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BJP and the US example

By T V R Shenoy
November 11, 2004 16:57 IST
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Was there something unusual in the air and water of Delhi on November 10, 2004? It is a day that shall certainly be recorded as the day of the walk-out. I watched an embittered Mohun Bagan choosing to stay away from the prize distribution ceremony of the prestigious Durand Cup. And, of course, there was the spectacle of an enraged Uma Bharti striding away from the meeting of the BJP office-bearers in full sight of the television cameras...

Also read: Uma Bharti ko gussa kyon aata hai

Both the famous football club and the former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh chose to vent their rage on the neutral umpire rather than their actual opponents. And I suppose that a certain amount of lashing out can be anticipated -- though not excused -- in the first shame of defeat. And that is just as true of the United States as it is of India.

"Victory has a thousand fathers," President Kennedy once said, "but defeat is an orphan." Actually, defeat -- orphaned or not -- is the father of a thousand forensic surgeons, each of whom is only too ready to conduct an autopsy. The process of doing a post-mortem on the Democratic defeat was already well underway by the time I left the United States. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was quick off the blocks, blaming his fellow Democrats for not doing enough to bring out the African-American vote. (The truth is that President Bush actually succeeded in improving his share of the Black American vote.)

In fact, speaking as a fascinated neutral observer, it is hard to see where poor John Kerry could have done better. He swept the big cities -- New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, doing well even in the urban areas of Bush's native Texas. The great universities -- from Harvard on the east coast to Stanford in the west -- stood by him. He had most Catholics and Jews voting for him. Kerry, by universal agreement, even won the three televised presidential debates. What he could not win, however, was the debate on values.

The US Presidential Election 2004

'Values' -- however you choose to define them -- became the issue that clinched the election

for George Bush. That finding has sparked off a debate on the direction of the Democratic party in the United States. Should the party now give the candidacy only to someone with a strong Christian background, preferably from one of the southern states? Or should the party tack even closer to its liberal roots? Should the Democrats offer their leadership to another leader who has national recognition, or should it now look beyond Washington?

India and the United States have more in common with each other than some would care to admit. And one thing that both the largest democracies on the face of this planet share -- as Rahul Gandhi of all people recently observed -- is that the route adopted by the opposition is almost as interesting as the ruling party's programme. (The Nehru-Gandhi scion was responding to the Bharatiya Janata Party's latest pronouncements on Ayodhya.) 'Ayodhya' is, of course, more than just a pilgrimage site, it is convenient for the whole philosophy of life summed as 'Hindutva'. (While Rahul Gandhi appealed to the RSS and the BJP to return to the 'mainstream', he failed to spell out what this 'mainstream' consists of.)

The Democrats of the United States and the BJP in India approach politics from very different philosophies. If anything, it is the Republicans and the BJP who have more in common. However, as the chief opposition parties, ones that have recently suffered heart-numbing electoral defeats, they find themselves facing the same set of problems.

In her volcanic outburst, Uma Bharti spoke bitterly of those who criticise while sheltering in the Rajya Sabha. Change 'Rajya Sabha' to 'Washington' and 'those who face the people' to 'those who are ignored by the national media because they choose to work in the States', and you could be listening to an embittered Democrat. (Albeit not necessarily one who may be rushing to judgement!)

The current leadership of the BJP and the Democrats alike may well be the last of their generation. John Kerry will be well into his sixties in 2008, which is old by current American standards. (Bill Clinton, who left office four years ago, is only 58 today.) So, where shall the next generation of leaders steer these two great parties? Shall they return to core values, or move away closer to the mythical centre? I offer no advice but merely point out one obvious lesson: President Bush did not win a sweeping electoral victory by diluting his own principles.


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T V R Shenoy