popular in the corporate world.
But an old man with unfulfilled ambitions has probably trumped both his party’s action plan and the media’s script. Advani was largely responsible for raising the party’s parliamentary strength from two to eighty-five within a decade of its inception. He set for himself a very high standard of morality when he resigned his membership of the Lok Sabha and did not return to public life till his name was cleared in the Jain Hawala case.
Advani’s was perhaps a higher standard of morality than what Lal Bhahadur Sastry set for himself, when he resigned as Railway Minister following a train accident in which 112 persons died. (Contrast this with the conduct of Lalu Prasad Yadav during whose reign a train accident in Andhra Pradesh killed 114 people, on Diwali eve in 2005. Yadav did not deign to visit the accident site, as he was busy with elections in his native Bihar.) Even great men have their vanities and moments of weaknesses. Mohandas Gandhi used to go into a sulk when he did not have his way and so did Advani on earlier occasions.
To return to the study of relative import of events, the internal strife within the Congress, in an endless succession of events, often had far graver consequences for the nation. Here are a few that would hopefully humble sanctimonious Congressmen:
GANDHI FORCED BOSE TO RESIGN Mohandas Gandhi forcing Subhas Chandra Bose to resign from the post of party president to which he was elected with an overwhelming majority was far and away the most significant example of an internal power struggle in the Congress party. Had Bose been allowed to continue as party president, the history of our nation would have been probably different.
NEHRU SCUTTLED KAMARAJ PLAN Following India’s humiliating defeat in the 1962 China war there were rumblings within the Congress calling for a change of leadership. In no other democratic nation could a leader or a government survive such a blow to the collective national psyche. It was against this backdrop the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Kamaraj came up with his proposal that all senior Congress men should henceforth shun public office but confine themselves to party work. The proposal, which came to be known as the Kamaraj Plan was probably carefully mooted so as not to give the impression that it was aimed at Nehru. It did not go well with Nehru and his acolytes. Although six senior ministers including Lal Bahadur Sastry, Morarji Desai, Jagjivan Ram, Biju Patnaik and S. K. Patil resigned from the government, Nehru did not. Kamaraj was forced to suggest an amendment excluding Nehru from the plan. The plan was quietly buried later.
Kamaraj’s exclusion (of Nehru from his plan) had far more serious consequences than were apparent at the time. Firstly, India could never assess the role of various ministries and organs of the government that led to the 1962 debacle, for which Nehru was responsible in a large measure. Secondly, it probably led to dynastic succession later when Nehru’s daughter Indira was made the prime minister. She would not have had the chance had Nehru demitted office as a discredited leader.
INDIRA SABOTAGED PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE SANJIVA REDDY In 1969 the Congress party nominated Neelam Sanjiva Reddy for the President of India. Opposed to the candidate proposed by the ‘old guard’, Indira sabotaged Sanjeeva Reddy’s election by calling the electorate to ‘vote according to their conscience’. She indirectly supported V. V. Giri who defeated the official Congress candidate, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy.
INDIRA HITENDRA TUSSLE RESULTED IN GUJARAT’S IN WORST COMMUNAL RIOTS The 1969 upheaval in the Congress party had even graver consequences. Simmering tensions between Indira’s faction and some senior leaders whom the press loved to call the old guard led to her breaking away. Her faction was called the Congress-I (with the ‘I’ for Indira), probably the first time a national political party was named after an individual in the democratic world. That would not have mattered but for the fact that some state units of the party were still under the control of the Congress-O as the rival faction came to be known. Gujarat was one such led by Hitendra Desai. As the two leaders went at each other to settle scores, communal riots erupted, the worst ever the state has witnessed. The riots lasted six months resulting in 5000 deaths in Ahmedabad alone and between 12000 and 15000 in the state.
PARANOID RAJIV’S ACOLYTES ENGINEERED RIOTS IN AP & KARNATAKA After Indira died a violent death, her son Rajiv ascended to the throne in 1984 with immense sympathy in a nation known for its maudlin sentimentalism, and a lot of promise. The promise evaporated soon and he was out of power by 1989. A result of Congress party’s internal power struggle was recounted in ‘A decade of secular lies’:
In 1990, Rajiv Gandhi was out of power thanks to the Machiavellian V P Singh. His party was in power in only three major states, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, ruled by Marri Chenna Reddy, Veerendra Patil and Sharad Pawar respectively. The three Chief Ministers held a conclave in Tirupathi. We do not know what if anything of significance transpired in the conclave, but Rajiv Gandhi construed that it was held to undermine his authority as the party’s high command. He turned to his trusted acolytes, the secular Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), state party president in Andhra Pradesh and the secular Jaffar Sheriff, party president in Karnataka. Sharad Pawar was considered invincible and left alone for the nonce. YSR, with some help from the secular MIM party engineered riots in Andhra. Jaffar Sheriff simultaneously did the same in Karnataka. The riots continued for weeks and stopped – as if a switch was turned off – as soon as Chenna Reddy and Verendra Patil resigned, obviously with some persuasion from the high command. This after Marri Chenna Reddy regained power for Congress from N. T. Rama Rao, quite a significant political feat. Some four hundred people lost their lives in the Hyderabad riots alone. In Karnataka, the riots were diffused throughout the state – because of its diverse religious composition unlike Andhra Pradesh where the Muslim population is mainly concentrated in Hyderabad and some pockets of Rayalaseema.
The ignominious exits of P. V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri (as party presidents) are two more examples of Congress’ internal shenanigans that deserve mention. With these skeletons (cited as examples and many more) it is amusing to see the Congress party snickering at the BJP’s discomfiture.