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Published in the 16-31 Dec 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Power struggle within BJP touches new nadir

The infighting in the BJP has reached a new high with BJP stalwarts dragging each other’s name through the mud like never before. The power struggle among the second rung leadership in the ‘party with principles’ has broken the myth that the party had anything to do with the principles that stand for respect and co-existence. The sort of infighting that the party has been struggling with during the last six months especially after the infamous Tiranga Yatra of Uma Bharati has put the whole party in the spotlight. The myth of Advani, who was anointed President because he thought he was thought to be above any criticism was so openly destroyed by the Sanyasin who thought like all the other frontline BJP leadership that they can get away with anything and everything.

It is now an open secret that most of the second rung leaders of the party who were supposed to lead the party do not see eye to eye. Neither do Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Most of these second rung leaders have served as senior ministers in NDA government. These people including Uma Bharati, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj have always fought among themselves to be seen above the rest of them and in the same league as Advani, Vajpayee and Joshi. But this sort of mudslinging was never witnessed before. 

Uma's Letter Bomb 

In a letter published by the Hindi Outlook (13 December 2004 issue), Uma Bharati tells Advani what she thinks of some of his closest aides. Excerpts:

Advani: "You used to roar like a lion.... But today rootless computer netas surround you." 

Pramod Mahajan: "People like Mahajan have only one goal—come to power and make money once they are in power.”

Venkaiah Naidu: "When he resigned citing his wife’s illness, he made menopause an issue of national debate...Shouldn’t Venkaiah have resigned after the defeat in the Maharashtra elections? The party has lost its image in the eyes of its workers.“

Arun Jaitley: "I became a victim of a conspiracy hatched by Arun who took his revenge on me." 

Kalyan Singh: "I saw only hunger for popularity in Kalyan’s eyes.He was like a man intoxicated." 

Babulal Gaur: "The Gaur govt in MP is working as Digvijay Singh’s B-team. It is corrupt." 

Sushma Swaraj: "Sushma gave the first off-the-record briefing that the party wanted to get rid of me...The off-the-record press briefings made by Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and even by Arun Jaitley destroyed my image. Every day, Sushma and the others made up new stories about me and planted them in newspapers.Completely false versions were given to the press.”

Uma On Uma: Even I have weaknesses. I am moody and stubborn and do not give up what I feel is right.”

The Tiranga yatra led by Uma Bharati, was a definite new low in the history of political yatras of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party and its Sangh associates have used the yatras as an instrument of political and ideological propaganda for nearly two decades with Advani’s Rath Yatra being the greatest success of them all for the party. It is altogether different matter that it culminated in the killing of thousands of people and instigating hundreds of riots across the length and breadth of the country. 

The last of yatra by Advani, Bharat Uday (India Shining) Yatra was a complete flop show with not much attention being given to it by people across the country. It was also clear from the results as the party lost badly in the last Lok Sabha elections. Even in comparison to this dismal record of recent times, the Tiranga Yatra would rate as having set a new benchmark for failure. 

Uma’s Tiranga Yatra failed dismally to make any point whatsoever against the Congress led UPA government at the center It also did not succeed in generating the kind of mass appeal it sought to generate. Worse, the yatra, which was expected to liven up the BJP cadre, and lift them out of the state of dejection they were in after the shocking defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, did the exact opposite by becoming a tool to expose the bitter power struggle in the second-rung leadership of the party. 

The internal squabbling between Bharati, Venkaiah Naidu, Pramod Mahajan, and Sushma Swaraj completely overshadowed all the grand political ideals and organizational plans that were sought to be advanced through the yatra. 

When the yatra was flagged off on September 11, the BJP had portrayed it as "a movement to champion the ideals of national pride and honour" led by "a leader who had fought valiantly, against great odds, to uphold the prestige of the national flag." But this was the greatest of flops. 

Uma Bharati who had openly remarked on the incompetence of Pramod Mahajan and Venkaiah Naidu the former President of the Party who had quit the top post apparently after Uma openly abused him, was made a general secretary of the party on 4 November. The very next day on 5 November Uma Bharati publicly criticized Pramod Mahajan. She clearly said before cameras of different TV channels the same day that she had indeed complained against Pramod Mahajan's activities to party president L K Advani. Reports had earlier suggested that Bharati even wanted Advani to exclude Mahajan from the list of national office bearers of the party and had even made it one of the pre-conditions to join his team. 

But things seemed to reach a point of no return when the firebrand Sanyasin showed scant respect for party President LK Advani, the same man who was seen as the real power behind the BJP, and above any criticism and any challenge and that too before TV cameras that were directly relaying this ‘family soap’ to audience across the country. 

The BJP leadership along with millions of people across the nation watched as the finger wagging sanyasin attacked some colleagues for being behind media reports about her and demanded a discussion on her complaint at the first meeting of the party's newly appointed central office bearers. 

With Advani refusing to yield to her demand, the 45-year-old Bharati got up and pointing a finger at him defiantly said, ‘No, I am sorry, I want to discuss it here... you (Advani) can take disciplinary action against me and walked out off the meeting. 

Bharati outbursts followed Advani's admonition to party leaders for airing their differences in the media and named her, party Vice-President Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and General Secretary Shahnawaz Hussein in this context. There is a limit to how much departure from discipline can be tolerated, a visibly angry Advani said. When the two Muslim leaders sat feebly listening to the admonition the sanyasin stood and lambasted everyone who opposed her. 

But the Party that was shell shocked by the episode nevertheless wanted this fiery sanyasin to remain within the party as it had already planned to unleash her in the Bihar elections. It was rumoured that the sanyasin would be accommodated in the party very soon. 

As soon as it was made public that Uma’s suspension would be revoked the sanyasin resorted to another lethal weapon from her armoury. This time she shot off a letter to the party president naming all the second rung leaders and obviously her competitors in the party. 

She began with Advani himself, saying that he was not the same person who roared like a lion saying, ‘"You (Advani) used to roar like a lion in Parliament. But our ideological base used to look frivolous by the way some of our MPs would keep shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’. We got an opportunity to form the government for 13 days after the 1996 Lok Sabha elections. It was then that our workers saw another aspect of our character. All those people who struggled for the party from 1986 to 1996 were missing in the cabinet of our 13-day government. That was the beginning of the deterioration in our internal culture....Today, all the people around you are the ones who keep feeding their speeches and kilometres covered in yatras into their computers. If one of them does some hard work for a week like Atalji, you or me, then he or she will spend months recovering. I am not saying these people have no virtue. You should make use of them but put them in their place.’

Uma who has been openly criticizing Pramod Mahajan calling him names had this to say about him in her letter, ‘I put in a lot of effort to see that Pramod Mahajan is not made a general secretary. I felt that you needed the support of Madandas Devi (RSS leader) and Atalji for that and I tried to secure that. There was a point when Mahajan was about to be made just a vice-president. My opinion about Pramod Mahajan was formed prior to the Tiranga Yatra. It is not only my opinion but shared by many important BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu, who also wanted to get rid of Pramod. 

Many RSS people have the same opinion. I used to feel that there must be some compulsion that forces you and Atalji to bear with Pramod. What cannot be ignored is that he has brought in same type of persons in different states who were bent on destroying the ideological foundations of the party. People like Mahajan have only one goal in their lives—to come into power and then to make money once they are in power. I had thought you and Atalji would support me in taking on Pramod. 

For former party President Venkaiah Naidu she reserved harsher words, ‘When he resigned from the presidentship of the party giving his wife’s illness as the reason, he made his wife’s menopause an issue of national debate. Our workers were shocked over the way you and Atalji made sympathetic speeches about this. For 50 years we have been telling our workers that the country comes first, then the party and then the leaders

…Shouldn’t Venkaiah have resigned after the defeat in the Maharashtra elections? The party has lost its standing in the eyes of its workers. 

The sanyasin did not even spare Arun Jaitley saying, ‘as the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, I overlooked some suggestions made by people like Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah. So Arun Jaitley took his revenge when he got the opportunity. I wished to win another assembly election in Madhya Pradesh. But before that I became a victim of the conspiracy of two-three leaders from Delhi. They kept conspiring against me. 

I had told organisational secretary Kaptan Singh Solanki to take care of only the organisation in Madhya Pradesh. I told him not to call meetings with the DGP and the chief secretary. If needed, I instructed him to call me. Some of these selfish people used to make false phone calls posing as my family members in a very systematic manner. The entire planning was done by Kaptan Singh and Yashodhararaje (Rajasthan CM Vasundhararaje’s sister). And then there were the ‘off-the-record’ media briefings. 

Kalyan Singh also came in for attack by her. “I saw only hunger for popularity in Kalyan’s eyes.He was like a man intoxicated," she said.

When we were lodged in the Matatila jail (after the Babri demolition), your popularity was at its peak but you were far from being egoistic or a show-off. You can recall that Kalyan Singh came to meet you there. He was a little late for the meeting. You looked at him with a lot of love and affection. But I saw only the hunger for popularity in Kalyan Singh’s eyes. He looked like a man intoxicated. 

Sushma Swaraj was also not spared. ‘Sushma Swaraj gave the first off the record press briefing about me in the central hall of Parliament on August 22. She said that the party wanted to get rid of me. During all those days that I spent in Hubli jail, there were briefings against me in Delhi. I kept you informed about this. The off-the-record press briefings made by Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and even by Arun Jaitley destroyed my image. Every day, Sushma and the others made up new stories about me and planted them in newspapers. Completely false versions were given to the press. It became very difficult for me to talk to any of my party colleagues in Delhi.
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