Ritesh K Srivastava
Ever since the Election Commission of India announced plans to hold General Elections in 5 phases to elect the 15th Lok Sabha, the political parties have started chalking out a clear cut strategy to bolster their poll prospects. The right-wing Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has also revived its plans to construct Ram temple and vowed to make “national security and terrorism” as its main poll issues. The saffron brigade has also vowed to give top priority to good governance, development and security of the nation.
BJP back to Ram
The saffron party, which officially kicked off its election campaign during the three-day conclave of its National Executive in Nagpur held last month, has promised to build a grand Ram temple that has been a flashpoint of tension between Hindus and Muslims for years. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate LK Advani has assured the party’s rank and file that the saffron brigade has never put the Ram temple issue on the backburner. The party is determined to introducing new legislation to facilitate construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya if voted to power.
The veteran BJP leader has reaffirmed that his party had "never left Ram" while rubbishing media reports that “BJP was moving back to Ram” to revive its fortune in the coming General Elections.
Meanwhile, party president Rajnath Singh has also seconded Advani’s statement by saying that a grand Ram temple would be built on the remains of the Babri Mosque if BJP is voted back to power. The party has re-ignited the Hindu sentiment by reaffirming its faith and reverence to Lord Ram. The Kesaria brigade’s pledge to continue its crusade for the Ram temple in the days to come has brought back the bitter memories of the Babri Mosque demolition in 1992, which divided India on communal lines and claimed thousands of innocent lives.
BJP is approaching voters with a chargesheet aimed at countering the achievements of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre.
Aiming to build a wide consensus over ‘Ayodhya’, the party is also trying to revive other issues such as Article 370 in J&K and Uniform Civil Code, which were conveniently forgotten when it entered a coalition to rule the country following its victory in 1998 elections.
Attack on UPA
The BJP leadership has launched a scathing attack on the UPA government at the centre for its soft approach on terrorism, inability to control price rise, inflation and insulate national economy from the after-effects of the global meltdown.
Its top leader Advani has squarely blamed the Congress-led UPA govt of PM Manmohan Singh for the “lack of political will and the clarity of policy" over issues of national concern. The BJP stalwart has accused the ruling alliance for its compromising approach to cross-border terrorism, which was threatening the country’s sovereignty and integrity. Criticising the foreign policy of the UPA government, the BJP leadership has blamed the ruling alliance for a steep rise in infiltration of terrorists from Bangladesh, terrorism from Pakistan and Naxal activities in various states.
The Congress-led government has also come under BJP scanner for its delay in the execution of Afzal Guru, sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in the Parliament attack case. The BJP has blamed Congress for delaying his execution over fears of losing the minority vote bank.
Hopes on Advani
Despite all odds, the saffron brigade has kept high hopes that Advani - perhaps the tallest BJP leader at present – will successfully carry the mantle passed on to him by AB Vajpayee.
The state and national BJP leaders have exuded confidence that Advani, who has been the saffron party’s undisputed poster boy of “Hindu Rashtravaad” for decades, will help the main opposition party to settle scores with the ruling Congress in the next General Elections.
Acknowledging his projection as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Advani has urged the party workers to gear up for the fast approaching Lok Sabha elections and make 2009 the "highest watermark ever in BJP`s electoral performance".
Admitting that the upcoming elections were both a challenge and opportunity for the BJP and NDA, Advani has raised the slogan “Victory for BJP will be victory for Bharat”.
In a bid to consolidate Advani’s chances of becoming the next Prime Minister, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has also softened its stance and pardoned him for his controversial ‘Jinnah remarks’.
Advani, who along with Vajpayee, was instrumental in making BJP a national level party during 1990s, was forced to quit as party chief three-four years back following his controversial remarks over Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
In the recent past, the BJP leaders have utilised every single opportunity to resolve all differences and make a last-ditch effort to steer the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Congress in the next polls.
Amid introspections and fine tuning of strategies, the party also sought to reach a consensus over controversial issues so as to woo voters as well as new allies, without whom NDA’s chances of defeating UPA will be minimised.
The BJP leadership is desperately trying to end the discontent within the party’s ranks and file over the untimely and dramatic exit of its senior leader Kalyan Singh, and the Bhairon Singh Shekhawat episode. The two leaders have a massive support base in their respective regions. The allegations of corruption levelled against ex-Rajasthan Chief Minister and party leader Vasundhara Raje by Shekhawat will also spoil BJP’s poll prospects in the state.
Wide ranging discussions on how to prevent the possible erosion of its vote bank due to Kalyan Singh’s exit and entry into SP camp is being held at the party headquarters.
The BJP think-tank has also delved into the factors responsible for the party’s 4-2 defeat in the recently concluded Assembly Elections in six states where merits overruled the incumbency factor.
Modi’s attack on Nehru-Gandhi family
Riding high on his government’s success, the hardline Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has launched a blistering attack on the Nehru-Gandhi family. This new poster boy of BJP has alleged that a deep "conspiracy" has been hatched to promote the ‘family’, which is posing a grave threat to the future of the entire nation.
However, Modi has put to rest speculations about his PM-in-waiting status, which has posed a major challenge to LK Advani’s dream of becoming India’s next Prime Minister.
Sonia’s foreign origin issue
In what had come as a pleasant surprise, the party has this time pledged not to make the issue of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin an election agenda. After the 2004 elections, the BJP had staunchly opposed to Gandhi being made the Prime Minister while the Congress president had staged the `renunciation act` by nominating Manmohan Singh for the top executive post in the country.
The change of strategy has dealt a blow to NCP chief Sharad Pawar who parted ways with the Congress on the issue of the Congress president`s foreign origin, but later tied up with the grand old party both at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
Plight of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka
The BJP has adopted a unanimous approach over the plight of Tamil civilians caught in bitter fighting between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE rebels. Advani has blamed the Congress-led government responsible for the plight of the island Tamils. The saffron party has called for adequate measures to ensure the safety of Tamil civilians and warned that the ongoing war in the Island nation, which was nearing its end, will have far-reaching consequences in India.
The onus for BJP’s victory in the next electoral battle clearly lies on the shoulders of Advani, who has successfully emerged as the tallest leader even without the blessings of the parent organisation - the RSS.
The saffron brigade is undoubtedly going through a ‘bad phase’ considering the retirement of its most respected leader AB Vajpayee from active politics on health grounds and desertion of its allies like Telegu Desam party (TDP), Telagana Rashtryia Samiti (TRS), National Conference (NC), Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) who have parted ways from it. Moreover, there are fissures appearing in the party with Arun Jaitley clearly very unhappy with party president Rajnath Singh.
Besides, the party is still to recover from the tragic loss of Pramod Mahajan and find a suitable replacement for mass leaders like Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh. Rising age of Advani is also a major concern for the saffron party, which will have to rely on its hard-line leader Narendra Modi in former’s absence.
A desperate BJP appears to be buying time to consolidate its position ahead of the polls by highlighting the shortcomings of the present regime. The party looks determined to evolve a `must win` strategy and leave no stone unturned in order to end its five years of political oblivion at the Centre.
The BJP has assured to give top priority to the country’s expanding middle class, the poor and downtrodden, if the party is voted to power. In a bid to improve the condition of farmers and to give a boost to the agriculture sector, the party has also vowed to take measures aimed at interlinking all rivers. However, only time will test the effectiveness of its strategies in wooing voters and cobbling up a good combination with new allies.