After taking the high moral ground
on the corruption issue in parliament and on the public stage with
Anna Hazare, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fallen from
grace on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh elections by inducting into
the party several tainted politicians, who had been evicted by the
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for their alleged sins.
The most prominent among the accused is Babu Singh Kushwaha, a
former BSP minister whose name has been mentioned in connection
with the notorious rural health mission scam, which has led to the
murders of two chief medical officers and the death of a third in
As a Koeri, however, Kushwaha is considered indispensable for
wooing the non-Yadav OBCs (Other Backward Classes), especially
when the latter are apparently displeased with the lopping off of
4.5 percent of the OBC quota for the Muslims. But, while the
time-honoured calculations based on the Hindi belt's caste
arithmetic are understandable, it is the BJP's convenient turning
of the blind eye to the criminal charges faced by Kushwaha that
has caused unease in the party and provided grist to its
What is odd, however, is that the entry of the tainted politicians
has been facilitated by party president Nitin Gadkari himself,
although the saffron magazine, Panchajanya, which is said to be
the mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has
cautioned against such unethical practices.
Since Gadkari is supposed to have been handpicked by the RSS to
replace Rajnath Sjngh as party chief in 2009, either he has fallen
out with his mentor, or he has managed to convince the Nagpur
patriarchs that the chances of success in the polls by tapping
into the OBC votes outweigh any criticism for tweaking the ethical
It was typical of Gadkari that he justified his choice by saying
that Kushwaha was not facing any murder charges - just as he had
earlier said that the former Karnataka chief minister, B.S.
Yeddyurapa, was guilty of moral and not legal offence. But it
isn't so much playing with words or compromises with illegality
which are of note as the fact that the Uttar Pradesh polls have
again opened up the BJP's internal fissures.
It is obvious that the closing of ranks caused by the need to
stand together with Anna Hazare has dissipated for two reasons.
First, Anna'a movement is fizzling out with the crusader opting
out of campaigning in the states holding elections because of ill
health. Secondly, Gadkari's "social engineering" is facing
opposition from L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and others, thereby
suggesting that the familiar fault lines between the "provincials"
to which Gadkari and Rajnath Singh can be said to belong, and the
Delhi-based leaders have remained unchanged.
The BJP, of course, has long given up any pretence of being a
"party with a difference", just as it no longer insists on
building the Ram temple. In fact, Gadkari had clarified earlier
that the temple would not feature in the party's election campaign
in Uttar Pradesh.
However, the dilution of two of the BJP's main distinguishing
features mean that it no longer cares to appeal to the middle
class (which once responded to its "party with a difference" catch
line), and that it is indifferent towards the Hindu constituency.
True, as the BJP's recent steps against cow slaughter and beef
consumption in Madhya Pradesh show, it will continue to plug the
Hindu line. But only occasionally. The earlier fanaticism is gone.
Instead, what has taken its place are the familiar compulsions of
Indian politics, of which casteism is of prime importance in Uttar
Although the BJP was recently using corruption in tandem with Anna
to lambast the Congress, its stance was never fully convincing.
The main reason was Yeddyurappa's record. Although the latter was
dragged kicking and screaming from the chief minister's post, his
recent threats of even breaking the party cannot but be hurtful to
the BJP. And now, its dalliance with the tainted means that its
image will get a fresh coating of tar and will expose its
The BJP's problem is that its policies lack substance. While its
temple plank was mainly an electoral ploy intended to garner the
Hindu vote, the claim to be a party which was different was meant
to undercut the Congress, whose reputation was not quite
But, since the BJP was serious neither about fulfilling its pledge
about the temple nor about sustaining its assertions about
probity, it seemed to have lost its way, especially in the latest
round of elections where it cannot expect to fare well either in
Uttar Pradesh or in Punjab. Its difficulties have been compounded
by the lack of leaders with a pan-Indian appeal.
Neither Gadkari nor Advani fits the bill, the former because of a
lack of charisma and the latter because of age, while Sushma
Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are capable of drawing crowds only in the
National Capital Region.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)