Hindu nationalist, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is known to be divisive among Indian voters, but his meteoric rise within the ranks of the BJP has upset many within the party as well. Sushma Swaraj, the party’s highest-ranking female member and opposition leader in the parliament’s lower house, has remained conspicuously silent about Modi’s candidacy throughout her campaign. Livemint reports:
Swaraj is among a group of BJP veterans who’ve been sidelined as Modi has risen to lead the party, and stand to gain should it underperform in its bid to end the Congress-led government’s decade-long rule. Dissension might surface if the BJP doesn’t win a majority or enough seats to form a stable coalition, making it dependent on smaller parties who view Modi, 63, as a divisive figure and might prefer an alternative candidate for prime minister.“Modi’s facing hostility not only from Congress and prospective allies, but also from his own BJP,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an analyst who has written about Indian politics for more than three decades and co-authored a book on coalition politics. Swaraj and former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani are part of an anti-Modi faction within the party that will assert itself if there is an opportunity, he said.
Advani submitted his resignation the day after Modi was announced as the BJP’s PM candidate, but later rescinded it, only to complain about being compelled to contest a position (based in Modi’s home state of Gujarat) that he did not want. The senior leader who has probably suffered the most from Modi’s rise is former Defence and Finance Minister and erstwhile party leader Jaswant Singh. The party refused to grant his request to run as a candidate in his home in Rajasthan, instead nominating a candidate they thought would be a better bet. Singh decided to run as an independent, leading to his dismissal from the party. Evidently aggrieved, Singh told the press, “BJP has not had… a single man [leadership]. Currently there is either one-man leadership or it is confined in a small coterie chosen by one personality. That is a choice which the BJP has made for itself.”These BJP leaders’ grievances have precedent. A similar exodus of senior party officials followed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s rise within the Congress party in the 1970s. Congress, which had previously been more inclusive, underwent radical changes as Gandhi rewarded loyalists and froze out members she deemed as threats. Since then, the party has been shaped around the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty rather than any party ideology.Modi is an upstart. As a boy, he sold tea at a train station, and he has worked his way up the ranks of the BJP through sheer force of will. With that kind of trajectory, other leaders may be right to fear that he could become bigger than the party itself.