Clash of the Saffron Titans


The news of a possible cabinet reshuffle also hints at the spat between the two. There were hints that Piyush Goyal, the Minister of Power, might replace Jaitley as finance minister. This has made people close to Jaitley allege that there is a covert attempt from the ‘Gujarat lobby’ to sideline him in the party and the government. In fact, a party source indicates that such an attempt to bypass Jaitley is not a first. When the RSS was not happy with Jaitley’s financial policies, they were in consultation with the BJP to replace him with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. But when the DDCA scam broke out, the Sangh changed their mind about Jaitley, worrying that AAP would gain brownie points.

Similiarily, when Lalit Modi issue made news, Sushma Swaraj was left in a defensive position. At that time, many in the party suspected that it was the handiwork of Jaitley. However, the party stood by her and gave her all the support that she needed.

At present, the Modi-Shah duo, also faces challenges from party veterans like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shanta Kumar and Yashwant Sinha. From Advani’s failed attempt at stopping Modi from being declared as prime ministerial candidate to the open criticism laid out by party leaders for the Bihar debacle, the BJP has never really been free from internal turbulence.

Though the criticism might be deflected, given that the leaders have lost their commanding power with the BJP and RSS, owing to a generational change, many people within the party agree with the veterans in their opinion regarding Shah and his arrogance. If he continues his style of functioning, without consulting anyone in the decision making process of the party, this autocratic trait in dealing with the state leaders and party workers will fuel further dissent.

One of the main criticism against Shah after the party’s defeat in Bihar was his failure to accommodate the MPs from the state during the ticket distribution. Not only were they denied a chance to compete, the MPs were also excluded from the party’s election strategy. Instead, Shah brought MPs from other states who had minimal understanding of the state’s demography in terms of its politics. Seeing this, local MPs like Shatrughnan Sinha and RK Singh expressed their displeasure openly. In Assam too, Shah has been criticised for ignoring the MPs from the state. Given that the party nurtures plenty of hope for the upcoming Assam Assembly election, it will be tricky for the BJP..

However, Shah has a big supporter in Modi, who pushed the RSS  into giving another term as party president. Even before he was elevated to the status of being the president of the BJP in July 2014, Shah was the de-facto chief of the party ever since Narendra Modi was projected as its prime ministerial candidate. When Modi made him the man-in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, discerning observers found in him the future president of BJP. Surprising the most optimistic followers of the party, he managed a spectacular win for the BJP in the 2014 general elections. Modi even went to the extent of declaring Shah the ‘man of the match’ following the spectacular win. Shah also steered the party to historic victories in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir. However, the drubbing in Delhi and Bihar dented his image as an unbeatable man.

To critics, part of Shah’s victory in the 2014 General election is his careful implementation of the Gujarat model of politics that he has been following. Even after the 2002 Gujarat riots, Shah could aid Modi to be the chief minister of the state, signifying that communal polarisation has always been his trump card. Party insiders also underline how the Muzaffarnagar riots contributed to the party’s victory in 2014. It was after Shah’s infamous ‘revenge’ speech that the tension at Muzaffarnagar spiked and led to the massacre of several people. From stepping on the development plank to playing cow politics and then to making sharp jibes at Pakistan, Shah did everything in his power to win the people of Bihar over. Yet nothing worked and the scales tipped towards the Grand Alliance.

So, will he follow the same route in UP, which is already in the throes of communal tension? This is a question worthy enough to be pondered over. However, if one goes back to the party’s history, it was the rivalry between second rung leaders such as Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Anant Kumar that sealed the fate of the Vajpayee-Advani era. Now, it seems that the ghosts of their past has come back to haunt the Modi-Shah-Jaitley combo who got the bigger slice of the pie when the veterans faded.