It was hardly a scorcher of a rally but BJP president Nitin Gadkari certainly felt the heat when he fainted during the proceedings. But to the party’s credit, it has certainly turned the heat on the UPA on the price rise issue.
Despite soaring temperatures, Mr Gadkari was able to mobilise over two lakh BJP workers to come to Delhi, the first show of strength by the party chief. This suggests that the BJP, after wandering about directionless for many months after the last Lok Sabha elections, is beginning to take its role as the largest Opposition party seriously. This is something it should have done much earlier when prices started spiraling and hurting the common man.
In the year up to April 2010, the food price index has gone up 17.65 per cent and the fuel price index 12.45 per cent. Every day, we hear stories of deprivation and hardship. All this is tailor-made for an active Opposition. It is also heartening to see the BJP behaving in a mature and democratic manner on the issue of Naxalism. Following the massacre of 76 CRPF jawans in Dantewada, the BJP did not come out all guns blazing against the home minister but instead lent him its support. This is a rare instance of an Opposition party putting the nation’s interests above its own. So while he got off to a faltering start, Mr Gadkari seems to have revitalised the party to some extent. The factionalism that was tearing the party apart also seems more under control now.
But Mr Gadkari has his work cut out for him. Charismatic party leaders like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi are still chary of sharing a platform with him. The challenge for Mr Gadkari will be to project himself as a unifier in a party that has increasingly been seen as at odds with itself. There are several issues on which the BJP can take the government on, the price rise being only one of them. Though once a party of governance, the BJP has not been able to raise any foreign policy issues like that of India’s stand on Afghanistan or indeed the ambivalent relationship with the US in any significant manner. The era of the grand stalwarts like A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani are well and truly over.
Mr Gadkari is widely regarded as a nuts and bolts man, a man who gets things done without saying much. Now all the ‘nuts and bolts’ man needs to do is to consistently put the government on the mat on bread and butter issues.