India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing a revolt within his Hindu nationalist party by senior leaders questioning his leadership style after the recent debacle in state elections.
Mr Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party lost the election in eastern Bihar state last Sunday to a coalition of socialist groups, led by Nitish Kumar, in a major blow seen as a sign that many in India are alarmed by a rising tide of religious intolerance and violence.
A statement issued on Tuesday by four former ministers indirectly accused Prime Minister Modi and party President Amit Shah of concentrating too much power in their hands.
“A thorough review must be done of the reasons for the defeat as well as of the way the party is being forced to kowtow to a handful, and how its consensual character has been destroyed,” the statement said. It added that a review “must not be done by the very persons who have managed and who have been responsible for the campaign in Bihar.”
Mr Modi had sidelined the four leaders - Lal Krishna Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Shanta Kumar - after becoming prime minister in May last year.
A statement by Mr Modi’s supporters said that the party would welcome any guidance of the senior leaders.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said the BJP had won the national and some state elections under the current leadership.
The election for control of Bihar, India’s second most populous state, was seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Modi’s popularity, and he had crisscrossed the state addressing dozens of high-profile rallies. No other BJP leaders were as visible through the election as Mr Modi.
The dramatic loss in Bihar was the second major defeat for the BJP, which was trounced in Delhi state elections earlier this year.
State elections decide who controls the upper house of India’s Parliament. While the lower house, which the BJP controls, is significantly more powerful, the upper house is crucial for passing the legislation needed for the economic reforms Mr Modi’s government has promised.
In recent months India’s image overseas has been battered by a series of incidents of sectarian violence. One of the worst was the lynching of a Muslim man who was suspected of eating beef by a Hindu mob in a village on the outskirts of Delhi.
Cows are sacred to Hindus and killing or selling their meat is illegal in most parts of India.