By B.K. Chum in Chandigarh
It is seldom that the two main national parties, one in power and the other out of power, are afflicted with similar inner-party problems and their top leaders suggest similar remedial measures. The parties under reference are Congress and BJP. Both are plagued with factionalism and infighting. Sonia Gandhi and Nitin Gadkari, chiefs of both the parties have asked their party men to present a united face. Sonia was addressing her party’s MPs while Gadkari was speaking at a public rally at Nahan (Himachal Pradesh) on the same day.
Although Sonia was speaking in the context of the party’s dismal performance in the recent state Assembly elections, especially in Punjab and Goa, her unity call was directed to her party men in the states, especially Himachal, which are to go to the polls by 2012 end. The focus of Gadkari’s unity call was on the coming elections in the hill state. But he must be having in his mind some other states also where the BJP is facing revolts.
Sonia Gandhi’s unity sermons need to be seen in the backdrop of the report of the party’s three-member Committee headed by Defence Minister A.K. Antony on the party’s poor performance in the recent Assembly elections. Referring to the party’s debacle in Punjab, the report attributed it to factors like factionalism and infighting, wrong selection of candidates, large number of rebels and inaccessibility of the state’s leadership.
So far as factionalism and infighting are concerned, the Congress in Himachal is almost in the same state as its Punjab unit has been with the only difference that the Himachal unit’s top leadership is not as inaccessible as that of Punjab’s. Whether the other factors like right choice of candidates and the number of rebels in the field which had affected the party’s electoral outcome in Punjab will also affect its electoral fate in Himachal would be known only after tickets for the hill state’s elections are distributed.
Compared to the Congress, Himachal BJP is in a much poor state of health. It has already faced rebellion by an influential section of leaders including party’s former MP and ex-chief Maheshwar Singh, Radha Raman Shastri, Shyama Sharma and Mahender Sofat. They first floated the Himachal Bharashtachar Mukti Morcha to fight corruption. Then they quit the ruling party and formed Himachal Lokhit Party. Earlier, the BJP’s Kangra MP Rajan Sushant was suspended from the party after he raised a banner of revolt against the Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal. All of them alleged that the state government was encouraging corruption and land mafia thereby “putting the state on sale”.
The former Chief Minister and the party’s national vice-president Shanta Kumar has also not been happy with the state government’s functioning. He has been criticizing the government on the corruption issue. He also took exception to the move to take possession of the Annandale ground from Army for converting it into a cricket stadium by the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association which is headed by the Chief Minister’s MP son Anurag Thakur. A widely respected leader having a strong base in Kangra, the state’s biggest district with 16 Assembly seats, Shanta Kumar had dissociated from state BJP affairs.
While Sonia Gandhi gave a stern and categorical message to the Himachal party cadres to present a united face, Gadkari walked a tightrope for giving his unity sermons. He advised his party men to adhere to the advice of Shanta Kumar to introspect and take some hard decisions while also reposing faith in the leadership of Chief Minister Dhumal. More than an attempt to keep the rival camps happy, the advice was self-contradictory and confusing. For instance, does he want the Chief Minister to introspect and reverse the decisions which had invited the criticism of Shanta Kumar, his adversaries in the party and the rebels who had left the party? What measures would he suggest to the Chief Minister to address his critics corruption charge against the state government? Will mere denial satisfy them?
The corruption issue will put Gadkari in a catch-22 situation not only in the hill state but also in the national context. In his Nahan address he attacked the Congress-led UPA and said corruption had pervaded every nook and corner of the Union Government. He is not wrong. Under the UPA-2 mega-level corruption cases like 2G scam and Commonwealth Games have taken place. But can the BJP claim that the party itself and its state governments are corruption- free entities? The BJP president needs to be reminded about the cash-on-camera case involving the party’s former president Bangaru Laxman, admission into the party of a minister expelled by his parent party on corruption charges, removal by the party of its Uttarakhand Chief Minister on corruption issue and the corruption case against the former Karnataka Chief Minister Y.S.Yedyuruppa for allotting large chunks of land to his kin and helping them make money by favouring mining companies.
Gadkari’s unity call also needs to be seen in the light of the revolts the BJP is facing in some of its state units. Besides Himachal Pradesh, the party’s Jammu and Kashmir unit has already split. In Rajasthan, Vasundhra Raje, leader of the BJP Legislature party commanding support of an overwhelming majority of the party MLAs is on the war path. In Karnataka, Gadkari’s favourite Yeddyuruppa who is facing corruption charges is also showing his fangs. As both the Congress and the BJP are travelling in the same boat of corruption, infighting and factionalism, none of them will be able to use these issues as an effective weapon of their armoury in the 2014 elections.
To repeat what a veteran journalist wrote quoting George Bernard Shah’s words that both the Congress and the BJP live in glass houses and should not change clothes with the lights on. (IPA Service)