BJP: The Road Ahead

It has been coming; it’s on expected lines, rue BJP sympathisers and the not so sympathetic media. But not even the staunchest critic would have expected it to go from slow erosion to a complete tailspin so soon.

Updated: Aug 26, 2009, 18:23 PM IST

Ajith Vijay Kumar

It has been coming; it’s on expected lines, rue BJP sympathisers and the not so sympathetic media. But not even the staunchest critic of the party would have expected it to go from slow erosion to a complete tailspin in such a short period of time.

It’s in one word…Disaster! Reels of newsprint have been written on what are the reasons and who is responsible, blah…blah…blah goes the media juggernaut, gleefully, and it also in the same breath vouches for the need for a strong ‘opposition’ in the country.

The media doesn’t want the BJP to run the country, that’s clear, otherwise they would not have taken a one sided stand on important issues like the cash-for-vote scandal. But let’s take heart from the fact that they at least want the BJP to be good custodians of the opposition space lest the Left and the regional satraps come in with their peculiar ways and narrow region specific politics.

From Shining land to Blunder land

Yes, BJP has a problem today, ‘Alice in Blunderland’ in Arun Shourie’s words; a huge fall from the rosy days of 2004, when India Shining was “the” mantra.

Shourie’s another point is also taken that more than anyone else, it’s the top leadership of the party that is to be blamed for the mess.

Undoubtedly, the High Command culture is now as entrenched in the DNA of the party as that in the Congress. Leaving their oft repeated stand that they are ‘different’ and all decisions are taken on a collective basis, the BJP, post its electoral defeat, is now revolving around the all powerful quartet of LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Shushma Swaraj.

And their behaviour has been audacious if not down right stupid. How can they ever come up with a justification for asking the regional chieftains to take responsibility for the defeat, while they get themselves promoted?

They expect Vasundhara Raje to put in her papers even when the majority of the MLAs want her to continue. They summon BS Yeddyruppa to Delhi and seek an explanation for not being able to deliver the promised numbers, even when Karnataka performed fairly well.

Poor BC Khanduri had to go too, even when his state of Uttarakhand is worth only 5 seats at the best, which eventually didn’t make a difference but was a whitewash for sure.

Delhi power

In Delhi, the party president is smug in his role as the Masterji, who has got the right to seek answers and give explanations to none. Arun Jaitley, who was the party’s chief strategist, is promoted to the post of the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Advani protégé Sushma Swaraj gets to be the second-in-command in the Lok Sabha.

All the while, the Loh Purush himself sits, albeit uncomfortably, in his chair as the party’s tallest leader.

Adding to the woes is the apparent reluctance of the RSS to take responsibility of its ailing baby. Nagpur wants conscientious surgical intervention, but at the same time doesn’t want to bloodstain its own hands.

And last but not the least is the rebellion by the intelligentsia. Starting from Yashwant Sinha to Jaswant Singh, to Arun Shourie and now Sudheendra Kulkarni, the list is growing by the day. What’s hurts more is not that they are leaving or are being thrown out, but the fact that they are going around town, revealing secrets and washing all their dirty linen in public.

Historian and columnist Ramachandra Guha says that a crisis in a political party that has lost two elections in a row is the golden law of democratic politics. “Disarray follows defeat that is the law of democratic politics. The (ruling) Congress faced it in 1998, the Janata Party faced it in 1977, so the crisis is not uncommon for a defeated party,” Guha opined.

So what’s next?

Scenario 1: The power quartet manages to hold on to power, with the tactical support of the RSS, simply because of the perceived lack of alternatives. The probability of such a scenario emerging is high given the presence of LK Advani in the line of fire.

Here is a man who has built the party from scratch. From Ram Mandir to the Rath Yatra, his line of thought has played a crucial role in the emergence of the BJP as the second pole of Indian politics. It’s not going to be easy to disgrace him the second time around after what all the muck that was thrown at him post his famous visit to Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum.

And, let’s give it to Advani; he knew his time is up post the 2009 debacle. He wanted to exit gracefully, but was prevented from doing so, with the argument that the party needs him and that he cannot shy away from the responsibility of rebuilding the party.

For the other three viz Rajnath, Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj it’s their, proverbial, last stance. If they lose out this time, they face the very real possibility of oblivion…and they know it because they lack the most crucial of things – ground level support.

That’s why, by clinging on to Advani, they are, more than anything else, serving their own purpose.

Gone forever would be the days when writ of mass leaders ran supreme in the party. No rebellion will be tolerated and everybody would have to toe the leadership’s line.

If this scenario comes out eventually, then the BJP will continue to be where it is and move from one disaster to another until it gets back to power one day, not because of its strengths but because of voter’s fatigue with the Congress.

Scenario 2: More leaders turn rebellious and the party splits. This option may seem remote, but it’s very real.

For one, there is utter confusion within the party; no one is sure where the party is heading. Adding to it is the assumption that all those who are sitting in Delhi won’t allow the emergence of power centres in the states; except for the already tall Narendra Modi.

Rudderless, without any ideological moorings, the ship is doomed to sink, forcing all those who can swim to take the plunge into independence.

This possibility can only become a reality if the RSS shifts its weight towards the new grouping. Run by the men in khakhi, with the intellectual prowess of all the rebels, it won’t be long before the significance of the BJP, as we see it today, ends and from its ashes emerges a new line of thought.

A reinvention as what happened during the transformation from the Jan Sangh to the present day BJP.

Scenario 3: The RSS takes the plunge. If the second option would seem to take too long to bear fruit, the RSS despite all the statements to the contrary, will not allow it’s most potent arm to go into disuse.

Then it cannot continue to shadow-box for long, it has to come out in the open and bring in radical changes. Nagpur, it seems is banking upon this line of action.

That’s why the RSS leadership has been getting louder with its demand that new thinking be ushered in the party.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was explicit enough when he virtually called on Advani to make way for a younger leadership and urged the party to end factionalism.

He also indicated that the BJP should be more open to new thought while choosing the next party president and not necessarily revolve around the established power centres Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Narendra Modi.

And it’s no coincidence that despite his frontal attack on the BJP leadership, Arun Shourie kept on chanting the RSS mantra.

Experts believe that Arun Shourie’s outburst is a tactical move by the RSS to gauge the public opinion on greater intervention by Shakha men into mainstream politics.

There’s no denying that the BJP needs to reinvent itself. When Rahul Gandhi is going to towns and villages, and speaking to the youth about their aspirations, the saffron party cannot expect to survive on the Ram Mandir issue.

Although the Mandir issue is still relevant to many, including some who had voted for others this time around, but surely they don’t subscribe to the way BJP is packaging the whole Hindutva ideology. Moreover, the voter would like to see issues like development, jobs and infrastructure to also make it to the agenda.

Changing colours with the times while also sticking to its core ideology is need of the hour. There surely is a huge right-of-centre political space that’s lying vacant, but unlike the past, BJP cannot claim ownership by default, it has to fight for it and change with the times.