At a time when factionalism is rampant in the BJP, the sanyasin is expected to boost the UP poll campaign, reports Rana Ayyub
RIGHT AFTER the reinduction of party veteran Jaswant Singh in the BJP last year, RSS ideologue MG Vaidya wrote in the Marathi daily Tarun Bharat, “Take back Uma Bharti, her crimes are less than Jaswant Singh’s.” Singh had been expelled from the party over his statements on Jinnah in his book. Advani too had erred on this count, but it was Uma Bharti — the firebrand mentored by senior RSS leaders — who was snubbed and expelled in 2005 just because she had dared voice an opinion about LK Advani. It was this constant pressure from the RSS that forced the return of the 52-year-old maverick. However, the conspicuous absence of senior leaders at the reinduction ceremony spoke volumes about her unpopularity. The only heavyweight present was party president Nitin Gadkari, who for the past year had been trying to hammer out a consensus on the issue.
While the party’s official line is that Uma Bharti will fill up the void left by Kalyan Singh, who belongs to the same Lodh caste, it is a less-known fact that the timing of Baba Ramdev’s fast, the consolidated RSS-BJP support for Baba and statements made by Gadkari earlier this week in the party national executive on reviving the Ayodhya movement were all interconnected. That is why the sanyasin returns to the party ranks after six years, a period she chooses to forget. “I am starting a new innings and don’t want to talk of the days when I was out of the BJP,” she says.
It was a series of deliberations since January this year that finally culminated in the decision being announced to the media on 6 June, timed with the BJP’s attack on the Centre for ‘mishandling’ the Ramdev issue. How else would one explain the contradictory arguments made by the BJP in the past six months over the sanyasin? In January this year, the BJP had made a statement that there was no question of Bharti rejoining the party. The moody politician had floated the Bhartiya Janshakti Party with fleeting support from her friends in the Sangh Parivar, including ex-BJP leader Govindacharya, who had always maintained that she was given a raw deal. However, the new outfit went almost unnoticed and landed her in oblivion.
It would have been difficult to ignore the fiery leader who had ousted maverick Congress leader Digvijaya Singh as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. But she also gave a tough time to Shivraj Singh Chouhan, her archrival and the present CM of MP. Even in March this year, she threatened to stage a protest at the Collectorate in Chouhan’s home district, saying frost-hit farmers were not adequately compensated. After all, this is her home state, where she was born in a peasant family and patronised by Vijayaraje Scindia. Becoming chief minister in December 2003 was the high point of her political career.
Crafty politician that Bharti is, she has managed to take advantage of the constantly changing dynamics of the BJP-RSS relationship. A senior RSS leader who was forced to take a backseat in the BJP after being embroiled in a controversy, suggested that in the past two months, the RSS has decided to have a strong say in party matters after bickering between party leaders like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj came out in the open. “You should not see Sushma Swaraj’s impromptu jig at the ashram sthal (Rajghat) and the BJP’s support to Baba Ramdev in isolation of the party reiterating its stand on the Ram Mandir. At such a point, the one lady who will be able to espouse this cause and make the masses in Uttar Pradesh connect with the issue is Bharti,” the leader says.
The BJP is also not oblivious to the fact that Bharti’s return will exacerbate the existing factionalism within the party. As a party leader remarked, “She has more friends outside the BJP than within.” Even with Sushma Swaraj, the other high-profile woman in the party, she has had a blowhot- blow-cold relationship. In fact, most senior BJP leaders declined to comment when asked how they see the party benefiting from Bharti’s return to the fold. In the beginning of the year, she even said, while ruling out her return to the party, that she was a blank cheque that the party could encash during the 2012 UP elections.
With her strong RSS credentials, she will project the party ideology in the face of clashing egos
Observers wonder how Bharti will work with the man she had held responsible for engineering her eviction, Narendra Singh Tomar, BJP general secretary. When questioned about this, Gadkari said that one of the key jobs that she will be expected to perform is to sway the masses in favour of the BJP, and to give a befitting reply to Mayawati’s election rhetoric. “She has been brought back into the party with consensus from all BJP leaders and there has been no opposition to her,” replied Gadkari when asked about Bharti’s rivals in the BJP being unhappy over her comeback.
Ever since she got the green signal in April, Bharti has been trying to make a mark in public life. She tried to be a part of Anna Hazare’s Jantar Mantar protest on the Lokpal Bill in April but was turned away by his supporters. She went on a fast in May with BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) support demanding a review of hyrdropower projects in the Himalayan region to save the Ganga and the Dhari Devi temple in Haridwar. She has always been effective with emotive issues, starting with the Ayodhya movement.
AS THE RSS sees it, individual interests have been taking precedence over ideology in the BJP. So though Bharti’s re-entry will upset almost all the factions in the BJP, including Swaraj, Narendra Modi, Jaitley and Chouhan, she will play the crucial role of projecting the ideological face of the party, a woman whose Sangh background forms the crux of her political existence.
Another leader who could make a dramatic entry into the party will be Modi’s achilles heel Sanjay Joshi, who had to quit the position of the party general secretary after his sex CD surfaced in 2006. Joshi, who had attributed the CD to Modi’s men, also does not enjoy Advani’s support. In fact, much more than Swaraj and Chouhan, the RSS had to placate and reassure Advani, who had to be convinced of Bharti’s entry into the party. For it was Advani whom Bharti had left red-faced in a press conference six years ago, after she made uncharitable remarks about his statements on Jinnah, a public outburst that was broadcast on national television. She walked out on the BJP leaders, leading to embarrassment for the party.
Advani, whose soft corner for Jaitley and Modi is well known within the rank and file of the party, had to agree that to play the Hindutva card in the forthcoming elections in UP, there was no better alternative to Uma Bharti, who played a pivotal role during the Ayodhya movement. With not much potential being seen in former state BJP chief Rajnath Singh’s handling of the forthcoming UP elections, by reinducting Bharti, the BJP has tried to shoot many targets with the same bullet: harmony with the RSS, balancing party factions, projecting a Hindutva face for the UP elections and unsettling Digvijaya Singh, who is in charge of UP for the Congress.
Rana Ayub is an Assistant editor with Tehelka.