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Will the BJP stand up?

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:46 IST
Chanakya
Chanakya
Hindustan Times
Chanakya

It's difficult not to feel sympathy for the BJP. Over the last two years, any Opposition party would have given their right arm to have a government at the Centre like the UPA. If issues had to be grabbed, they were up for grabbing - spiralling prices, a corruption tsunami, stalled reforms, the perceived weakness of India's dealings with Pakistan - the list goes on. And yet, barring that one 'victory' of pushing for a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the 2G scam, the BJP has been a sideshow - the latest chapter being leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj rushing off on Wednesday to Ramdev's ashram in Haridwar to show 'solidarity' with the yoga instructor.

Which is a pity.

The political landscape seems to be bereft of a real Opposition. Let me rephrase that. It seems to be bereft of a real parliamentary Opposition. During UPA 1, it was the Left that had captured and thrived in the oppositional space, giving rise to the rumour in some circles that the Congress and the communists had perfected the 'good cop-bad cop' routine, pushing the BJP out of the anti-Congress, anti-government room. With the Left's departure, one would have thought the BJP-led NDA would return to the saddle. Instead, the nation's main opposition party has shrunk over the last two years. And with politics abhorring a vacuum, characters from outside the political system - Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev, and there will be more - have rushed in where the BJP has failed to tread.

What could be more illustrative of this than the BJP having no leader to project as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Ironic, considering in 2004 it was the BJP which, going into general elections, taunted the Congress with 'Vajpayee versus...?'

Why have things come to such a pass for the 'party with a difference'? Primarily, the BJP itself has become an unstable coalition. After the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the party has been having its internal tug-of-war between the 'modernists' and the 'obscurantists'. Leaders such as Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi and Siddharth Nath Singh have been pushing for a modernist, anti-Congress, nationalist, rightwing agenda minus the political raddi of anti-Muslim Hindutva.

There were always those with a communal agenda within the party. But these rabble-rousers had become props over time. The rift resurfaced with the Congress-led victory in the 2009 elections. Folks like Rajnath Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi saw the drubbing as a rejection of the BJP's de-Hindutvaised image and a 'wake-up call' to return to the 'old times'.

Thankfully, the modernists don't have LK Advani casting his venerable shadow on the BJP any more. Even more importantly, a change took place in the relationship between the BJP and the RSS with the elevation of Mohan Bhagwat as sarsanghchalak in 2009. For the first time, there was an RSS chief who told the BJP leadership in no uncertain terms that while ideologically on the same team, the RSS would not provide the party any 'political solutions'. For the BJP's 'modernists', this was an open invitation to transform itself into a modern, rightwing political party to reap benefits in a changed political landscape. For the 'obscurantists', it was denial time with some continuing to play to the RSS gallery in the hope...

The rift is so bad that an insider told me that he'd rather not play any card at all - lest he falls into one of the camps and is 'cut down to size' by the rival faction. Forget finding a 2014 prime ministerial candidate. The BJP hasn't even dared to project a chief ministerial candidate for the 2012 assembly elections in Uttarakhand, a BJP-ruled state, fearing that an out-and-out intra-party squabble will erupt there.

Which is why it comes as no surprise to find anti-government forces from the 'non-political' world parachuting in and pitching their tents. Instead of reclaiming this oppositional ground, the BJP is still on a 'wait and watch' programme. There may be much in common between the Ramdev agitators and the 'obscurantist' wing in the BJP. But the two are not synonymous. If the likes of Sushma Swaraj and the recently returned Uma Bharti have ventured forth to show an alliance with Ramdev, it's in the hope of some of his support base rubbing off on the BJP.

Do you honestly believe that if Advani's comparison of the government action at the Ramlila Maidan with the Emergency was true - and if the BJP was indeed the hand that rocks Ramdev's cradle - BJP leaders wouldn't have courted arrest and filled police vans last Saturday night? No matter what Digvijaya Singh says about the presence of a Bharat Mata cut-out at the Anna Hazare agitation proving that he, too, is being "backed by the RSS", the truth is that the anti-government sentiment has been hijacked from the BJP, not fuelled by it.

As for Sushma-ji's over-activeness and flirtations with the Ramdev camp, she falls into the crack between the 'modernists' and 'obscurantists' in the BJP. I have been told that her usual response for shooting her mouth off (and then apologising) is, "I hold a constitutional position!" This must drive party president Nitin Gadkari up the wall. And is keeping the BJP in the attic that it needs to get out of fast.