It's now as predictable as the Delhi smog - come a state election, and the carping begins of the permanent dissenters of the BJP: are former Finance Minister and now heavily sidelined Yashwant Sinha, and his compatriot, the equally cold-shouldered Patna MP Shatrughan Sinha.
This time around, with talk of the Gujarat election turning into a bigger challenge than usual for Modi and Shah, Sinha and Sinha have found some traction in the press and on social media. Yashwant Sinha is currently touring Gujarat, rubbing in the Modi government's mishandling of demonetisation and the ill-planned rollout of the GST. He has ripped in to the hapless Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and demands his resignation on a daily basis.
"Shotgun" has not bothered to hit the ground but takes daily jibes at the "one-man show and two-man army" on Twitter while offering his "full support to stalwart, statesman, intellectual and elder brother Yashwant Sinhaji
Yashwant Sinha's son Jayant Sinha is a union minister and was "persuaded" by Shah to write an editorial defending the Modi government's economic policies after the 80-year-old veteran went ballistic on the economy.
While the father and son share a good relationship, Sinha senior put Shah in an awkward position recently by saying that "while Jayant Sinha should be investigated in the Paradise Papers case, Shah's son, Jay Shah, should also be investigated for the rise in his fortunes".
Yashwant Sinha has chosen to tour Gujarat at a time when the BJP has yet to announce its candidates and 30 ministers, including Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, and Smriti Irani are campaigning door-to-door. "Those who misread this as a sign of panic are wrong. Shah always does this. The same happened before UP elections. Remember we swept it," said a senior BJP leader who asked not to be named." As for Sinha and Sinha, they are politically irrelevant. Yashwant Sinha wants to be expelled and keeps upping the ante, yet a canny Shah is not obliging him. Shotgun knows we already have a candidate for his Lok Sabha seat and is all set to be the "pride of Bihar" via the Rajya Sabha route with either Lalu Prasad Yadav or Nitish Kumar with whom he has an excellent relationship."
Yet, while the BJP may claim to be sanguine, the reality is that while Sinha and Sinha may not be entirely objective, they are voicing concerns which have touched a chord in the country and within the BJP.
Till three months ago, Modi and Shah looked unstoppable in Gujarat. Yet, a lot has changed since then - not least, the fumbling introduction of the GST. The Congress, completely written off in Gujarat for nearly 22 years, may not be able to capture the state, but it is showing signs of coming back to life with Rahul Gandhi getting a surprisingly rousing response at rallies. Whether this will translate in to electoral gain is still an open question, as the Congress' organisation on the ground has virtually evaporated. But the response to Gandhi, as also the BJP's daily jibes at him, display a nerviness at variance with Shah's confident claims. Shah has had to cancel three press conferences in a row in Gujarat. The mystery leak of a sex CD allegedly involving young Patidar leader Hardik Patel (who had warned that a smut CD would be provided to discredit him) and other footage that allegedly shows him drinking only doubles down the theory that nerves are frayed. Patel told me that he and Jignesh Mevani, the young Dalit leader, are planning a series of joint public meetings. The third young caste leader, Alpesh Thakor, who has joined the Congress is another sore point with the BJP. The Congress is making a determined bid for the Patidar vote and its final list will reportedly include nearly 20 Hardik Patel candidates.
With tougher competition than anticipated, the "Vikas"
agenda has been abandoned for the BJP's trusted plank of Hindutva and nationalism. Modi is expected to hit the campaign trail with a record number of rallies and as earlier reported by me in this column
, focus on "Gujarati Asmita"
(pride) which he symbolically represents. Modi is expected to keep up the attack on the Gandhi family's "allergy to and hate for" Gujaratis and all things Gujarat. Meanwhile, the Congress social media cell is displaying a new aggression and bite that's serving Gandhi well.
The winter session of parliament, which usually begins in November and has been delayed because the PM and ministers are busy campaigning in Gujarat, is now likely to be held in December, top sources told me. Jaitley, who is the nominal Gujarat-in-charge has yet to make even a single trip to the state; Shah's famous micro-management is at work. Yashwant Sinha recently raised this in Gujarat.
Rahul Gandhi is carefully sticking to a script that stars the economic slowdown and leaving the personal jibes to Hardik Patel, who appears to have a voluptuous supply of them. Gandhi is also visiting temples wherever he goes, which the BJP has criticized as "all for show".. "Attacking Gandhi for visiting temples could have been avoided. This shows that we are nervous and makes the Congress a contender by default which is not yet true on the ground," said the BJP source I referred to earlier.
So why have Sinha and Sinha found resonance in their grievances? Because despite headline management, "Dhanda" business has been affected by the twin blows of demonetisation and GST. Post Modi's exit from his home state, a huge element of anti-incumbency is billowing around the BJP in Gujarat. It provides an opening for Rahul Gandhi to be taken seriously, even if he cannot deliver Gujarat to the Congress.
Sinha and Sinha are also tapping a raw nerve within the BJP. A large section of the erstwhile cadre-based party resent the absolute dominance of Modi and Shah and senior leaders including Rajnath Singh and chief ministers such as Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh and Vasundhara Raje Scindia of Rajasthan, not exactly Modi and Shah favourites, have much riding on the Gujarat results. They want to bring equilibrium back to the party with a balance of power. Pretty much the same as Sinha and Sinha, but different in that they are actually mass leaders.(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.