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Wilting at windmills

The BJP is dangerously in denial about why it’s on a losing streak, writes Ashok Malik.

india Updated: Oct 28, 2009 21:31 IST
Ashok Malik

As the BJP gropes for answers to explain its drubbing in Maharashtra as well as its wider atrophy, it is tempting to draw an analogy with Pakistan. The party leadership’s instinct is — as it has been since the defeat in the May 2009 Lok Sabha election — to point fingers elsewhere.

In May, the BJP prime ministerial candidate argued that the party had not lost but only suffered collateral damage as the Left and the ‘Third Front’ collapsed and handed an advantage to the Congress. In Maharashtra, the BJP was cheated of victory by Raj Thackeray. Other villains have also been identified — the media; NDA partners who have not allowed the BJP to grow; the urban middle-classes that have rejected the party; the people of India for not being sufficiently alive to the dangers of terrorism; electronic voting machines.

Meeting shortly after the three-state verdict of October 22, the BJP parliamentary board reflected this sense of denial. There was little attempt to ascertain what had gone wrong. Is there a big picture emerging from all this? Actually, there
are four.

One, the BJP is no longer a national party. It has no pan-Indian identity or credibility. It is strong in about half a dozen states where disparate entities have a certain appeal. If there is any commonality among platforms in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, it’s not obvious.

Two, the party HQ in Delhi has been hijacked by a cartel. They are out to convert their occupation of the BJP into a private business. If this entails undercutting uncooperative colleagues, so be it.

State after state has seen this phenomenon at work. In some — Haryana and perhaps Jharkhand in the coming weeks — the inspiration has been straightforward capital gains. In others — Rajasthan and the host of states that have seen Delhi-inspired dissidence — the motive has been replacing a strong local leader with an anonymous sycophant. Absolute command of the party bureaucracy is more important than winning a popular election.

Three, the national leadership of an all-India party is supposed to provide broader political direction and make trenchant policy interventions. After two Lok Sabha defeats, the BJP has to virtually reinvent itself. However, the party president and his camp followers are incapable of this. They have, instead, outsourced the task to the RSS. In its current form, the RSS isn’t up to this job. It can’t pretend, for instance, that rhetoric on cow protection or random pronouncements on China can magically metamorphose into electoral issues.

Neither is the RSS sufficiently alive to the role of personality in mass politics. It is fine to transfer a faceless plodder from Mirzapur or Nagpur to the office of joint secretary, Department of Agriculture, Government of India, and expect no one to notice. You can’t make him a president of a national party and believe millions of ordinary voters will simply nod their heads.

Four, if this situation persists, there is genuine danger that in two or three years self-respecting state BJP leaders may consider the regional party route. Burdened by a national leadership that contributes nothing and only makes demands, state units could be forced into other options. Naveen Patnaik did just this when he junked the BJP and walked out of the NDA in Orissa. How soon before others do a Patnaik and walks out of the BJP itself?

Ashok Malik is Delhi-based political commentator.

The views expressed by the author are personal