When the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government came to power last May, its spin doctors ensured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was perceived as a no-nonsense leader. He was said to be a strict disciplinarian who kept a sharp eye on his ministers and MPs, who were expected work silently and avoid publicity.

There were  numerous stories in the initial months about how Modi had pulled up a minister for not dressing appropriately while travelling abroad and conveyed his disapproval about a minister’s dinner meeting with an industrialist at a five-star hotel.

Delhi was also abuzz with rumours that the Prime Minister had ticked off Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son for financial impropriety. In this case, the Prime Minister’s Office was forced to put out a formal retraction after Singh threatened to quit over these reports.

Code of conduct

At one of the early parliamentary party meetings, Modi had issued a series of dos and don’ts to the first-time MPs about how they were expected to conduct themselves.  They were issued directions to avoid power brokers, stay away from the media, spend their free time in the library instead of in the Central Hall and to keep away from Delhi once the Parliament session was over.

Needless to say, the Modi’s carefully-crafted image and the aura built around him had the desired effect of silencing his ministers and party leaders. Except for a few senior ministers, the others virtually went underground as there was a constant nagging fear that they were under watch.

But a year after the formation of the government, the fear factor appears to be on the wane. The recent revelations about external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia helping sacked Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi has set tongues wagging in the BJP and the government. Modi’s silence on this issue has not helped as the continuing disclosures and the Congress offensive is chipping away at the government’s credibility.

The simmering anger in the party first came to light last month when agitated Lok Sabha MP Bharat Singh, known to be close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, criticised the  government’s functioning at a parliamentary party meeting in the presence of the Prime Minister. He complained that ministers had become inaccessible and that no visible development was taking place on the ground even a year after the government came to power. Several MPs from Uttar Pradesh had greeted Singh’s remarks with thumping of desks , a clear reflection of  the prevailing mood in the party.

While Bharat Singh’s outburst was dismissed by the BJP as a flash in the pan, recent developments indicate that the rumblings in the party are getting louder and people are no longer afraid to speak  up.

Hissy fit

BJP MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad was the first off the block  after the Sushma Swaraj expose came to light when he tweeted “asteen ka saanp”, suggesting that this was the handiwork of an insider. His barb was clearly directed against Finance Minister Arun Jaitley  with whom he has had a longstanding feud.

An unapologetic Azad followed this up with a  brazen interview in which  he said that other members who headed the Board for Control of Cricket in India, including Jaitley, Sharad Pawar, Rajeev Shukla and N Srinivasan  should also be probed for foreign exchange violations during the second Indian Premier League season. Azad also warned that he would not hesitate to join the opposition protest in parliament if  the members of the BCCI’s governing council and national executive were not investigated.  Azad went a step further when he approached the Delhi police to file a complaint against Jaitley  for violation of rules at the Delhi and District Cricket Association which was headed by the finance minister for 13 years.

The dust was still to settle on Lalitgate when former home secretary and BJP MP RK Singh  embarrassed the party with his candid remarks on this controversy just as  the BJP was trying to brush it under the carpet. Mincing no words, Singh said that nobody should help an absconder.

“Lalit Modi is an absconder and no one should help him," Singh told a television channel. "The government should file a case to revoke his passport. It is wrong on the part of others to help him. He should immediately be brought back, he's an offender. He should be ready to face law." The statement was promptly dismissed by the BJP as his personal remarks.

Earlier this week, it was the turn of former finance minister  Yashwant Sinha to take potshots at the party. Referring to Modi’s decision to exclude leaders above the age of 75 years from the Cabinet, Sinha remarked, “ All those who are above the age of 75 were declared brain dead on May 26, 2014."

"I am among those brain dead," he added.

Kicked upstairs

Eight two-year-old Sinha, who is obviously unhappy at being retired, also raised  questions about the Modi government’s claims that the economy has recovered after it came to power. Sinha maintained that growth had risen  "only statistically"  while fundamental issues  were still to be tackled. Ironically, his son Jayant Sinha is minister of state for finance.

Sinha, veteran BJP leader L.K.Advani and former minister Murli Manohar Joshi were kept out of the government on account of their advancing years and later axed from key party posts. They were appointed   “margdarshakhs” or mentors in a newly created   panel which has no role in the party decision-making process.

Frustration among the seniors has been building up. In a recent interview to the Indian Express, Advani had said that he did not rule the possibility of an emergency being imposed again as the forces that could crush democracy are still stronge. This was seen as a direct attack on Modi though Advani  subsequently clarified that his statement was not aimed at any individual.

Earlier this month, Murli Manohar Joshi  publicly criticised  his own government’s " Namami Gange" programme, saying  the way this project was being implemented, Ganga would not  be cleaned for the next 50 years. Not only is this is Modi’s pet project but Joshi made these remarks in the Prime Minister’s constituency Varanasi.

All these voices point to a gathering storm in the BJP, suggesting that  Modi’s grip over the party and the government is slackening.