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The Battle for Maharashtra

Defeat stuns BJP's Delhi HQ

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | October 16, 2004 15:10 IST

It's 11.30 am. The score that television channels are flashing is -- Congress-NCP alliance – 145, Shiv Sena-BJP alliance - 119. We are at 11, Ashok Road  -- Bharatiya Janata party's head office in New Delhi.

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Except for the television crews and some office staff, there is nobody here.

Next door, party spokesman Arun Jaitley is in a closed-door meeting with his colleague, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. They are discussing what their first sound byte to the media would be on this cruel day.

It's clear that the BJP and its allies have lost the Maharashtra election. Yet, the two must take their time.

Jaitley gets a call from former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A senior leader's wisdom certainly helps soothe frayed nerves.

Former deputy prime minister Lal Kishenchand Advani is away in Manesar, at the 20th Rising Day ceremony of the National Security Guard.

It's unlikely there will be an official briefing before lunch.

A two-way damage control exercise is being planned -- the party must own collective responsibility for the defeat and defend Pramod Mahajan, the young Turk who led the campaign in Maharashtra.

The younger leadership of the party must put up a united front at this difficult time.

Jaitely tells us: "In an election, it's always a party winning and a party losing. This argument to blame Mahajan is meaningless."

The party is desperately hoping the combine will get to the 125 mark. In that scenario, the party's spin doctors will have many arguments to feed to the media.

When asked by TV reporters about the impending defeat, Jaitley asks them to wait a little longer.

Talking to he says: "We never thought that Maharashtra election will be a cakewalk. But it was a fight for 10-15 seats. We were all waiting to see which side gets those 15 seats. I am worried that a trend is setting in India where ability to govern and ability to get elected are getting disconnected. There is a mis-match between governance and electability. Good governance is not yielding you votes or poor governance is not influencing the other way. The Congress government in the state performed very poorly but their social and political coalitions helped them win."

He adds that this election's direction was decided by the Congress-NCP pre-poll alliance.

Little later, he admits, "Yes, there is no substitute for victory."

Another party functionary is more forthcoming. He says may be the Sena-BJP alliance failed to target Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde because of his clean image. The anti-incumbency factor, he adds, was neutralised by the ruling combine by doling out sops to farmers.

He then admits reluctantly: "Sonia factor bhi thoda bahut chal gaya hai (The Sonia factor has also worked a little)."

Jaitely retorts: "The Congress can't get beyond Sonia factor."

A junior worker of the party says later, "This result is a slap on the faces of our senior leaders. Voters haven't defeated BJP, the cadres have defeated BJP."

He adds, "Congress leaders are corrupt but they never stop talking about poor and underprivileged. When will BJP leaders understand that in India 50% of voters are earning less than Rs 4000 a month?"

He cites an example: "In New Delhi, as soon as the Congress government came in power they allowed poor voters to set up illegal slum colonies."

The gap in the thinking of party's top leaders and its cadres is clear -- Arun Jaitley is worried that governance as an election issue is getting sidelined, and this party worker says populism is the writing on the wall that his leaders can't see.


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