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BJP's Hindu Divided Family
December 16, 2004
A man's character becomes known during adversity; similarly, a political party's resilience is sorely tested in electoral defeat.
And for a party touting itself as a party with a difference, the goings-on in the Bharatiya Janata Party have been most illuminating.
And it shows that while power corrupts, lack of it can corrode.
Sure, the general election results were unexpected; sure, not even the Congress party thought it would displace the National Democratic Alliance; and given the unexpected nature of the verdict the BJP can be excused for looking punch-drunk for a little while.
But seven months down the line the party shows no sign that it has moved on, or that it has learnt its lessons from Verdict 2004. Sure, a lot of the deliberations are not necessarily ex-camera, and yes, the party has sent a message out by bringing back its miracle man, L K Advani, as president in place of the lackluster Venkaiah Naidu.
However, judging by the skirmishes going on in the middle rungs -- of which the Smriti Irani cameo is but an instance -- the defeat has demoralised the party more than the leadership is willing to concede. If that is the state of the rank and file, the leadership seems to lay greater store in predictions of realignment in the present Lok Sabha than it did on the popular verdict.
With all due respect to the ancient science, there is little chance of the United Progressive Alliance government falling, riven as it is by ideological differences between its chief proponents. The BJP has little option but to spend these five years in the Opposition, and what it does in this time will decide its future occupancy, of either the Treasury or Opposition benches.
It is a long haul for the party.
Sure, it has faced worse scenarios. Much is made of its turnaround from a mere two MPs in 1984 to becoming the fulcrum of government 14 years later. But those were different times. The BJP's rise to power was not an overnight phenomenon, it was helped along by a series of mistakes made by its opponents.
Yesterday, seeing the Congress's near-monopoly on power, the BJP broke through its armour by roping in powerful allies, trading regional power for federal rule. And when the Congress did the same in 2004, the BJP has no arrows in its quiver.
Advani must not be sleeping well, knowing that the party he raised brick by brick is facing its worst hour.
The question begs to be asked: is he now the right man in the wrong party?
No doubt, there are many options available before the former deputy prime minister to rejuvenate his party. Thanks to his decades in public life, he must also know what needs to be done to prevent his party from being marginalised by a resurgent Congress party.
As a BJP watcher, what do I think needs to be done?
How much does the India of today resemble the India of then? In many ways, the BJP's lot is similar to that of Mikhail Gorbachev. Both were instruments of change in their country, and both were consumed by the very change they wrought.
For instance, how relevant is the Ayodhya factor, which Advani played to the hilt in the 1990s to rebuild his party, today in a nation where the countryside's biggest yearning is to catch up with the city? There is a churning going on in the hinterland, and it is not for yet another place of worship, and no political party seems to have the measure of it.
The BJP once did, it would pride itself on its ability to articulate the voice of the masses. Somewhere in its quest for power, it lost the divining rod. It can now either wait for anti incumbency to set in, hoping to capitalise on it, an iffy prospect at best, or be the change it wants for the country. That may just work.Saisuresh Sivaswamy