There is a stark contrast between new BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s assertion that you can change lives without political power and the partnership the party has formed with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s (JMM) president Shibu Soren. It is an indication of how embarrassed the party is at this opportunistic alliance that all the top brass stayed away from Mr Soren’s swearing-in as chief minister of the state. Now Mr Gadkari may go blue in the face trying to convince people that the Congress cast the first stone in tying up with Mr Soren earlier. But, an alliance which, given Mr Soren’s record, could mean grief for the party is hardly an auspicious beginning for Mr Gadkari.
To make matters worse, top RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya has expressed his unhappiness at the BJP cosying up to the JMM and thrown his weight behind those in the party who opposed the move. Laid low by factional feuds and poor electoral performances in recent times, the BJP has been struggling to get back on its feet. But with this tie-up, it has lost the moral high ground that it once claimed belonged to it. With the rank and file unhappy with the Jharkhand partnership, Mr Gadkari really has his work cut out to galvanise the party. Unlike his predecessor Rajnath Singh, he does not have towering personalities like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and, to a lesser extent, L.K. Advani to fall back on. The party has been drifting after the UPA bested it a second time around in the last Lok Sabha elections. Barring disrupting Parliament, it has not been able to put the government on the mat on any worthwhile issue. The Liberhan commission report further took the sheen off the party’s tallest leaders. Mr Gadkari is going to have to do a lot better than point fingers at the Congress. He will have to come up with a viable plan to revive the party and take up issues that matter to people. His plans that the BJP will get away from politicking and take up development issues could see the party turn the corner if he gets enough support from within.
At present, that does not seem likely. How the BJP will handle the JMM will be a test case for Mr Gadkari. The fact that the RSS, Mr Vaidya apart, is backing him so far is one factor in Mr Gadkari’s favour. His best bet would be to increase the party’s base by 10 per cent as he hopes to. If so, the largest Opposition party should be back in business.