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What's in store for NDA, BJP in 2007?

For a party that took a long time to reconcile to the role of an Opposition after the Lok Sabha debacle of 2004, the BJP looks at 2007 with lots of hope, reports Shekhar Iyer.

india Updated: Jan 02, 2007 22:42 IST

For a party that took a long time to reconcile to the role of an Opposition after the Lok Sabha debacle of 2004, the BJP looks at 2007 with lots of hope.

None of senior BJP leaders hide their glee at what they call "growing problems" of the UPA on the economic and internal security fronts. Having lost power because of the "India Shining" hype, they think they can ride back to centrestage, focusing on the plight of the common man or aam admi.

Much more, they look at the elections in Punjab, Uttaranchal, Manipur and finally, Uttar Pradesh in the first half of 2007 as a testing ground for their attempts to bring back issues like Hindutva, Ram temple and "appeasement of Muslims" in the hope of garnering votes.

The BJP leaders also think that the Presidential polls that follow the polls in UP and other states will be a kind of a semi-final in the larger political battle before the Lok Sabha polls two years away.

At the same time, BJP president Rajnath Singh is worried about the performance of BJP governments of Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh while Chief Minister Narendra Modi of another BJP-ruled state, Gujarat, nurtures his own ambition after state elections in the second half of 2007.

Rajnath Singh has told BJP chief ministers, particularly Vasundhara Raje, to perk up their government's performance to prevent the Congress from gaining support. His fear that, even if the BJP gains in UP and Uttaranchal, it may lose out in Rajasthan and MP if the governments cannot show consistent results.

The BJP is less worried about its coalitions in Bihar and Orissa where the major partner is the Janata Dal(U) and the Biju Janata Dal respectively. But Karnataka is BJP's nightmare. Its coalition with Deve Gowda's Janata Dal (Secular), say BJP leaders, is in for a shock when Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has to handover reins to his deputy, YS Yediurappa of BJP in November this year.

Rajnath Singh, who got the mandate from the RSS to steer the BJP for the next three years, cannot ignore the NDA — the Opposition alliance the BJP thinks will last until next year. He wants to increase the number of parties in the alliance.

Hence, his trips to Kolkata and support for Trinamool Congress Mamata Banerjee's war against the Tatas' Singur project.

Says senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu, "2007 will be watershed. The common man has begun to realise that the Congress is doing nothing to control prices. The farmer thinks that the UPA slogans are empty. Issues like internal security and appeasement of Muslims is generating antipathy."

BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley says that the PM and the Congress have given enough opportunities to the BJP to pursue "aggressive nationalist policies".
He says a weak Congress-led UPA government pursues third front agenda of pandering the religion and caste-based vote bank politics.

Jaitley considers the PM's 'Muslims first' remark and the Sachar panel's findings on Muslims' status or delaying the death for Parliament attack convict Afzal for elections should all be taken in this background. "It is very good for his party to occupy non-Jehadi space. There is no competition for BJP in this space," he remarks, adding the trend will continue in 2007.

In fact, Vajpayee set the tone for what the BJP expected in 2007. Wrapping up the three-day BJP conclave at the fag end of 2006, he said "the road to Delhi is via Lucknow and the UP polls are not just another assembly elections. We have to think seriously and work hard for ushering in the change both in the state and in the country."

As Vajpayee put it, "Lucknow means Luck Now. The message from this conclave is that luck won't come to us on its own. We have to work to bring us luck. The only mantra I know of is that, forget your differences, work shoulder to shoulder and remember the common man." 

Leader of Opposition LK Advani too saw signs of ascent for the BJP, warning the party not to mistake that the UPA was stable and the people were satisfied with the government's performance. "It is just an appearance."

Advani, who spoke before Vajpayee, said, "UP is where the BJP will bounce back. The first challenge is in UP. It is where we will bounce back. It is where we drew real strength when we marched to power in the late 1990s and do so again in the 2009 polls."
 
What is the basis of optimism for BJP leaders? Is it just because the saffron party secured eight of the 12 mayoral seats in the civic elections?

Rajnath Singh says Uttar Pradesh is the axis on which India's politics rotates. "You will be surprised when the assembly polls are held. The state not only elects the largest number of Members of Parliament but also has been the cradle of great movements including the nation's freedom struggle and the Ram Janambhoomi movement. Wait and see, The BJP will bounce back." 2007 should be a barometer for the BJP's furture.