This article was written in May 2013 in the Magazine RealPolitik
In the last week of March, when BJP president Rajnath Singh was busy putting together a new team of party’s central office-bearers, the attention of national media and a large section of people was focused on him to see if he would give Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi a role at the central/national level by inducting him in the new team.
But what was Narendra Modi focusing on in those crucial days? If party insiders are to be believed, the Prime Ministerial aspirant was busy lobbying not only for his own induction but also against the return of former BJP general secretary and RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi as an office-bearer in Rajnath’s team.
As it turned out, Modi got a place in the powerful Parliamentary Board, which inter alia, selects BJP candidates for all elections and Joshi was not given any post.
This is not the first time when Narendra Modi’s hand is seen in Sanjay Joshi being kept out of a party body. Differences between the two cropped up early, in 1989, when the two worked together as mid-level functionaries of the BJP in Gujarat.
Modi and Joshi are two diametrically opposite personalities. While Modi loves to play the dominant role in any organization or group he works for and is known for his bull-dozing tactics, Joshi is more of a ‘discussions and debate guy’ known for his strong ideological moorings and brilliant strategies. Modi is a personality-oriented politician who believes that the people of Gujarat support brand Narendra Modi, followed by the BJP, while the self-effacing and media-shy Joshi promotes one brand – the RSS-BJP or the Sangh Parivar brand.
During their early days in Gujarat, Modi, himself a formidable strategist, never liked the fact that all the prominent leaders of the state preferred to interact more with the affable Joshi, who was also fast endearing himself to the central leadership of the BJP.But relations between the two took a nasty turn in 1995 when Shankersinh Vaghela, then a powerful minister in Gujarat, revolted against the then state chief minister Keshubhai Patel. Vaghela, leading a group of 46 BJP MLAs, demanded removal of Keshubhai from chief ministership. Atal Behari Vajpayee intervened and Suresh Mehta was picked up as a compromise CM.
The story of Vaghela’s revolt and his flight from Gujarat capital to the temple town of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, with his 46 loyalist MLAs in tow, is well known. What is not known is that Vaghela had also demanded that Narendra Modi, who was then general secretary of the state BJP, be sent out of the state.
As part of the compromise with Vaghela, Modi was made All India Secretary of the BJP, but headquartered at Chandigarh. The humiliation was double for Modi, because he was not only banished from Gujarat, but even denied permission to stay in Delhi, though all the other central office-bearers of the BJP are stationed in the party’s national headquarter on Ashoka Road in New Delhi.
Party insiders say that though both Keshubhai and Shankersinh disliked Modi for his arrogant ways and were instrumental in ousting him from the state, Modi was convinced that it was Sanjay Joshi who orchestrated his banishment. Joshi was at that time not on bad terms with Vaghela and was extremely close to Keshubhai and Atal Behari Vajpayee, who were mediating among warring Gujarat factions
This, according to BJP-RSS insiders, is the genesis of the problem between Modi and Joshi. “Modi has resolved that since Sanjay Joshi got him ousted from Gujarat, he will get Joshi ousted from the party,” said a senior BJP leader.
To add insult to injury, after the Vaghela revolt, the 1998 election saw clear victory of BJP in Gujarat and return of Keshubhai Patel as the chief minister. Sanjay Joshi was hailed as one of the key architects of that victory. While Joshi’s honeymoon with the BJP leaders and cadres in Gujarat continued, Modi went into a deep sulk.Very few people know this background of intense rivalry between Modi and Joshi, and therefore, the widespread surprise at the length to which Modi goes to keep Joshi out of the reckoning in the party.
After spending his vanvaas in Chandigarh for one-and-half years,Modi returned to Delhi and started building relations in BJP and RSS. And he got his big chance when, after the massive destruction and loss of lives and property in Gujarat due to the earthquake in Bhuj, the Keshubhai government faced severe criticism for the way it handled the relief and rehabilitation work. The BJP’s central leadership, influenced largely by L K Advani, decided to send Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001.
Since then, there have been anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, following the burning alive of Hindus in a train coach at Godhra, for which an unapologetic Modi used the action-reaction thesis, and he won three consecutive Assembly elections blatantly using the communal card.
The three consecutive wins catapulted him to the centre stage of national politics. No other leader in the BJP appeared to match Modi’s financial and political clout. He had by now also decimated his rivals in Gujarat politics. Shankersinh Vaghela had joined the Congress, and Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta, along with many other leaders had left the BJP.
The only thorn that remained in Modi’s flesh now was Sanjay Joshi. Modi made many attempts to finish Joshi politically. But Joshi, unlike the other Modi detractors from Gujarat, managed to spring back after every blow delivered by Modi.
When a CD was distributed during the BJP’s silver jubilee celebrations in Mumbai in 2005 purportedly showing Joshi in a compromising position with an unidentified woman, there were murmurs that the CDs were distributed at the behest of Modi.Later, there were media reports about there being a Gujarat hand behind the CD. An inspector of the Gujarat ATS, Balkrishna Choubey, who was being questioned by the CBI in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, told the agency that the Joshi CDs were distributed by him along with other policemen on the orders of the then chief of Gujarat Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief D G Vanzhara, who is now in jail. In the corridors of power in Gujarat capital, Vanzhara has been known as a Modi confidant.Forensic examination of the CD by the Hyderabad-based Forensic Science Laboratory found the CD to be a doctored one. The FSL said that the CD was fake and was nothing but “digital manipulation”. The man in the CD was not Joshi. But those who had prepared and circulated digitally engineered CD had achieved their objective as the BJP leadership, red- faced over the RSS pracharak’s apparent romp, had sacked Joshi for six years even before the CD could be examined for its authenticity.
While Modi camp rejoiced, it was Joshi’s turn to go for vanvaas. Those who prepared and circulated the CD could not have chosen a better time to attack Joshi. It was a time when Joshi had earned the wrath of the then BJP president L K Advani, who was then the undisputed leader of the party.
Advani had visited Pakistan earlier that year and reportedly hailed Jinnah as a secularist. This caused revolt against him in the Sangh Parivar. While Advani was defiant, and claimed that he had not said of done anything in Pakistan which he should either retract or review, the BJP, RSS and other Sangh outfits thought otherwise and a powerful section of RSS-BJP leadership decided to ask Advani to step down from the post of party president. But the question was: who would bell the cat? The job to meet and seek the Iron Man’s resignation was given to Sanjay Joshi, who was then the BJP general secretary in charge of organization.Joshi met Advani and told him that the party and Sangh wanted him to put in his papers. Understandably, Advani got very upset with Joshi. When the CD episode came up soon after this, Advani too got his chance to get back at Joshi. He was among the first leaders who demanded that Joshi be sacked even before the CD could be examined for its authenticity.
Joshi’s vanvaas ended in 2011 when fellow RSS man from Nagpur (and fellow Chitpavan Bene Israeli Jew )Nitin Gadkari brought him back from the cold and put him in charge of Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. As a result, Modi did not talk to Gadkari, who was the BJP president, for nearly eight months. The Gujarat chief minister did not take phone calls from his party president, for whom Modi’s personal staff had a stock reply “sahab meeting mein hain” (the boss is in a meeting). Modi also refused to campaign for the party in Uttar Pradesh during the Assembly elections. In an interview, Gadkari had admitted that there was little interaction between him and Modi.
A sulking Modi did not even attend the opening day of the national executive committee meeting in New Delhi soon after the Uttar Pradesh election in 2011. Many senior leaders intervened and he was made to mark his presence on the second day.
But the mother of all tantrums by Modi vis-à-vis Joshi was yet to come. The BJP national executive committee was meeting at Mumbai in 2012. One of the important items on the agenda was the amendment of party constitution allowing an incumbent party present to get a second consecutive term. The amendment was being made reportedly to facilitate a second term for Gadkari, considered a blue-eyed boy of the RSS. Sanjay Joshi was by then reinducted as the national executive member by Gadkari.
When members started reaching Mumbai for the meeting, Gadkari was informed that Modi, along with other members of the executive from Gujarat, would not attend the meeting unless Sanjay Joshi was sacked from the executive committee.
Gadkari was keen on a smooth conduct of the national executive meeting, because his own second term was at stake. So he called Sanjay Joshi and discussed Modi’s threat with him. Sanjay agreed to resign. Gadkari publicly hailed Joshi’s decision to resign as “an act of sacrifice” in the interest of the party. After Joshi’s resignation and hours after the executive committee meeting had started, Modi made a grand entry at the venue.
Asked why Modi was so intolerant of Joshi, a senior leader said: ” Modi wants to be king, Sanjay Joshi is a king-maker, raja ko dar ya to fakir se hota hai, ya to apne se takatwar se, aur Sanjay Joshi fakir hai” (the king is afraid of either a fakir or a more powerful person, and Sanjay Joshi is a fakir).Modi, who brooks no challenge to his leadership, is acutely aware of Joshi’s huge popularity among BJP workers in Gujarat, and also among the RSS brass.