BJP has lost its way
The Bhara-tiya Janata Party leadership has again succumbed to a habit. It has abjectly capitulated to blackmail -- in this instance, by scam-tainted former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa of Karnataka, the only Southern state it rules. It has changed the CM for the third time in 11 months, when the Assembly elections are less than nine months away.
Jagdish Shettar, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh recruit of the Lingayat caste (like Yeddyurappa, his rival), has become the CM. Mr. Yeddyurappa lobbied for him for a crass reason: to remove his successor Sadananda Gowda, a Vokkaliga, who wouldn't let him cut enough dirty deals.
The Karnataka BJP has for all intents and purposes been reduced to a Lingayats-only party. The Lingayats form just one-fifth of the state's population and cannot ensure the BJP's victory without other castes/social groups' support.
In the past, the BJP did reasonably well in Karnataka because its adversaries were divided and it had a base among other castes, such as coastal South Karnataka's Brahmins and Bunts.
The BJP will in all likelihood lose the Karnataka elections and suffer further erosion of its base, which has shrunk not least because of Mr. Yeddyurappa's notorious collusion with the Reddy Brothers' gigantic racket in the illegal mining and export of iron ore.
The likely damage from the change in political leadership won't be limited to Karnataka. The pervasive corruption which flourishes wherever the BJP rules has undermined its claim to be "a party with a difference," unlike the corruption-tainted Congress.
The upper-caste elite gravitated towards the BJP nationally because it claimed to be disciplined and relatively clean -- until it came to power. They were willing to overlook its dependence on the rabidly communal RSS because the Sangh would impose some discipline upon it.
However, the BJP has since been tried and tested, and found wanting. The RSS no longer disciplines it adequately. The BJP has proved as corrupt, criminalised and opportunistic as any other party. Indeed, it's even more opportunistic because it greedily allies with parties which reject its Hindutva core-ideology.
Factionalism flourishes in the BJP at every level. In Rajasthan, 52 out of its 78 MLAs, led by former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje revolted against Gulab Chand Kataria for leading an anti-Congress political yatra, and threatened a split. The yatra was called off. This will affect the party's prospects in one of the few states where it can improve its performance.
In Himachal Pradesh, a faction led by four-time MP Maheshwar Singh quit the BJP. In Uttarakhand, former CM Ramesh Pokhrial Nisshank ensured that prospective CM B.C. Khanduri would lose the recent Assembly election -- and his own seat.
Unlike in the past, regional factions don't take the national leadership seriously. This leadership is itself divided, with poor legitimacy.
BJP national president Nitin Gadkari has no claim to leadership other than the RSS's backing. He is a small-time provincial leader, with no political competence. Recently, the RSS humiliated him by forcing him to drop Sangh full-timer Sanjay Joshi from the BJP's national executive at the insistence of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, who despises him.
Mr. Modi had refused to campaign in the recent state Assembly elections in protest against Mr. Joshi's nomination as the BJP's election strategist in UP. He ignored the RSS's repeated pleas to campaign. The RSS swallowed the insult.
Mr. Gadkari was rewarded with a second term as president. But he won't have an easy time with his detractors, including the entire "second-generation" leadership, especially top parliamentarians Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
The national executive virtually anointed Mr. Modi as the BJP's likeliest prime ministerial candidate in 2014. In response, Mr. L.K. Advani boycotted his public meeting. But now he says Mr. Modi has been "systematically and viciously maligned".
Mr. Advani may be in trouble because the RSS, which ousted him from all party posts, wants him to reduce his activism. A senior BJP leader is quoted as saying: "Everyone has a 'use-by' date and those who do not recognise this cold fact themselves run the risk of irrelevance."
Disunity in the BJP was again exposed during Mr. Modi's recent battle with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United). Mr. Kumar chose a business daily to pour cold water on Mr. Modi's ambition to become the prime ministerial nominee of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, by saying the leader should be secular and acceptable to every constituent.
The reporter in question is close to Mr. Jaitley. Mr. Jaitley and Ms. Swaraj don't trust Mr. Modi, but are themselves rivals.
Gripped by factionalism and a leadership crisis, the BJP is going rapidly downhill. It played its cards remarkably badly during the presidential nomination, losing the initiative to the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, and backing a candidate (PA Sangma), who himself admits he'll lose unless there's a "miracle."
The NDA -- down from its peak of 24 constituents, to just seven -- is badly divided on Mr. Sangma, with constituents JD(U) and Shiv Sena deciding to back the United Progressive Alliance candidate Pranab Mukherjee. Going by many indicators, including BJP CMs' lavish praise for him, many BJP lawmakers will cross-vote in Mr. Mukherjee's favour.
It's highly unlikely that Ms. Mamata Banerjee, the Congress's difficult ally in West Bengal, would stay neutral in the presidential contest. She has declared that her party will vote, but will announce its choice 72 hours earlier. She will be hard put not to back Mr. Mukherjee, a fellow-Bengali.
Meanwhile, the RSS-BJP's proclivity to shield Hindutva extremists may bring it more embarrassment. Lt-Col. Shrikant Purohit's disingenuous attempt to explain his involvement with terrorist outfits like Abhinav Bharat by claiming he "infiltrated" them as a military intelligence officer has drawn flak from the army, which says he wasn't authorised to do so and violated the rules of service.
The BJP has no national-level leader worth the name. Only divine intervention, if that, can help it bounce back politically.