In cricket, catches win matches. The same holds true for politics: if a political party is seriously interested in beating its opponent in the election stakes, it must seize every chance that it gets to target its adversary. But India’s main Opposition party, the BJP, seems to have forgotten this tried and tested formula.
Instead of grabbing the corruption baton and running away with it, the saffron party is trying to defend itself against similar charges thanks to the exposé regarding business irregularities of party president Nitin Gadkari.
The pressure on the party chief increased considerably on Monday when legal expert Mahesh Jethmalani resigned from the party, saying that he deemed it “morally and intellectually inappropriate” to continue to serve on the party’s national executive panel under Mr Gadkari. Later senior party leader Jaswant Singh also expressed oblique dissatisfaction with the way the party was being run.
Though on Tuesday, senior leader Sushma Swaraj and the RSS have come to Mr Gadkari’s aid, even a loyal BJP supporter would agree that considerable damage has been done. The deepening internal divide in the BJP has only emboldened the Congress, which in a show of strength on Sunday, sent out a strong message that the party is girding up for 2014.
The recent events have exposed the BJP’s weaknesses: it latched on to the anti-corruption bandwagon because it was ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘divisive’ like its original ideological plank of Hindutva.
The party could thus hope to be seen as a viable alternative to the Congress in a diverse India. Overnight, Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement — of which the Jana Sangh and RSS were part — and the 1975-77 Emergency began to dominate its political discourse. Ram temple took a backseat, finding no mention in the recent national council at Surajkund in Delhi. The BJP sought to revive the pre-1992 discourse of anti-Congressism. But this required two things: getting support from the civil society groups that were opposing the Congress, and being cleaner than the Congress. As Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal began to attack the BJP (since they did not want to be seen as “saffron”), the first requirement wasn’t fulfilled. Now, with the party president himself under a scanner, the BJP has lost on the “honesty” plank too.
The incidents also bring out two other problems of the BJP.
One, that an unaccountable RSS can make it dance to its tune, and thrust a relatively unknown leader on it. Remember LK Advani had to quit over the MA Jinnah remark, but Mr Gadkari is still continuing despite charges of irregularities and the Vivekananda controversy.
Second, while the party seems quick to dispense with tainted leaders with a mass following — be it former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa facing graft charges or former Madhya Pradesh CM Uma Bharti over charges in a decade-old riot case — seen as threats by many, it is loath to disown those who damage its image and also have no mass following.
If the BJP wants to be back in the reckoning and also position itself as a credible Opposition, a space that is increasingly being occupied not by any mainstream party but activists, it will have to change the way it functions at present.