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The Rediff Election Special / Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Overconfidence cost BJP dear
May 14, 2004
The blame game has begun in the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Many BJP leaders privately agree that the major factor for the party's sensational defeat is its leaders' over-confidence and the resultant miscalculation.
The miscalculation in having an alliance with the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and not having an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad in Assam and Om Parkash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana and the unexpected mood of the electorate in Gujarat, Delhi and Mumbai may help Sonia Gandhi to become prime minister of India.
Party elders believe that most ministers, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were out of touch with the ground realities.
A retired bureaucrat, who served for more than three decades in high government office, told rediff.com: "All previous prime ministers chose a retired IAS officer as their principal secretary. The principal secretary plays a very important role in feeling the pulse of the country and keeping the PM informed of public opinion in different parts of the country. He gives objective information, unlike party activists who could be subjective. Vajpayee was the first PM to choose a retired IFS officer for this. Having served all his career as a diplomat, Brajesh Mishra hardly knew the country outside New Delhi and hardly had any friends and contacts in different state administrations. As a result, Vajpayee was not well-informed about the ground realities in different states."
Vajpayee and the BJP think-tank have primarily gone wrong in their assessment about the political situation in South India, a former South Indian civil servant felt. "Even after having been in power for six years, the BJP hardly knew the South," he said, adding that "the gains in Karnataka are by default."
In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP totally relied on then chief minister and Telugu Desam Party leader Nara Chandrababu Naidu's advice and judgement.
In Tamil Nadu, the BJP leadership is said to have depended largely on the advice of Swadeshi Jagran Manch ideologue Swaminathan Gurumurthy who is said to have argued for the alliance with the AIADMK. Political decisions relating to the south were being taken by Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes.
But Gurumurthy denied this in a conversation with rediff.com saying, "I have never met Jayalalitha. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK and Congress combination was unbeatable. They have won because their combined vote base was around 36%."
"It was the DMK who left the NDA. The BJP had an alliance with Jayalalitha later. The DMK and Congress combine had a political advantage. Their arithmetic was right."
But critics believe that the AIADMK was routed because Jayalalitha was very unpopular because of the manner in which she humiliated government employees who went on strike, tried to jail managers and editors of The Hindu newspaper and imprisoned her political opponent, Marumalarchi DMK leader Vaiko, under POTA.
Tamil Nadu is a state of government employees. Every family has at least one or two government employees, either serving or retired. By humiliating government staff for going on strike, she antagonised large sections of the public and the labour population even outside the government. The Hindu is a household name in Tamil Nadu and even its critics were shocked by her vendetta against the newspaper.
Gurumurthy, an RSS ideologue, believes, "The verdict is partially against the BJP. People have given a fractured verdict. I believe Sonia Gandhi will not have the legitimacy to rule India. The result only suggests that we need to intensify our protest against her."
In Gujarat, the Congress resurgence is credited to the return of tribals, Kshatriyas and Dalits to the party fold.
Bharat Barot, former BJP minister, told rediff.com "The results shows that we will have to work hard amongst poor people. Our win last time in the Adivasi belt was an aberration. It looks like that the tribals of Gujarat have returned to the Congress."
Achyut Yagnik, the distinguished social activist felt, "Dissent in the party, dissent amongst the Sangh Parivar and Chief Minister Narendra Modi's autocratic and arrogant behaviour and his style of politics worked against his party."
Modi refused to meet the media on a day when the Congress won 12 of the state's 26 Lok Sabha seats, in an election when it was expected to win just one seat at best.
Bharat Solanki, the winning Congress candidate from Anand said, "It is very easy to understand why the BJP lost in Gujarat and elsewhere. When politicians don't address the poor people's problems and indulge only in dramatic propaganda voters ruthlessly expose them. The BJP stands exposed today. Modi has not come out even once to show his face to his voters. That says it all."