Major purging in the BJP. Nitin Gadkari being dropped from the party's highest decision-making bodies - the BJP Parliamentary Board and Election Committee - has a very strong message for the party and also for the RSS's top leadership. That the BJP, under Modi ,will not tolerate any kind of discordant note, be it in the government or in the party. Nitin Gadkari is no pushover and is probably the only leader of stature who has still not fallen in line with Modi. In the last eight years, he has emerged as one of the most efficient ministers in the Modi Cabinet but also as a leader who speaks his own mind. Now he is paying the price for being outspoken.
Under Modi, the BJP has metamorphosed into a party which has forgotten that it used to profess the value of collective leadership and opinions of senior members of the party. In the era of "Atal-Advani", their supremacy was never challenged, but in the Cabinet and within the organisation, differences of opinion and disagreements were welcome. And once the party had taken a decision, it was expected that everybody would fall in line and outspokenness outside the party forum was not permitted. But since Modi has taken command, no one is allowed to differ with the top boss, neither in the Cabinet nor at party forums. To follow the leader verbatim is the only option. If Indian democracy has since 2014 moved towards one-party-rule at the Centre, after a gap of approximately 30 years, then the BJP has shrunk into a one-man-party. Modi is the leader and Modi is the party, nothing else matters.
The RSS is the BJP's mother organisation. The RSS is also the source of the party's ideology. A large number of its cadre derive inspiration from the RSS. So for any BJP leader, it is very difficult to defy the RSS. Modi, who has been a pracharak, knows this well. Initially, he had to accommodate the wishes of the RSS but slowly, he took total control of the party and today, the BJP under Modi has freed itself from the moral and organisational grip of the RSS. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, the RSS dictated terms to the government. The verbal assault by then RSS chief K Sudarshan on the Vajpayee government is still vivid in my memory. Mohan Bhagwat has shown more maturity vis-a-vis the Modi government. He has been very subdued in criticism but with the appointment of Dattatreya Hosabale as second-in-command in the RSS, Bhagwat has been further weakened. Now Modi is totally autonomous. Nitin Gadkari's sacking is a significant pointer in that direction.
Nitin Gadkari is a favourite of the RSS, especially of Mohan Bhagwat. He was chosen to lead the BJP after the BJP's loss in 2009 elections, ignoring the claims of big leaders like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Sushma Swaraj, Anant Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu. The RSS also wanted to project him as Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014 elections but a major corruption scandal linked to his businesses cancelled that plan. Modi was the only option left and the RSS, led by Bhagwat, grudgingly accepted him the PM candidate.
In fact, Modi detractors had convinced themselves in 2019 that if the BJP were to fall short of a majority, Gadkari could emerge as its leader. Gadkari also misread his prospects. He tangentially attacked the leadership after the loss of Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh in 2018. He declared, "If the leadership takes credit for victories, it should also take credit for defeats." Gadkari, at a time when BJP has been criticising Nehru and Indira Gandhi ruthlessly, has been praising them. Very recently, he said, "Politics today 100% had been reduced to only staying in power rather than being a vehicle for social change. Politics is a true instrument of socio-economic reform and that is why today's politicians must work for the development of education, arts etc in society". This statement of his was seen as criticism of the Modi brand of politics. It seems to have been the last straw. The big test for him now will be whether he survives a Cabinet reshuffle, whenever that takes place.
Like Gadkari, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is an RSS favourite. He was credited with winning Madhya Pradesh back for the BJP after the disastrous rule of Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur. He was Chief Minister for 13 years before losing the state to Congress in 2018. The BJP, after engineering defections, made him Chief Minister again in 2020, but he is now a pale shadow of his earlier self. Aware that younger leaders like Yogi Adityanath were eclipsing him, he tried to copy Yogi's style of governance. He's not seen as delivering.
The induction of Karnataka's strongman B.S. Yediyurappa in the Parliamentary Board indicates that the BJP is worried about Karnataka and is aware that without his engaged and active support, the BJP may not come back to power. The appointment of Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to the Election Committee is a placatory move after it was made clear that he could not serve as Chief Minister. But what is baffling is the non-induction of Yogi Adityanath. He is the most popular leader after Modi. He is young and fast emerging as a role model for many BJP Chief Ministers. His exclusion can be seen only as an attempt to limit his standing and popularity to within UP.
It's clear that Modi wants everyone to know that what he wants is what will happen. Decision-making bodies will act according to his will, sign off on decisions already taken. The BJP's infamous 'Margdarshak Mandal' or advisory body, which functions as a retirement home, should expect many new inductees.
(Ashutosh is author of 'Hindu Rashtra' and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.