It isn’t official yet, but time has started running out for Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, whose term comes up for renewal in January. The attempt to remove him from the party’s top post, which was said to have been initiated by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat when the BJP’s rout in Bihar started becoming apparent, gained massive traction late on Tuesday when four party veterans demanded accountability for the poll debacle.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, is said to be adamant about securing another term for his closest aide, according to a senior BJP leader who is said to be close to both Modi and Shah.
“Amitji’s contribution to the party cannot be forgotten by defeat in one state,” the BJP leader told Scroll.in soon after LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar issued a statement on the eve of Diwali obviously aimed at Modi and Shah. “Modiji is aware of this. There is no question of Modiji deserting Amitji.”
However, before the veterans raised their flag, the ground is said to have been laid by Bhagwat, who was under attack from a section of the BJP leaders for throwing the party’s campaign off the rails by seeking a review of the reservations policy in jobs and educational institutions for people from marginal groups on September 21.
In the end, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won only 58 seats in the 243-member house.
Things are said to have been set in motion on November 8, while the counting was still in progress, when Bhagwat indicated during a meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that the party must start the process of finding a successor to Shah, according to a senior office-bearer of the RSS.
For his part, Shah did try to address Bhagwat’s grievances. During an hour-long meeting with Bhagwat on November 9, the BJP president clarified that it was not his controversial reservation remark that led to the polarisation of backward caste voters against the BJP, but the party’s failure to present a credible backward leader in Bihar.
It is no longer a secret that Bhagwat is upset with being blamed for the BJP’s defeat. “The Sangh is obviously hurt by the attempts to shift the blame for the defeat on Bhagwatji,” said the RSS office-bearer. “But what is even more alarming is the fact that the party has for the first time been put on an individual-centric track. That is not the culture of the Sangh.”
This concern was echoed in the statement issued by the BJP veterans. “The principal reason for the Bihar defeat is the way the party has been emasculated in the last year,” the statement said. It called for a review that should “cover the way the party is forced to kow-tow to a handful and how its consensual character has been destroyed”.
It added: “The review [of the Bihar debacle] must not be done by the very persons who have managed and have been responsible for the campaign in Bihar. To say that everyone is responsible for the defeat is to ensure that no one is held responsible.”
On its part, the party leadership was quick to put up a brave face and to issue a counter statement. “The party has been very fortunate to have been led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shri L.K. Advani for decades,” said the statement issued on behalf of Amit Shah and signed by Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari. “They had set a healthy precedent of the Party collectively taking up responsibility for victories and defeats. The Party would certainly welcome any guidance and suggestion of our seniors in this regard.”
Despite a quick counter to the veterans’ statement, the BJP leaders fear that the revolt, which has the backing of the RSS, will embolden more leaders from across the country, particularly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, to speak out against Modi and Shah.
This is more so in the face of the hardening of positions between Modi and Bhagwat on the question of renewing Shah’s term as the party president. The new battle lines in the Sangh Parivar will decide not just the fate of Amit Shah but also whether the BJP remains totally subservient to Modi.