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A defeat foretold

Despite differences among the top leaders of the Sangh parivar, the BJP continues to flourish thanks to the Congress’ inability to defend its turf, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Apr 09, 2007 17:32 IST

Despite differences among the top leaders of the Sangh parivar, the BJP continues to flourish thanks to the Congress’ inability to defend its turf. After the disastrous outcome in Uttarakhand and the Punjab assembly elections, the Delhi civic poll results should be a cause of worry for the Congress high command. In fact, the party should have started worrying a long time ago because the writing on the wall was clear for quite sometime now. Though a BJP win in Delhi was expected, the drubbing the Congress got can be attributed to bad planning, lack of vision, poor selection of candidates and infighting between the camps headed by Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Ram Babu Sharma and Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

In a letter sent to party leaders sometime ago, Sharma is said to have warned that the Congress would lose the elections if the party failed to present a united front. The letter accused Dikshit of not participating in the pre-poll campaign, but absolved the PCC of any wrongdoing. The PCC, however, cannot be given a clean chit. Dikshit, too, should be held equally responsible for the debacle. The result can be interpreted as a referendum on her eight-year rule though the CM and her supporters have been trying to rubbish such an argument.

Even if the voters were reluctant to vote the BJP back to power in the municipal corporation, it is the Congress which ensured the saffron brigade’s comeback. The irony, however, is that despite everyone knowing that the sealing issue and the infighting would seal the party’s fate, no remedial steps were taken. The party failed to realise that the collective failure of the Delhi government, the Municipal Corporation bosses and the PCC in dealing with the sealing issue would lead to its doom.

In 2002, the BJP lost because of Jagmohan’s drive to clean the city when he was the Urban Development minister, though Dikshit took credit for the win. This time, the sealing drive sealed the Congress’ fate, despite the BJP’s tall claims.
What we need to understand is that Delhi has been a city of refugees, and whenever homes and hearths of the people or their source of livelihood gets affected, it becomes an emotional issue. The Punjabis, even though the city’s demographic character is changing, continue to be the dominant opinion makers. And as everyone knows, the majority of Punjabis came to the city from Pakistan, leaving all their belongings behind. Along with the banias, who have high stakes in businesses, they expect some softness from the authorities. The BJP in 2002 and the Congress in 2007 failed to understand this dimension. Needless to say, both paid for such ignorance.

Curiously, the BJP seems to be giving a different complexion to the poll outcome. It is attacking the central government and not the Congress government or the party in Delhi. Its focus, while giving reasons for its victory, is the price rise. This means that the Centre’s policies are responsible for the alienation of the masses from the Congress and the BJP could well be the best alternative.

The Congress’ defeats in Uttarakhand and Punjab, and now in Delhi, have helped the BJP in denting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s image of a middle-class icon. The emphasis on price rise as the cause of Congress’ defeat suits the BJP as well as city Congress leaders who are eager to put the blame at someone else’s doorstep.

In the larger context, the results, however small, do lend credence to the BJP’s charge that the central government has been unable to satisfy the expectations of the voters. The BJP, since its defeat in the 2004 parliamentary polls, had been trying to damage Singh’s image by describing him as the weakest PM of the country and someone who is being remote-controlled. Some in the Congress, too, wanted to weaken the PM by initiating a plan for a deputy Prime Minister. The idea was shot down by Congress President Sonia Gandhi at the Nainital conclave last year.

But the price rise issue has come in handy for hitting out at the PM, who is being seen more as an economist and less a politician. The price rise is being attributed to his government’s failure to stabilise the economy, notwithstanding the high growth rates and a robust Sensex. The common man does not understand all these financial intricacies but feels the pinch when essential commodities become dearer.

The BJP has realised this and has successfully turned it into a major issue. On the other hand, the Congress has failed to anticipate the fallouts and manage the polls properly. The BJP’s attack also suits some Congress leaders whose unrealised political ambitions affect the prospects of the party in different states. The Congress managers at the state and central level have essentially failed to strengthen the PM and the party president.

The plight of the Congress is almost like that of the Indian cricket team. A small section without any ability seems to have hijacked the entire show and the results in some cases are as stunning as India’s defeat in the hands of Bangladesh. The Congress managers have lost their basic instinct of remaining in power.

The managers, for instance, failed to see that the news of the Congress’ defeat in Delhi would coincide with the first phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh. Care should have been taken in deciding on the dates of the civic body poll. The negative outcome has put the BJP on a high horse and given it enough fodder to take on the Congress. The only way the Congress can now save itself from becoming weaker is if the managers are shown the door and the Congress President takes things in her own hands. Between us.