Amidst pandemic mishandling, BJP faces internecine warfare

Modi, Shah, Yogi triumvirate falling apart?

Politics

June 8, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Amidst pandemic mishandling, BJP faces internecine warfare

If Modi-Shah want to keep the party and central government strong in its second term, they would need to undertake some serious but very delicate reconstruction that could either make or mar Modi’s second term (Photo: PTI)

Even as it struggles to cope with the aftermath of utter disastrous handling of coronavirus pandemic’s second wave, there have been reports in sections of media of more trouble for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. A political storm seems to be brewing over serious differences between the three most powerful men in India currently.

Though a humble pie is not his favourite dish, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be feeling a bit relieved the day after he made his nth, and by far the most sensible, U-turn in the vaccination policy when he said that government would provide free vaccination for all Indians.

Certainly, the course correction did not come of its own volition. Modi has been hammered by the opposition, especially Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as well as chief ministers of several states like West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala for having put in place an entirely daft policy of three-tier vaccine pricing and telling the states to fend for themselves, after having wasted 15 precious months in which most of the large countries had already ordered and cornered the production of vaccines at least up to the end of 2021.

While Modi could have managed to ignore the opposition parties, what perhaps caught him and his cronies by total surprise was an unusually sharp rebuke by the Supreme Court which told the central government last week to “smell the coffee” and modify its policy that requires states to pay more for Covid-19 vaccines, besides ensuring that the marginalised and rural population are not left out of the vaccination drive due to India’s digital divide.

Resuming its hearing of the suo motu case on handling of the second Covid-19 wave, the top court observed that the Centre’s policy lacked a “vision” and it did not take into account several crucial aspects to tackle issues at present and in future. It also questioned why states had to pay higher prices and why the government insisted on using CoWin for vaccination knowing the immense digital divide that exists in the country.

Finally, it appears that the message had struck home and Modi, his back to the wall, made yet another policy change, which he tried to present as his own decision and which was duly cheered by his pet media and of course the members of the ruling party.

Trouble in the offing

Even as Modi and his government were being taken to the cleaners by the top court, a few journalists and social media influencers did not fail to notice that in a very uncharacteristic behaviour, both Modi and his right hand man, home minister Amit Shah, had failed to publicly greet Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath on the occasion of his birthday.

And Twitter timelines of both Modi and Shah are replete with birthday greetings for a wide spectrum of people of varying degrees of importance. Hence, there would have to be much more than a momentary memory lapse for them to have missed out on wishing Adityanath, who is the third element of the ruling triumvirate in the country.

However big a deal it may have been, but a missed birthday greeting is hardly the only sign that all is far from well between Modi-Shah and Adityanath. Over the past few weeks, Modi’s face has been conspicuous by its absence from the large-scale publicity campaign run by Adityanath, who has been one of the most aggressively advertising political leader in the country.

Also, the union government outreach bureau, Press Information Bureau, took the pains to call out as a fake a letter purportedly written by Amit Shah to Adityanath praising him for excellent outcomes in vaccination drive in parts of western Uttar Pradesh.

And perhaps most ominously, the BJP had sent some key personnel from the Central team to spend time in Lucknow, UP’s capital, to meet with various MLAs and other state party leaders. Though the BJP tried to pass it off as a ‘regular review’, there were hardly any buyers for this line as most media reports spoke of the Delhi trying to get a whiff of the air on the ground, especially in the aftermath of the second wave of the pandemic that has put both Adityanath and the Central government in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Wrong man, wrong time and wrong place

Whatever may be the true reason behind the ‘regular review’ meetings, it is clear that the BJP is looking at a difficult period ahead, especially as Uttar Pradesh assembly elections are less than nine months away. Few voters in the state would have forgotten or forgiven the party for the utter chaos that the second wave has created in the state.

Faced with anti-incumbency on top of the pandemic disaster, the party would need to come with all its guns blazing to have a chance to win the elections. And Adityanath would be pivotal to this. Even in the run up to the 2017 elections, Adityanath had initially threatened to contest with his own party and had he not been placated by the central leadership that offered him a carte blanche, including the post of chief minister, the post-poll script would have been entirely different.

Though new to the job of an administrator, Adityanath wasted no time and followed the example of Modi, building an image of a strong leader who brooked no opposition and with a very high-octane publicity campaign that even outdid Modi. There is little doubt that he is the most powerful BJP CM in the country today.

It is anyone’s guess how much stronger has brand Adtiyanath become in UP, especially when compared with the brand BJP and perhaps even brand Modi. If the differences persist, or even if the perception of differences persists for a few more months, it could spell trouble for the ruling party.

It would not just be a question of losing the biggest state in the country. But a bigger worry for Modi-Shah would be the loss of the recently-earned majority in the Rajya Sabha, if indeed the UP elections hand in poor results.

Karnataka, Kerala & elsewhere

It is it not just UP where the party seems to be headed for trouble. After having cruised along for several years, the BJP seems to facing trouble in many other parts of the country. Its government in the second largest and perhaps the richest state, alongside Gujarat, is also rife with dissent.

Right from the moment B S Yediyurappa took charge again as the chief minister in July 2019, having toppled the previous coalition government by luring nearly two dozen MLAs, the BJP unit in the state has been badly divided as not a few of the Congress turncoats who had just joined the party aspired for the top post. But BSY, as Yediyurappa is also known, made it clear to the party’s central leadership that notwithstanding serious corruption charges or his old age, way beyond the 75-year capping for party leaders, Karnataka would stay with the BJP only as long as he was the CM.

Hence, pretty much like Adityanath, Delhi’s diktats or rebels in Bengaluru have made no difference to BSY. But dissension is now again out in the open it would certainly not do the party any good as it prepares to go into elections in Karnataka in less than 20 months.

In the neighbouring state of Kerala, where after an electoral drubbing as the party ended up with zero wins, the local leaders of the BJP stand accused of running a money-laundering racket and diverting election campaign funds into their personal coffers.

Similarly, in West Bengal, where Modi-Shah had made a win a matter of prestige and campaigned tirelessly, putting into the fight all they could, the humiliating loss has cost the BJP a heavy price. Moreover, many Trinamool Congress turncoats who had joined the BJP months before the elections are now grovelling in front of chief minister and TMC boss Mamata Banerjee to be allowed to return ‘home’.

Alongside UP, its neighbouring state Uttarakhand will also go to polls next year. Here, too, the BJP could find a win to a Himalayan task as party faces dissension from within and anger of voters without over its mishandling of the pandemic. The recent change of chief minister in the state when Tirath Singh Rawat was brought in to replace Trivendra Singh Rawat, in a huff, may not have placated voters.

If Modi-Shah want to keep the party and central government strong in its second term, they would need to urgently undertake some serious but very delicate reconstruction that could either make or mar Modi’s second term.

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