A divided house is a tag that the main Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has long been associated with. And there have been reasons for it. Senior BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have been known to have an aversion for each other. It has been said time and again that there are many prime ministerial aspirants in the BJP, leading to personality clashes; and even though the matter has been laid to rest after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was made the face of the party for 2014 General Elections, there are some who are still said to be harboring the dream.
Then there has been the famous fallout between Modi and his one time mentor and party patriarch LK Advani. The senior BJP leader had resigned from all party posts after the Gujarat CM was made the party’s poll campaign chief for 2014, only to take it back soon after; he also went into a sulk after Modi was made the PM candidate of the party for the next Lok Sabha elections. And even though Advani seems to be reconciling to the fact that Modi is perhaps their best bet for 2014 and recently said that he would be elated if the Gujarat CM became India’s PM, the fault-lines in the party, which is attempting to come back to power at the Centre after a decade, were there for all to see.
Predictably, the BJP has been at the receiving end of criticisms from analysts who have said that if the main Opposition cannot get its house in order then how will it be able to take on the Congress, plagued by charges of scams and non-governance, in the next General Elections.
It also gave much ammunition to the rival parties, especially the Congress, whose leaders often took a dig at the BJP’s weak spot. In fact, they also shed tears for Advani - some would say crocodile ones - who they said had been marginalized by the party in the most callous manner and had been relegated to the sidelines. It’s another matter that these men conveniently forgot the numerous leaders that the Congress has sidelined in the past when they appeared to have no place in the new scheme of things.
Anyway, while throwing barbs at the BJP, the Congress leaders never forgot to remind all and sundry that they were a united front and there was one factor that pulled them all together, which the BJP did not have and that was the Gandhi family.
Yes, it’s true, on numerous occasions when the Congress leaders have been found to be at loggerheads with each other, the will of the head of the Gandhi family has ultimately prevailed and the matter has been sorted out. For example, in the case of the famous fight between Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, over the issue of inter-ministerial background paper on the 2G spectrum allocation, Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened and eventually both the senior leaders patched up in front of the media.
However, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic entry in the Press Club of India on September 27 and calling the ordinance on convicted lawmakers passed by the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as ‘nonsense’ in front of the media, which lapped up his every word, has left many wondering if the Congress party is guilty of the same crime that it has been accusing the BJP of.
It is being said that while terming the ordinance as something that should be torn and thrown away, Rahul not only undermined the position of the PM and almost humiliated Manmohan Singh publicly but in one stroke, also brought the deepening fault-lines between the party and the government to the fore. And not only this, he also brought to the forefront the alleged rift amongst the senior and the junior leaders of the party.
Rumours have been doing the rounds for a while now that the younger lot in the Congress party, supposedly close to Rahul, is not too happy with Manmohan Singh’s style of functioning and going into the election mode consider him a liability. They wanted the Congress VP to take charge and the contentious ordinance, which has since been withdrawn along with the bill, was seen as a God-send opportunity to project Rahul as a man who meant business and even though it meant a loss of face for the PM, then so be it.
In fact, when Rahul said that what his government had done as far as the ordinance was concerned was ‘wrong’, he apart from directly questioning a decision taken by the PM, also left senior leaders like P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, who were part of the Cabinet meet that cleared the move, in a lurch. Before Rahul’s intervention, the Finance Minister and the Law Minister had been defending the government’s move and had been attacking the BJP for their double-speak. No wonder then, they refused to react to the media after Rahul made his stand on the ordinance public. It is also being said that some of the senior leaders are unhappy with the way things were done.
Apart from questions being raised as to the motive behind Rahul taking the route that he did, it was also being asked whether the scion of the Gandhi family had taken on his own mother while trashing the ordinance, which was reportedly cleared by the Congress core group attended by Sonia Gandhi. Thus, while Rahul may have decided to denounce the ordinance in view of the growing criticism against it and to stop the BJP from gaining political mileage out of it, the fact is that, while maybe enthusing the rank and file of the party, he has demoralized and made a section of Congress leaders insecure.
And now, predictably, it was the turn of the BJP to take a dig and highlight the divisions in the Congress. They too shed tears for the PM (read crocodile ones) and said that though they belonged to the Opposition, they had never used such language for Manmohan Singh, especially when he was travelling abroad. The PM was in the US at that time, to address the UN General Assembly, when Rahul made the comments. And even though Rahul has been in a damage control mode since then and has said all the right things about the PM, even calling him his ‘guru’, the ‘ordinance moment’ has done some irreparable damage.
However, this is not the first time that divisions between the party and the government have been in the realm of speculation. It was said that Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had a disagreement on the matter on removing Ashwani Kumar as Law Minister in the wake of him vetting the coal scam investigation report and the removal of Pawan Kumar Bansal as Railway Minister in the wake of recruitment scam earlier this year.
It was said then that the PM was reluctant to get rid of the two men but had to bow down after the Congress president put her foot down on the matter, considering the negative publicity that it was generating overall. However, unlike Rahul, Sonia did not make any public statement on the matter.
Also, there have been times when two senior Congress leaders have publicly had a spat or disagreed with each other. Like when Digvijay Singh said that the party was unlikely to name Rahul as their PM candidate for the 2014 polls, Janardan Dwivedi, considered close to Sonia Gandhi, contradicted him and said that no decision had been taken on the matter as yet.
Thus, it will not be misplaced to say that the grand old party, which is fighting many battles as of now, ranging from scams to policy paralysis, is also being increasingly seen as a front where consensus is hardly the buzzword. Needless to say, this does not augur well for a party fighting ten years of anti-incumbency and hoping that the electorate will vote the UPA back to power for the third time in 2014.