The BJP's just-concluded national executive made it amply clear that the party is looking at corruption as the central theme to both corner the government and expand the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
"...2010 has ended leaving the Congress-led UPA II... showcasing India as a poorly managed, carelessly governed, utterly corrupt nation...," the party's political resolution said.
The party clearly senses corruption as one issue that is of universal, almost apolitical, appeal, and is not marred by ideological differences that have often led to the NDA's shrinkage in the past. The drumming up of corruption as the overwhelming issue facing the nation also enables the party, leaders claim, to avoid taking too long-drawn and clear a position on other issues like, say, growth and environment, or Hindutva terror charges, or even an issue like Telangana, which can be reduced to a subtext.
This aspect of the corruption issue makes it a perfect one for expanding the NDA, which has shrunk post-Vajpayee after a string of electoral reverses. Significantly, the party ended its executive with an NDA rally attended by Janata Dal (U), Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena, with JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav repeatedly claiming that the entire Opposition and even UPA allies were together in the fight against corruption and the demand for a JPC probe. "There is a two-third Parliamentary majority in favour of a JPC probe," he said.
The BJP's own political resolution too spoke in the same vein: "The BJP resolves that it shall fight corruption tooth and nail. To restore hope back to the people, the BJP shall rise to serve as the nucleus of this effort. We are a party born out of a struggle not very long ago. People, groups, civil society organizations and parties wishing to energise this "clean of corruption" effort should come together. Together, we should extricate this glorious nation from the Congress culture of corruption..."
The one stumbling block in this discourse is the clean chit offered by the party to its own Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. Accordingly, the mood to downplay him is amply clear. While BJP spokespersons tried to deflect pointed questions on the charges against him, he was not present at the rally. The BJP president too in his speech mentioned him by name only once while noting the success achieved by the party in the recent Panchayat polls in Karnataka.
Also, controversial leaders Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi were absent from the scene of the rally, which was seen as a bid to sweep away differences with the JD(U) - which has been shy of being associated with them for fear of losing Muslim support - while focusing on the one binding issue: corruption.
The political resolution that the executive passed was entirely on corruption, and recalled a similar resolution passed by the party at Ernakulam in 1988, when the Bofors scandal had just rocked the country.
Clearly, the suggestion the party wants to give is that the UPA government would start on a downhill path just like the then Congress government on corruption allegations.
Interestingly, the BJP has attempted to subsume all other issues within the larger theme of corruption.
Nitin Gadkari reportedly said in his speech that the Congress was whipping up the Hindutva terror issue to divert attention from scams.
"The party president said that though terror has no religion, whenever the government felt cornered, they accuse the RSS of terror," BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said later.
"Digvijaya Singh has become the spokesperson on this issue under the patronage of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi."
Similarly, key ally Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) sought to subsume the inflation issue into the wider theme of corruption that the NDA is focusing on. "Corruption kee kheti par hee mehangai kee fasal hoti hai (When you sow corruption, you reap inflation)," he said.
The message: acute corruption had driven up prices! While the Prime Minister had been the main target of the BJP's attack - with even his resignation being demanded at the first anti-corruption NDA rally in Delhi - in the aftermath of the 2 G spectrum controversy that cost former Telecom Minister A Raja of the DMK his post, the reappearance of the Bofors controversy after the recent Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) ruling has made the party subtly shift the attack to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. At the rally, she was directly and obliquely attacked more than the PM was, with LK Advani even asking whether she could deny that Italian businessman Ottaviop Quattrocchi had been a regular visitor to the Gandhi household.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari's presidential speech to delegates also covered the corruption issue in great detail, mentioning Bofors, the 2 G scam, Commonwealth Games expenditure and the Adarsh housing society scam.
The BJP sees its rise to some prominence in 1989 as a result of its coming together with VP Singh post-Bofors. Though the Ram temple movement gave it the real push a while later, issues like corruption, the party feels, are better suited to weave a strong alliance, a must for a return to power at the centre. Symbolically too, the first entry of the party's predecessor Jana Sangh into the liberal, democratic space beyond identity politics was through the JP movement. Significantly, BJP leaders are harping on the Emergency repeatedly these days, even if out of context.
BJP patriarch LK Advani wrote a blog on Sunday calling for a film on the Emergency and even chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad recalled with pride his association with the JP movement while talking to reporters at Guwahati. The importance of the Emergency for its own image apart, it also offers the party an opportunity to paint the Nehru-Gandhi family as "anti-democratic".