India's General Elections would in normal course be due in the first half of 2009 on completion of the tenure of the present Congress Government. They could be held earlier too in case of the Leftists Parties as the main coalition partner withdraw their support to the Congress Government. This eventuality cannot be ruled out completely as a host of issues divide the coalition.
Lately the other coalition partners of the Congress Government have made noises also that they are not being consulted by the Congress in decision-making on vital issues. This adds to political uncertainties to the political situation in India though one could add that none of them would like to face an early General Election.
The BJP as the main Opposition party buoyed by the string of its electoral victories in States elections and particularly in Gujarat has started positioning itself in an election mode. The BJP has already named Shri L K Advani as it Prime Ministerial candidate.
The BJP, if it seriously wishes to wrest power from the Congress Party and its coalition partners, has to do much to energize itself than just naming a Prime Ministerial candidate. The BJP cannot overlook the fact that till recently the image that it was sending out was one where internal rivalries seemed to be sapping its cohesion and some of the senior leaders were restrained in providing full weight to the party's election campaigns in the various States.
If the BJP wishes to once again project that it is a 'Party With a Difference' then it must get its act together to energize itself and project that it has the dynamism and the vision to lead India in a dynamic manner and that it has in itself the capability to provide India with strong and assertive political leadership. As I wrote in one of my earlier Columns on Shri Narendra Modi's victory in Gujarat that the most important lesson emerging was that the Indian people were now hungry for strong and assertive leadership with an intense spirit of Indian nationalism.
For far too long India's political spectrum had been dominated by politicians who were not leaders but political managers adept at garnering minority vote-banks without any moral fabric to back this brand of politics. As one of India's respected journalist Shri M J Akbar wrote some time back that when the Congress Government starts throwing out sops for the minorities then it could be taken that General Elections were round the corner. India does not seem now to accept political managers to lead India. India now wants that it should be led by dynamic, strong and assertive leaders.
The BJP as part of its 'Energization Drive' for the forthcoming General Elections is recommended to incorporate the following steps:
- The BJP should name its 'Shadow Cabinet' as it has in its hierarchy enough talent and expertise unlike the other Indian political parties.
- Once the 'Shadow Cabinet' has been named the members be tasked to articulate the vision and programs that the BJP has in mind for India once it comes into power. They should also expose the shortcomings identified in the present Government's policies pertaining to the portfolios assigned to them.
- The mass contact programs that the BJP wishes to spread all over India should not focus only on its Prime Ministerial candidate but include all the members of its 'Shadow Cabinet'. That would project to India at large that the BJP not only has enough capable talent to run India but would enable also a simultaneous wide coverage politically.
- The States in India in which the BJP has limited political presence should receive intense political attention from now only. They should not be written off politically.
- The BJP should in declaratory terms make it clear at the very outset now that it would not give tickets in the elections to defectors who make switchovers at the last moment from other political parties and Shri Advani should stick to it.
- The Party cadres were the backbone of the BJP in years gone by but seem to have been neglected in recent years. In this respect the BJP should learn from the CPI(M) how to build a mass dedicated party cadre base.
- The BJP Headquarters in New Delhi needs to be spruced, smartened and made efficient and responsive. Six months before the last General Elections some of us were lured to the BJP HQ on the plea that the senior leaders would like short presentations and like to hear our views. Nobody turned up and the office presented a forlorn look. I remarked at that time that the BJP would lose the next General Election.
- The BJP 'think tanks' advising the senior leadership on external affairs, defence, internal security and other vital subjects should not become the repository of elderly retired bureaucrats and specialists. Analytical skills and audacious thinking is not directly proportional to age and rank.
- The BJP's public relations machinery needs to be revamped to make it dynamic, focused and staffed by people with excellent inter-personal skills who can reach-out to vital sections of India's public spectrum and negate the negative publicity that India's mainstream media traditionally gives the BJP especially the electronic media.
- The BJP Election Manifesto needs to be brief and carefully crafted especially in relation to foreign policy, defence and internal security. These are the fields in which the Congress Government has failed and the BJP should provide alternative and credible approaches without rhetorical pontificating.
- Lastly and the most important the BJP needs to recognize that India has been made economically resurgent by India's captains of industry, its businessmen and its business professionals. They need to be accorded prominence in formulation of BJP's economic policies and senior BJP leaders must be publicly seen interacting with them in the run-up to the elections.
Much more can be added to the above list of recommendations for the BJP to energize itself but limitations of space and time preclude it.
Coming to the 'Shadow Cabinet' this Columnist would like to suggest the following leaders for the vital portfolios:
' Prime Minister ' Shri L K Advani
' External Affairs ' Shri Jaswant Singh
' Defence ' Shri Arun Jaitley
' Home ' Shri Narendra Modi
' Finance ' Shri Yashwant Sinha
' Commerce ' Shri Arun Shourie
Finally, the most important message for the BJP political leadership that this Columnist would like to leave is that at all costs please avoid the BJP become another 'Congessified' version political party where the Party Leader cannot be questioned on the political direction and policies.