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An unsavory incident at a party meeting in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh on March 6 has led to red faces at the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).
BJP Member of Parliament Sharad Tripathi thrashed his own party legislator Rakesh Singh Baghel with his shoe during the official meeting, unwittingly exposing the massive factionalism in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party ahead of the upcoming general elections that begin in April.
#WATCH Sant Kabir Nagar: BJP MP Sharad Tripathi and BJP MLA Rakesh Singh exchange blows after an argument broke out over placement of names on a foundation stone of a project pic.twitter.com/gP5RM8DgId
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) March 6, 2019
Tripathi, the son of former BJP state president Ramapati Ram Tripathi, alleged that Baghel was involved in illegal activities and managed to secure government contracts from mining to road construction, a charge which Baghel denies.
“Shoe-gate”, as the incident has been inevitably tagged, marks the first time in India that a sitting parliamentarian thrashed a party colleague with a shoe in the presence of a minister and government officials.
BJP leaders tried to dismiss the incident as a “battle of one-upmanship” between the MP and the MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly).
To make matters worse, the party’s MLA from Gopamau (Hardoi) Shyam Prakash, whose social media posts are often critical of the BJP, called Tripathi a “goon” and a “blot on the party” in a Facebook post that demanded strict action against him.
Barely six months ago, two BJP leaders in Basti, another district in eastern Uttar Pradesh, witnessed a dispute between MP Harish Dwivedi and MLA CP Shukla that took place in the presence of Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh. The two politicians verbally abused each other, but fell short of physical attacks during an official district meeting.
“These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Massive infights among BJP leaders, simmering in many constituencies since last two years, (have) gradually grown into full blown war due to conflicts of interests,” a BJP leader told Asia Times.
“Dhaurahara (Uttar Pradesh district) MP Rekha Verma and local MLA Shashank Trivedi embarrassed the party last January when the latter’s supporters showed shoes to the MP’s son, allegedly over (the) taking of credit for a blanket distribution program. Ayodhya’s (Uttar Pradesh district) MP Lallu Singh left a district planning meeting midway when animosity between him and MLAs hit the threshold point,” a party leader told Asia Times.
The tussles between MLAs and MPs in the state are no longer a secret. Government contracts are the prime reasons behind these conflicts, observers say.
The BJP’s loss of three key parliamentary seats in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairanato to the opposition in by-elections last year, is largely credited to infighting.
Clearly, all is not well within the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Even as it is busy fanning the “patriotism” narrative after India’s recent airstrike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, hoping that this might help them gain victory in the general elections.
Many observers view the tussle between Traipathi and Baghel from the caste angle.
Tripathi is a Brahmin (upper-caste Hindu) leader while Baghel is a Thakur (honorary title used for landlords) leader. With Bisht, also a Thakur leader, at the helm, Thakur lobbies have become stronger in the state.
Many plum posts in the government have been grabbed by Thakurs, and this has led to dissent among Brahmins, who largely supported the BJP in the 2014 polls.
“Tripathi’s shoe blows was (a) repercussion of the simmering anger among Brahmins against Thakurs apart from corruption,” claims Sunil Singh Yadav, an Samajwadi Party (SP) leader.
However Shailendra Singh, a political commentator, rejects the suggestions. “Most of these leaders are goons and these fights are mainly because of tussles over contracts, allocations in MP and MLA funds and corruption in (the) system. Caste narrative was an afterthought woven by political parties to suit their interests.”
It has long been believed that the road to political power in Delhi must pass through Uttar Pradesh, the most politically significant state due to its commanding the highest number of seats (80 out of 545) in the lower House of the Parliament. The BJP won 71 UP seats at the 2014 elections, one fourth of its total nationwide tally.
But this time, poor performance and indiscipline may cost many of the MPs as they are likely to be sidelined during ticket distribution (the allocation of constituencies in which to stand for election).
A senior minister said, “Party leadership is going through a serious crisis these days as most of the senior local leaders are busy making efforts to get a ticket for the upcoming elections or get a cushy corporation chairman/director’s post.”
“Most of these leaders appear to have lost sight of the real reason why (public) discontent against them is growing. This could hurt the party in the coming polls. That’s why top leadership has begun contemplating major changes to control the growing discontent among the junior leadership and party workers”, a leader told Asia Times.
To curb dissent, hours before the announcement of general elections, Bisht’s government nominated 72 persons to positions in various corporations, commissions and other bodies, granting them ministerial status. This was allegedly done to pacify dissidents among the party and its allies.
BJP vs. BJP
Anshu Awasthi, spokesperson for the opposition Congress party said, “(The) BJP has taken no action on MP Rekha Verma and MLA Shashank Trivedi even as a year (has) passed by. Another leader Raghav lakhan pal had threatened a police officer publicly that he would get him transferred. No action was taken against him. On the other hand the official was transferred. Radha Raman Singh abused a trainee officer of the Indian Administrative Service. Their MP Sakshi Maharaj is (accused of rape).”
A senior BJP leader said, “We don’t accept such behavior in the party. Some incidents of infights have come to the fore but (were) sorted by intervention of party leaders. Tripathi and Baghel are not yet ready to bury their differences. Appropriate action against both of them (will) be taken at (an) appropriate time. The action might include suspension from the party, denial of a ticket in upcoming elections, or sidelining them.”
Impact on BJP performance?
Observers say that infighting might dent the BJP’s prospects in a few crucial seats, as warring between factions may help poll rivals.
“Arrogance, corruption, poor performance on all accounts and infighting will cost (the) BJP dear in the coming elections. You can’t fool voters every time,” said Awasthi.
“The BJP leaders are neck-deep in corruption. Moreover, the party has failed to fulfill its poll promises. They talk about India-Pakistan and patriotism to divert people’s attentions from real issues. But these elections (will) be fought on joblessness, the poor economy and women’s security and the BJP is going to lose badly”, he said.
Ramesh Dixit, political commentator, disagrees:
“Such differences can affect Congress and others but not the BJP. Their candidates win on the basis of (the) BJP’s name, which has a committed and trained cadre. Balraj Madhok, head of Jansangh (which later changed into the BJP) left the party in 1971, but he could never win.”
BJP spokesperson Naveen Srivastava claims, “Infighting in the BJP is not as big as that of the SP (in which warring factions parted ways two years ago). We are a cadre-based party unlike others which rely on leaders. We are projecting our achievements through various means which will be our chief poll plank.”