|LK Advani (top), Murli Manohar Joshi
Aug. 26: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have been dropped from the supreme policy-making body of the party they built.
They will now be the BJP’s “margdarshaks” (translated as those who show the way or guides).
The three veterans have been omitted from the BJP’s central parliamentary board and the central election committee and enrolled in an advisory panel called the “margdarshak mandal”.
The parliamentary board is the BJP’s policy and decision-making body, empowered with the last word and a veto on just about everything.
The exclusion of the triumvirate means that neither Advani nor Joshi will have a say in matters related to elections, including the selection of candidates, leadership changes in the states and at the Centre, induction and expulsion and exploration and firming up of alliances.
Vajpayee’s exclusion is a token move as the former Prime Minister has not been a part of the decision-making processes since 2005 because of ill health. Advani and Joshi will remain Lok Sabha MPs with no say in either party or parliamentary affairs.
Sources acknowledged that the advisory panel Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah constituted was not germane to the BJP’s central working in an era where “advice” and “consultations” were “rapidly disappearing” from the party’s lexicon.
Advani’s recent visitors, few and far between, had confided in some journalists that he was being kept “in the dark” about the developments in the party and his sole source of information was often the media.
However, in a deft balancing act intended to muffle squeaks of dissent from Advani “loyalists”, the Modi-Shah team brought Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan into the parliamentary board and the central election panel.
Not just that. Advani acolytes Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar have been retained in both the panels, belying speculation that they were on the “list of suspects” because of their loyalty quotient.
In the intense power struggles that marked the elevation of the BJP’s Prime Minister candidate in the run-up to the summer elections, Advani and Sushma periodically pulled out Chouhan as a counter to Modi. They pushed the line that, like Modi, Chouhan was a “successful” and “minority-friendly” chief minister who had turned Madhya Pradesh around.
On his part, Chouhan appeared to have begun believing in the Advani-Sushma build-up and occasionally emulated former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar by donning a skull cap whose symbolism got underlined when Modi refused to accept one from a cleric at a public event in Ahmedabad.
Once Modi delivered on the Lok Sabha elections, it was widely thought in the BJP that Chouhan’s days as chief minister were numbered. The speculation was partially quelled when Modi inducted Narendra Singh Tomar into his cabinet. Tomar was positioned as a Chouhan alternative. Next, Shah acceded to Chouhan’s wish to appoint his nominee, Nand Singh Chouhan, as the Madhya Pradesh BJP president.
Sources said the last act in the “co-opt-Chouhan-project” was “mainstreaming” him in the BJP’s apex bodies. This was something Advani and Sushma had pitched for when former BJP president Rajnath Singh had nominated Modi to the parliamentary board. Neither succeeded then because they were checkmated by Modi in tandem with Rajnath.
But Chouhan’s inclusion was counter-balanced with the appointment of Kailash Vijayvargiya, the chief minister’s arch rival in Madhya Pradesh and a state minister, as the election in-charge of Haryana. The announcement on Vijayvargiya, a powerful leader from the Malwa region, came with those of the others and was not issued as a separate bulletin.
Although Rajnath and his predecessor Nitin Gadkari continued on the parliamentary board and the election committee, Rajnath joined the ranks of the “margdarshaks”. However, sources claimed the lumping with Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi “meant nothing” because Modi was also in the “mandal”. “Modi put himself and Rajnath. Otherwise, the mandal would have looked like a senior citizens’ home,” a source said.
J.P. Nadda, a low-key general secretary whose name was circulated as a potential BJP president before Shah was appointed, was included in the august panels, mostly as a “consolation prize”, sources said.
Shah’s propensity for “social engineering” was evident in the composition of the 16-member election committee. It had Shahnawaz Hussain (a Muslim), Jual Oraon (a tribal) and Vijaya Rahatkar who helms the BJP’s women’s wing.
The others who have been retained in the parliamentary board and election committee are Arun Jaitley, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Thawarchand Gehlot and Ramlal.
But insiders sounded a note of caution, saying that the seeming attempt to “balance” conflicting interests and suppress parallel power centres could be the “calm before the storm”.
They said the BJP’s “not-so-satisfactory” showing in the by-elections in Uttarakhand, Bihar and Karnataka implied that Modi and Shah were armed with the carte blanche to execute “surgeries” in the state units that could see the end of the entrenched power cabals in these states.