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Saffron slide

After the defeat in three state polls, BJP is more disillusioned than ever about its future and, of course, its leaders. But why is no one coming forward to stop the slide? Shekhar Iyer reports. See graphics

delhi Updated: Oct 25, 2009 01:52 IST
Shekhar Iyer

The photograph is eerie — a small aircraft illuminated by car headlights on a dark tarmac.

The place is Maoist-dominated Dumka, about 300 km north of Jharkhand capital Ranchi. The date was October 19, three days before poll results from Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal came in.

The passenger was Bharatiya Janata Party chief Rajnath Singh, who allegedly forced the pilot to take off from an unlit airstrip. The photograph amused Singh’s friends and foes alike.

A senior BJP leader chuckled: “Was Rajnath trying to do what he has already done to the party — taking off in the darkness to crash land nowhere?”

The assembly poll results in the three states on October 22 showed nothing has apparently improved six months after the parliamentary elections.

Political commentator Jyotirmay Sharma, who teaches politics at the University of Hyderabad, said the BJP did well earlier because of the momentum of the Ram temple stir. “Like all movements, it petered out after sometime. Today, the voter is making stark choices. What has the BJP to offer?”

But why no one is willing to or even thinking of trying to stop the slide? And why has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which by now did at least three autopsies on the BJP, not come out yet with a solution?

Sharma said, “It is like trying to graft mango on an orange tree. The party is wearing the ideological clothes of the RSS, which does not want to get directly involved in politics and does not have an appeal anymore.”

On top of it, there are speculations over L.K. Advani’s role. Is he only interested in the timing of his exit and have a say in the choice of the next BJP chief? Or will Advani merely endorse who ever the RSS chooses in exchange?

But the first thing that crossed some BJP leaders’ mind was that after the Maharashtra results, it would now be difficult for the RSS to place its blue-eyed boy, Nitin Gadkari, as Rajnath’s successor.

“You can’t install a man who failed in Maharashtra to run the BJP nationally,” remarked a party leader.

Also, it has become clear that the BJP failed to read the mood of the people and avoid splits in Opposition votes both in the parliamentary and assembly polls. “I don’t even think we have yet figured out how to combat a younger Congress under a hard working Rahul Gandhi,” said a young BJP leader.

Between the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009, the party’s vote share went down 3.4 percentage points to touch 18 per cent. It lost substantial ground in urban areas, failed to win a single seat in Mumbai and Delhi and helplessly watched its base eroding away in Lucknow, Bhopal, Indore, Panaji, Chandigarh, Raipur and Pune.

Some analysts believe that the way forward is to split and come clear on issues like Hindu Rashtra, conversions, economic liberalisation and Pakistan. “No party has survived without splitting after internal differences on ideology,” Sharma said.

But voices within the BJP calling for moderation and junking aggressive Hindutva are more muted than ever before. For, no one dares to antagonise the RSS now.