New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be at war -- with itself.
With the next Lok Sabha elections only two years away, the country's main opposition party is today bogged down by several battles, big and small, within its ranks. The situation has gone from bad to worse, causing dismay to BJP supporters.
In Gujarat, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, said to nurse prime ministerial ambitions, is the target of several senior BJP leaders in the state.
In Karnataka, the first southern state the BJP rules, its Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda is under constant attack from predecessor and colleague B.S. Yeddyurappa, a friend-turned-foe.
The situation is no better in Rajasthan, where former chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia refuses to bow to detractors. In Uttar Pradesh, once a stronghold, the BJP is in disarray.
Veteran leader L.K. Advani stunned everyone -- in and outside the BJP -- by launching an implicit attack on party president Nitin Gadkari, who many feel is to blame for many of the ills.
In a blog this week, he warned that while Indians were angry with the government, they were also unhappy with the BJP, and that the mood in the party was not upbeat.
As if to show that Advani's rebuke was not an isolated case, journals associated with the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) too have expressed disgust at the state of affairs.
Cadres moan that the BJP has lost its aura of a disciplined party. Today, they say, it resembles the Congress party.
‘Divisions have always been there in the BJP, but now it is coming out in the open,’ Pralaya Kanungo, a professor in the Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University here, told IANS.
Kanungo said this could be a manifestation of the fact that many in the BJP have their eyes fixed on the post of prime minister, hoping that the Congress is declining rapidly.
While admitting that the party has time to reconcile its differences, Kanungo warns that the infighting at the top has percolated to the cadre level and can affect its electoral prospects.
‘The cadre is confused. Insiders say that some in the party are for Advani, some want a younger leader, some are for Modi,’ he added.
Political expert Bharat Kumar, a former editor of Maharashtra Times, agrees.
‘Any differences in the higher leadership definitely affects the workers because they are always looking at the leadership for guidance,’ he said.
Even before the differences came out in the open so acutely, it was known that faultlines in the BJP were increasing.
From a party with just two Lok Sabha seats in 1984, the BJP ballooned in the late 1980s and 90s to become the biggest opposition party and then the principal ruling party.
The BJP governed India for just 13 days in 1996 and later from 1998 until its shock defeat in 2004.
Very soon, its most popular leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, faded away due to health reasons. Another veteran, Pramod Mahajan, was murdered.
The BJP attempted a comeback in 2009 under the leadership of Advani but failed. Since then, the despondency within has only risen.
Advani, party sources admit, is upset that Gadkiri has been given another extension as BJP president.
And at the just ended National Executive meet in Mumbai, Advani -- one of India's most experienced politicians -- was not projected as the prime ministeral candidate.
Kumar said Advani's unusual critical remarks of the BJP ‘may be a design and not an accident. It is a manifestation of the struggle for the post of prime minister.’
BJP leaders have refused to react to Advani's stinging remarks. Privately they say they can overcome their internal problems.
This, pundits say, may be easier said than done.
A party activist who has been with the BJP for more than 15 years says the different camps that have emerged in the party need to be unified soon or it would vertically divide the once united organization.
Although the BJP now rules Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Goa and is in the ruling coalition in Punjab, Jharkhand, Nagaland and Bihar, its electoral performances in some areas have not been very rosy.