The Downslide Continues!
Five months ago, last February, this scribe commented on the BJP's future and concluded: 'In the remaining two years of this government's tenure the BJP decline will continue, unless the party reinvents itself. The prospect of that happening is remote. The party in its present shape seems to have little future. If it does, India under its governance may have none.' My reasoning was based upon the Sangh Parivar's inability to sort out relations between the BJP and RSS. The latter controlled the cadres. BJP leaders controlled policy. The compulsions of governance were incompatible with orthodox mindsets of the RSS. Differences were inevitable. The confusion was further confounded by the RSS being itself derailed by militant and often criminalized outfits like the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Both had access to resources, and began calling the shots.
After my article appeared I received many letters from irate BJP sympathizers. They ridiculed and rubbished me. So, how has the BJP fared in the last five months? Prior to these five months the BJP was in a shambles, thanks to LK Advaniï¿½s stewardship. Advaniï¿½s historic blunder ï¿½ to enforce a mid-term general election under the delusion of a shining India ï¿½ was followed by other blunders. He misread the political scene and concluded that India had already arrived at a two-party system. That explained his exhortation to non-BJP voters during the last general election to vote for the Congress rather than BJPï¿½s former ally, Om Prakash Chautala. After BJPï¿½s humiliating defeat, with total disregard for accountability, he belatedly, and most reluctantly, quit the party presidentï¿½s post. But he continues to cling to the post of Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha.
His successor as party president did not improve matters. Today, after the BJPï¿½s inept handling of the Presidential election, the party continues to blunder in the Vice-Presidentï¿½s poll. Atal Behari Vajpayee, tacitly conceding defeat in the Vice-Presidential poll, said that BJP had fielded a candidate in order to ï¿½assert its identityï¿½. But, then, why has it fielded a Muslim candidate when two are already in the fray? Surely the party does not believe that this empty gesture would attract future Muslim support? Fifty-eight Dalit MPs had demanded a Dalit Vice-President. Why didnï¿½t the BJP field a Dalit? That might have distinguished it from rival parties, and also earned it goodwill from a more powerful electoral constituency.
The problems that weakened the BJP five months ago have become sharper. At that time serious divisions within the BJP had just started. Uma Bharati had quit the party in Madhya Pradesh; Madan Lal Khurana had quit it in Delhi. Neither has been rehabilitated although a muted dialogue continues with both leaders. VHP leaders persuaded Bharati to withdraw candidates of her fledgling party in the recent UP election to help the BJP. She raised many eyebrows by her meek acquiescence. Her cooperation did not help the BJP. The party was crushed when the results were declared.
Now there is open revolt against Narendra Modi in Gujarat. MLAs who openly voted for the Congress Presidential candidate have been expelled. In Chhattisgarh also the party faces open revolt. One can analyze state after state to make the point that BJP is crumbling. Indeed, the partyï¿½s weakness and the disastrous decisions taken by its leaders have resulted in the virtual collapse of the National Democratic Alliance. The Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the JDS in Karnataka, and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal ï¿½ one by one the NDA partners abandoned the BJP during the Presidential poll. The disintegration of the NDA is unlikely to halt.
This exodus could be a blessing. It could help the BJP to reinvent itself. At present the BJP, the NDA, and indeed the entire political class in India, including the UPA and the Left, are functioning in a moral void and policy vacuum. Today the only consideration motivating political parties is a quest for naked power and patronage devoid of social good. There is therefore an unprecedented, vacuous space and confusion in national politics. It is difficult for the Congress to reinvent itself. It is in power. Politicians in power seldom dare to take risks for introducing change. The chimerical Third Front regional parties have exposed themselves to be no less unprincipled than either the Congress or the BJP. The BJP therefore has as good an opportunity as any party to reinvent itself. The question is how.
How not to do so is amply demonstrated by the BJPï¿½s current efforts for damage control. In Gujarat, Modi is trying to defuse the revolt by placating the chief dissident leader, Keshubhai Patel. What is the main grouse of the Gujarat rebels? They are all Patels. They believe their caste is being ignored. In Chattisgarh the rebellion arose because tribals felt that they were not getting due recognition. The Shiv Sena split from the BJP because the Congress put up a Maharashtrian candidate for President. In every state division arises primarily from caste or parochial considerations. Politicians unabashedly seek power to gain patronage and practise corruption. They seem unconcerned with issues that transcend caste or regional identity. And ironically, Shiv Sena is from a bunch of self-proclaimed super nationalists like Bal Thackeray and RSS bigots who mouth slogans about Akhand Bharat! In these circumstances, what can the BJP, or any other party, do to reinvent itself as a genuine national party that becomes an instrument of change?
There are no short cuts now. Political parties will have to begin from the beginning. Character has to be restored among politicians. This can be accomplished only if political leadership maintains the strictest discipline to impose democratic functioning as per the party constitution. Along with this is needed formulation of a clear and specific political agenda, on the basis of which the party would have to launch a nationwide movement to attract supporters and regain credibility. Such a movement alone would throw up a new and credible leadership.
The success of the movement would rest not only upon organization and mobilization. It would depend also on the agenda of the movement. Clearly, that agenda would have to depart from the empty, ritualistic slogans which have reverberated in the nationï¿½s political discourse for the past many decades. This requires out-of-the box thinking. People now are smarter than politicians imagine them to be. Only an explicit, transparent and effective set of policy measures would attract their attention.
There are some identifiable postulates that could have relevance on a nationwide scale, could usher genuine change, and could conceivably mobilize the entire nation for a movement. Letï¿½s leave them for discussion to another day, on another occasion.