Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BJP vs BJP to counter Modi

The battle is between the BJP and the BJP, six months to the Gujarat elections.
Three disgruntled BJP stalwarts have joined hands with a breakaway party faction against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, in what they claim is a “now or never” battle.
Former chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta and former Union minister Kashiram Rana --- all senior to Modi --- have tied up with the rebel Mahagujarat Janata Party led by former Gujarat home minister Gordhan Zadaphia.
So, as Modi gets into poll mode, the fight is not only between the BJP and the rival Congress. This time round, the battle is within --- the Modi-led BJP is pitted against the rebel leaders who have sworn their loyalty to the party.
Keshubhai, the tallest Patel leader in the state, has been bristling since his unceremonious removal as chief minister in 2001, in which Modi apparently had a hand. Sources close to him said Keshubhai saw this as possibly the last chance for him to get even.
While the BJP state executive meet was underway in Rajkot last week, Keshubhai was addressing a tribal meet in Panchmahal with Zadaphia, Rana and Mehta. The sidelined BJP leaders have been aggressively mobilising caste and community groups and debunking Modi's development propaganda.
At least twice in the last seven years --- in 2005 and 2007 --- Keshubhai has led a revolt against the Modi government but he backtracked midway. But this time he is firm, sources close to him said. Over the last two months, he has also been saying at various rallies that people in the state are living in fear.
“Now he cannot go back on his statement that not just the Patels, but everybody is living in fear in the state under Modi's regime,” a source said.
South Gujarat strongman Rana, a seven-time MP from Surat, has been in political hibernation since Modi refused to re-nominate him in 2009. “That's because we are loyal, disciplined party members,” said Rana, an OBC.
“But now it is too much. Modi has fooled everyone, including his OBC community, which forms 55 per cent of the state's population,” he said.
Popular among the OBC community in south Gujarat, Rana appeared to be one with Keshubhai that this was possibly his last chance to pay Modi back in his own coin.
Mehta, who was briefly the Gujarat chief minister in 1996, is also a strong critic of Modi. He was industry minister in Modi's cabinet for two months in 2001, but was then sidelined.
Apart from the stalwarts, Modi has another cause for worry: Kanu Kalsaria, the Mahuva BJP legislator, who led a farmers' agitation against a proposed cement plant in Bhavnagar that was coming up on a waterbody.
An OBC like Modi, Kalsaria had gone on a protest padayatra from Mahuva to Gandhinagar in March last year. Soon after, the Supreme Court upheld the farmers' contention that the plant would hamper their interests and cancelled the state's permission to set it up.
“I don't understand why they don't expel me,” said Kalsaria, a surgeon who is popular for his generosity.
A simple and soft-spoken person, Kalsaria has been running a charitable hospital, the Sadbhavna Trust, since 1985. Many BJP insiders believe Modi took a cue from Kalsaria for his controversial sadbhavna mission --- fasting for peace and communal harmony ---last September.