NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing a mutiny from senior members of his Bharatiya Janata Party for the first time in his premiership after a humiliating election defeat in the pivotal state of Bihar exposed deep rifts over his leadership.
Three party elders, including former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, released a statement late on Tuesday questioning the direction of the party, which risks embarrassing Modi just ahead of a visit to Britain.
“A thorough review must be done of the reasons for the defeat as well as of the way the party is being forced to kow-tow to a handful, and how its consensual character has been destroyed,” Advani, BJP ex-president Murli Manohar Joshi and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, said in the statement.
The doubts around Modi’s leadership raise questions about the viability of his plans to transform the world’s largest democracy into a global power and close a development gap with China.
Sunday’s loss in Bihar, India’s third most populous and poorest state, comes after a similar defeat in Delhi and is the most significant setback for Modi since he won a crushing victory in a general election last year.
The strongly-worded attack took attention away from the government’s move to ease foreign direct investment norms in sectors such as defence, civil aviation and broadcasting. In what looked like a hurried attempt to regain the political initiative, the government listed sectors where investment norms have eased but did not cite precise steps.
Modi’s failure to win enough seats for his party in Bihar despite being its star campaigner indicates a waning of his popularity, prompting senior leaders to ask for accountability.
“Those who would have appropriated credit if the party had won are bent on shrugging off responsibility for the disastrous showing in Bihar,” Advani and the other leaders wrote in the statement.
A BJP statement in response said the party would welcome any guidance from them.
Modi arrives in Britain on Thursday for a three-day visit expected to focus heavily on expanding trade links and during which he will address parliament.
The party has been crippled in the past by infighting among leaders, with several of them – including Advani – harbouring ambitions to become India’s next prime minister.
Modi and a dozen senior party colleagues analysed the reasons for the Bihar defeat in a meeting, but did not point the finger at anyone in particular for the loss.Modi visited Advani at his residence on the day of the results to greet him on his 88th birthday, but there were no signs that differences had been healed.
“The letter penned by BJP party elders reflects what many within the BJP have said in private, but were unwilling to articulate publicly,” said Milan Vaishnav of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Unfortunately for the mutineers, they are now marginalised within the party. Hence, their letter will only have impact if its core message is picked up and amplified by those more central to the party’s current operations.”