Despite the bravado, both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah seem shaken following the leak of the letter written by prominent RSS member Kishore Tiwari, demanding that both be shown the door
BJP president Amit Shah told a media conclave on Wednesday that NDA would contest the 2019 election under the leadership of Narendra Modi.
Till ten days ago this would have sounded like stating the obvious. But after December 11 it is no longer frivolous to ask questions like – Who will be the BJP’s prime-ministerial face? Is NDA thinking of a change in leadership?
After the defeat of the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, nothing can be taken for granted. Not only are such questions being asked but a few names are already being bandied about in ruling party circles as possible alternatives.
In fact at another media event a day earlier, Nitin Gadkari was asked whether he was one of the potential contenders. To which he replied like any politician would: “I have no prime-ministerial ambitions”.
That should have put all speculations to rest. But it has not. Instead, there is an undercurrent that refers to a contingency plan drawn up by the RSS just in case the BJP and its allies fail to win a comfortable majority in the next Lok Sabha.
A senior RSS functionary was even willing to confirm the existence of a Plan B. The Sangh has been examining different scenarios, he said, and we are prepared for all eventualities.
According to him, the assembly election results show it will be a close election in 2019. “We expect NDA to come back to power but we cannot ignore the reality that the Congress has recovered ground in some important States. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the number of BJP MPs will be much less than last time. This will mean greater dependence on NDA partners who will demand greater say in running the government. We have to see whether someone else will be better suited to work amicably with coalition partners than Narendrabhai,” is what he said.
Leak of Plan ‘B’ of RSS
As far as the election campaign is concerned the TINA factor applies – there is no alternative to Modi. Amit Shah was factually correct when he said NDA would fight the election under Modi’s leadership. But if the results show a narrow margin of victory or if new allies are needed to form the new government, then someone like Nitin Gadkari or Rajnath Singh can be chosen as Prime Minister.
The RSS clearly believes that having such a Plan B ready is a pragmatic approach to contingencies. However, there is some embarrassment that details of the plan seem to have leaked out and murmurs are beginning to be heard about replacing “arrogant” Modi with a “friendly” Gadkari.
So much so that Kishore Tiwari, a farmer leader in Maharashtra, has written a letter to the RSS demanding that Nitin Gadkari should be projected as the prime ministerial candidate. The contents of the letter have not only leaked out into the public domain but also attracted wide coverage in the national media.
Earlier whenever Kishore Tiwari issued any statement, he invariably received a fair amount of press coverage, but mainly within Maharashtra. Almost all newspapers, whether large-circulation Marathi dailies published from Nagpur or Pune or leading English language papers from Mumbai, take him seriously.
Why Kishore Tiwari carries weight
There is a reason for this. Tiwari is a prominent farm activist. Apart from being the founder of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, he also is the chairman of the State government’s think-tank on farm crisis, the Vasantrao Naik ShetkariSwavalamban Mission (VNSSM)
The bespectacled champion of farmers’ causes has been outspoken on many issues – from criticising what he called improper survey of drought affected areas of Maharashtra to the plight of cotton farmers due to inadequate procurement prices and even weighing into the controversial shooting of a tigress which had killed over a dozen tribals and villagers.
This week, however, what Kishore Tiwari said catapulted him to the front pages of national newspapers and TV news channels.
In his letter to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and General Secretary Bhaiyyaji Suresh Joshi, Tiwari said the BJP’s defeat in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh was the direct outcome of “arrogant leaders” who implemented devastating decisions like demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST), fuel prices hike and other anti-people measures.
“Leaders who pursue an extremist and dictatorial attitude in the party and government are dangerous for the society and the country… This has been witnessed before and if history is not to be repeated, hand over the reins to (Nitin) Gadkari for the 2019 polls,” Tiwari has written.
The farm leader, who enjoys ministerial status, categorically asked the BJP to “get rid of both Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah” for their anti-farmer and anti-people policies, which led to the party’s stunning defeats in the just concluded elections.
Accusing Modi and Shah of upturning the good work done by the former BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Tiwari said they seem to be interested “only in grandiose Bullet Trains and Metro Rail projects”.
Need for a more ‘gentle’ leader
He said that considering the “dictatorial approach” of Modi and Shah, which has unleashed fear in the country, it was imperative to have an acceptable and gentle leader like Nitin Gadkari, who can take along all viewpoints and friendly parties, evolve consensus and remove fear among people.
Gadkari, he said was “adequately qualified” for the top post since he has also headed the BJP as National President, besides ministerial capacities in Maharashtra and now at the centre.
This trenchant, no holds barred criticism has caused red faces among the RSS top leadership – it has sparked off speculation in front organisations which have been increasingly irritated by Narendra Modi’s personality cult and his disinterest in implementing the core agenda of the Sangh.
Modi and Shah ‘insecure’
There are reports that Modi and Shah are feeling angry and affronted that speculation about a possible change in leadership before or after the Lok Sabha elections has gained currency – not in anti-BJP parties but within the Sangh itself. But they are also feeling insecure – they do not know whether RSS top brass are behind the whispers and also whether they will get the full support of the cadres during the elections.
The ground situation is challenging. Apart from three major Hindi heartland states and Punjab now coming under Congress rule, there is concern about the remaining BJP-ruled States. The prospects of good electoral results in Haryana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Gujarat are mixed at best.
The BJP may be in a stronger position in the Northeast but the number of seats from these states is too few. The South still remains out of reach except through proxy alliances and not much headway has been made in any of the eastern states either.
Moreover, in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP can ignore the rumblings only at its own peril – apart from which the coming together of BSP and SP poses a threat even if the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ with the Congress does not materialise. The resignation of BJP MP Savitribai Phule is also a sign that more defections could take place.
Phule, a Dalit MP from Bahraich, who is just 37-years-old, has been making derisive statements against Modi – “Deshkechowikdarkipehredarimein, sansadhonokichorikaraijarahihai” (the country’s resources are being looted under the watch of the country’s gateman) — virtually echoing what Congress leaders have been saying and this could encourage others to speak out too.
The real challenge before Modi and Amit Shah, therefore, is not just from Opposition parties but also from within. Far worse will be a challenge from the parent organisation and sister outfits of the Sangh Parivar.