BJP under siege - from within
It should have been marshalling its strengths to take on the Congress with balloting in several states next year and general elections due in 2014, but India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is instead battling internal demons that have led to strains and tensions between its top leaders.
Murmurs against party president Nitin Gadkari over charges of financial impropriety and corporate wrongdoing linked to his Purti Group of companies have reached a crescendo, embarrassing the party that once prided itself on its discipline. It was already being plagued by problems in its state units, including Karnataka, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, but this is a virtual implosion.
With the Gujarat polls next month, crucial electoral tests next year in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and the stage getting ready for the general election in 2014, the timing could not have been worse.
"Attention has been diverted towards internal problem solving when we should have been putting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on the mat on issues of corruption and price rise," a senior leader told IANS.
"The mood of the public is good but within the party it is not," the leader said on the condition of anonymity.
Five party leaders -- Ram Jethmalani (now suspended), his son Mahesh Jethamalani, Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Jagdish Shettigar -- have already gone on record seeking Gadkari's resignation.
A defiant Jethmalani said he was "ready for expulsion".
He also attacked senior leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj for "damaging" the BJP's interests over their letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking appointment of the new director of Central Bureau of Investigation through a collegium.
"I cannot account for their lack of wisdom," he said. "Even a Congress agent won't be able to do such work (to benefit the Congress)."
Though Jaitley refused to comment and many others dismissed Jethmalani as an eccentric, the open mud-slinging has come as a shock for the rank and file of the party.
Jethmalani has also alleged that Jaitley may have played a role in the litigation filed by Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar in the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) following the appontment of Ranjit Sinha as the new CBI director. The party has rejected the allegation.
Party sources said the growing dissent has triggered rethink on the possibility of Gadkari getting another term.
"I think the present situation (in the party) is a little volatile. However, things will be normal once it is clear who will be the next president. Till that time some imbalance will remain," another party leader said, putting a question mark on the future of Gadkari who took over in 2009.
Though the party's core committee gave Gadkari a clean chit on the basis of findings of S. Gurumurthy, a financial analyst associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the dissent against him has been resurfacing.
A decision on the choice of the next president is likely to be taken after the results of the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat polls next month. The issue of who would be its prime ministerial candidate is also expected to crop up after the poll results.
With so much focus on its internal troubles, the BJP's nationwide protests last week against the UPA government on issues of price rise and corruption virtually went unnoticed. Its campaign on the coal block allocations also appears to be waning.
The BJP has not been able to evolve broader opposition unity on the contentious issue of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.
BJP sources said the party is stuck with a situation where, barring Advani, the top hierarchy now has a string of leaders considered "equal" in stature.
Officially though, BJP leaders were gung-ho.
"Ups and downs keep coming but we are concentrating on our goals," Maya Singh, chief whip of the party in the Rajya Sabha, told IANS.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)