These are sensitive times for the country’s main Opposition party. Coming out of a year that saw the UPA government pushed to the ropes far too many times for its comfort, the BJP should have been sitting pretty at a crucial period before key state elections later this year. That, however, is not the case. The party did make its oppositional presence felt towards the end of 2011 by going hammer and tongs against the Centre’s policies that included foreign direct investment in retail and, perhaps with more reason, against the latter’s Lokpal Bill in Parliament. But the fact of the matter is that the BJP has been riding someone else’s horse all this while — in the case of the Lokpal Bill, that of the opp-ositional force of the Anna Hazare-led campaign. So for the party to now reclaim the mantle of chief challenger to the government will take some doing. And the latest episode of division within the BJP’s higher echelons over the induction of two former BSP ministers accused of corruption into the party certainly isn’t going to help. If anything, a political party with a divided poll strategy is far more debilitating than a party with a chaotic ideology.
Last week, more than just a few eyebrows were raised when Babu Singh Kushwaha and Badshah Singh, both sacked by chief minister Mayawati on corruption charges, were ushered into the BJP. Now, party chief Nitin Gadkari’s belief in realpolitik has come into conflict with the view of other leaders such as LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj. While Mr Gadkari may have reckoned that inducting Mr Kushwaha, a member of the other backward class (OBC) and Mr Singh, a Thakur, would play well into the caste-community electoral matrix of the UP polls, to blatantly welcome two tainted politicians was an act of being brazen to a fault. With the BJP banging on about the need to eradicate systemic corruption, inducting two politicians charged with corruption into the fold is not even bothering to hide one’s disbelief in something that one is preaching. If the Yeddyurappa incident punctured the BJP’s tirade against a ‘corrupt UPA’, Mr Gadkari’s latest takes the cake.
As is the case for the other national party in the fray, the UP elections will be an important dipstick measurement of the state of the BJP in the sphere of national politics. While at the level of states, the party has a presence either in government or in opposition, the energy level required to make a quantum leap ‘back’ to the national arena is still lacking. The BJP’s incoherence, both in terms of leadership as well as strategy, is visible despite the brave front put up by the likes of Ms Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Even bef-ore this latest ruckus over Messrs Kushwaha and Singh, the BJP leadership’s decision to parachute Uma Bharti into UP did not go down well with local party leaders and continues to create internal rifts right down to the grassroots level. The decision to not let Mr Kushwaha run for elections on a BJP ticket or campaign for the party is welcome, but may be a far-too-visible correction for a far-too-visible error. The nation needs a strong Opposition force even outside the boardwalk of parliamentary debates. And for this, one dearly hopes that the BJP gets its house in order.