By Amulya Ganguli, Political Analyst
The convoluted course which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) followed before choosing Purno Sangma as its presidential candidate has not only exposed the fissures at its top but may have also paved the way for the disintegration of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that it leads.
The BJP’s problems arose because the party did not have a candidate of its own to start with, revealing its lack of preparedness for a major political battle. Since it would have been odd for a party which claims to be the national alternative to the Congress to give the latter a walkover in the presidential race, the BJP belatedly began to look around for someone – anyone – to stand on its behalf.
But, since it initially found no one, it began to poach on the choices of others. These included, first, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was named by Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav, and, secondly, Sangma, who was the choice of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Finally, only Sangma was left in the field as Kalam backed off, perhaps realizing that his name hadn’t been proposed by ardent admirers but by anti-Congress elements who wanted to settle personal scores. But the emergence of the former Lok Sabha speaker as the candidate of a section of the non-Congress parties did not mean that the twists and turns in their camp had ended.
For a start, the NDA fell apart because the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), the second most important constituent of the alliance, decided to support the United Progressive Alliance’s Pranab Mukherjee. But, intriguingly, so did the Shiv Sena, the NDA’s second saffron-tinted partner after the BJP.
But, that’s not all. Although the BJP’s focus was on the presidential contest, the JD-U brought up the question of the prime ministerial aspirants as well evidently because the success or failure of the forthcoming battle were being seen as a testing ground for the 2014 general election. And to make the JD-U’s views absolutely clear, its leader, Nitish Kumar, asserted that only a secular person can be the NDA’s prime ministerial nominee.
Perhaps sensing a parting of ways with the BJP on the presidential contest, the Bihar chief minister made the advance move apparently because Narendra Modi’s name was being touted as a prime ministerial candidate. To further clarify the JD-U’s position, a party member described Modi as a “fanatic” while Nitish Kumar disclosed that prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had thought of dismissing Modi after the Gujarat riots.
The fallout from the presidential battle is therefore proving to be far more damaging to the BJP than to the Congress. While the latter has managed to defuse Mamata Banerjee’s revolt by weaning away Mulayam Singh Yadav from her side, the repercussions of the rupture in the NDA will be felt long after Pranab Mukherjee assumes charge as president.
For one, the breach between the BJP and the JD-U will not be easy to heal, if only because Nitish Kumar may have developed prime ministerial ambitions of his own. If the NDA has to opt for a secular nominee, then he is the obvious choice. For another, if the BJP presumes that it will be able to widen the NDA by roping in Jayalalithaa and Patnaik, then it is probably living on false hopes because the Odisha chief minister is unlikely to have forgotten how the burning of churches in his state in 2008 made him sever his ties with the BJP.
To complicate matters, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the pater familias of the Hindutva family, has stepped into the fray to ask why Modi cannot be prime minister. Interestingly, all through the rumpus, the BJP’s president, Nitin Gadkari, for whom the RSS secured a second term, was completely marginalized with the leading roles being played by the old warhorse, L.K. Advani, and his close follower, Sushma Swaraj. Incidentally, both of them had stayed away from the BJP’s recent rally in Mumbai apparently to express their unhappiness with Gadkari’s second term.
The rift therefore is not only between the BJP on one side and the JD-U and the Shiv Sena on the other. There are cracks in the BJP as well with the never-say-die Advani raising the banner of revolt – as he had done earlier in his blog – against Gadkari. Therefore, the party’s emphasis after the presidential polls, which it cannot expect to win anyway, will have to be on papering over the internal cracks and saving the NDA.
However, the biggest loser in all this is Sangma. Not only is he heading for a defeat in the polls, but he has already lost his place in his own outfit, the Nationalist Congress Party. The second biggest loser is Mamata Banerjee, who will be lucky if she can keep her place in the UPA.