Indian Congress party vice president, Rahul Gandhi, recently called his country a "beehive," provoking the ire of Narendra Modi, coming man of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In his intemperance, Modi appears to have overlooked how his own party had become a beehive.
At any given moment, the BJP is buzzing with around 10 prime ministerial aspirants. Modi seems the queen bee right now, but his ascendance has split the party down the middle. In addition, it has discomfited the party's Hindu-supremacist parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) so much that it is desperate to check a rampant Modi.
The RSS faced a similar conundrum with former prime minister, AB Vajpayee, whom it never warmed to because he did not toe its hard line. It encouraged his hawkish deputy, LK Advani, to serve as a counterbalance. The younger Advani cost Vajpayee 2004's elections because voters thought that the latter would be jettisoned midstream.
As Advani sowed in 2004, so did he reap in 2009. Just that Modi was the one to turn the knife this time round. Advani campaigned as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, but Modi positioned himself to replace the 80-year old. The coup-in-waiting confused voters and wrecked Advani's campaign.
With elections approaching in India, the BJP, which should be getting ready to grab power from an enervated Congress, is facing its night of the long knives. Advani has not forgotten Modi's treachery, and has fostered a cabal of his own. Even at 84, he retains hope of becoming prime minister.
To cloak his ambition, he promotes the parliamentarian Sushma Swaraj. Swaraj is a fine orator, and has been careful to cultivate a moderate image. She has also built bridges with other parties. And she detests Modi.
The RSS is caught in the muddle. It fell out with Advani when the latter tried to tone down his extreme views, and would like the old patriarch to be put to pasture. Its Hindu-supremacist ideology appeals to Modi, except that Modi wants to own it for himself.
In desperation, the RSS foisted its own boy, a political non-entity, as head of the BJP, hoping that he would rein in both Advani and Modi. They on the other hand ran circles around him, forcing the RSS to install another ineffectual party sentry.
The BJP's cadre clamors for Modi, but most RSS and BJP leaders are afraid that his megalomania will antagonize allies, voters, and party men. Of late, Modi had begun to make himself more palatable, until he revealed what the future might bring by elevating discredited lackeys to leadership positions. He also hurt his image as a development messiah by excluding colleagues with good track records.
And when the poll numbers are run, even Modi's ardent admirers concede that his chances of becoming PM are tricky at best. He helming the BJP might boost its vote, but promises to repel allies so much so that it could be well nigh impossible for him to stitch a government together.
For his part, Advani has seldom succeeded in capturing the nation's imagination. His failed campaign of 2009 was his waterloo, but like Napoleon, he retains appetite for one last throw of the dice. His protégé Swaraj's forte is parliamentary polemics. In charisma, she is lilliputian when compared to Modi.
No meeting ground is in sight for camps as riven as Modi's and Advani's. Prime ministerial poseurs flock to Modi in the hope of support were his own candidacy to stall.
In the meantime, the ruling Congress cannot believe its turn of fortune. Having run the country into the ground, it had given up all hopes of another term. Now it feels emboldened enough for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to entertain thoughts of an extension. And if it cannot retain power for itself, it can always prop up a smaller party to rule for a short period, before pulling the rug to woo anew a forgiving electorate.
The Congress must surely be considering a snap election to take advantage of the BJP's distress. A bolt from the blue concentrates the mind for some, with a concomitant closing of ranks. In others, it rends asunder. But the BJP's beehive is neither going to produce honey, nor will it break into pieces. Instead the bees are sure to scatter, buzzing around for shelter from the new queen-bee Modi or the ex, Advani.
Modi then was absolutely on the mark in venting his spleen at beehives. And Rahul Gandhi, as is his wont, chose the right words in the wrong place. Instead of labeling the entire country, he should have just focused on the BJP. Looking in the mirror should give the BJP food for thought, not apoplexy.