As I write this, 21 years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, I cannot help but recall the two great lessons I imbibed during the 1991 Lok Sabha campaign from two PMs–Chandrashekhar who was at the time caretaker PM and AB Vajpayee who was destined for the future.
Before Gandhi was assassinated, the wise Chandrashekhar told me, ``No one can come to power, or keep it for long, if they ignore roti, kapda aur makan (food, clothes and shelter) and then bijli, sadak aur paani (electricity, roads and water). Emotional issues will take you thus far and no further. You will have to embrace these six sooner rather than later.’’ When the campaign resumed after Gandhi’s funeral, I got a great insight into Vajpayee’s mindset and never stopped admiring him for that. As he landed at the Bombay airport, BJP workers presumed, rather wrongly, that with Gandhi out of the way, the throne was theirs to grab.
I recall a BJP corporator bending down to touch Vajpayee’s feet and rising to say rather delightedly, ``Saab, is baar gaddi hamein milegi, naa (We are getting the chair this time, aren’t we)?’’
A bitter expression chased across Vajpayee’s face and he snapped back, ``Tum yahaan gaddi ke sapne dekh rahe ho aur hum isi chinta mein doobe jaa rahe hain ki kahin hamein vanvaas naa lenaa pade (You are dreaming of the throne and I am sunk in worry that we might be banished/exiled)!’’
The corporator, I could see, just did not get it. But having had Chandrashekhar explain at length to me why the six basic issues were important and nothing else really mattered to India, I could understand Vajpayee’s reasoning. The BJP’s election manifesto that season contained nothing but a communal agenda -- mandir-masjid, uniform civil code and Jammu and Kashmir. Gandhi’s assassination had overridden those emotional appeals. Now the Congress had both a social agenda in its manifesto and a heart-rending issue to take to the people. The BJP stood no chance.
Of course, the ineptitude of former PM PV Narasimha Rao over the Babri Masjid demolition helped the BJP come to power in 1996 for 13 days – and they were wise enough to seek tie-ups with other parties to return in 1998 and retain power until 2004. But since then much has gone wrong with the BJP – their inability to read the pulse of the majority of the people was always questionable and they simply gave away their government with their `India Shining’ campaign (India was then shining only for their crony capitalist friends) to the Congress’s aam aadmi.
After Gujarat 2002, no secular party is willing to ally with the BJP any more. They are also unable to choose a president (they are opting for status quo by retaining the rather tractable and amiable Nitin Gadkari) who might really lead them to the hustings with a pan-Indian appeal. I wonder where my good friend Gadkari thinks his party is getting 200 seats from in the next Lok Sabha, given that their strong men (or women) are all on the verge of a breakaway – look at how Vasundhara Raje Scindia managed to bend the party high command to her will over Rajasthan; Narendra Modi (Gujarat) and B S Yedyurappa (Karnataka) are no longer one with the rest of the BJP. LK Advani still clings to his dream of becoming PM (which, I believe, is the single largest factor destroying the BJP today). And, much as we trashed Congress scion Rahul Gandhi for doing so badly in Uttar Pradesh in March this year, the one charismatic BJP leader, Uma Bharti, who could have had a pan-cow belt appeal in their former core base for her sadhvi status, only succeeded in bringing the BJP numbers down in the UP assembly polls while the Congress actually added more seats to its own previous tally.
So, as the BJP holds its national executive meet in Bombay later this week, they might take a moment to ponder that they are doing even worse than their main rival to the gaddi in Delhi and in danger of being reduced to a sum of parts made up by their regional satraps, none of which might add up to a whole.
So will it be gaddi or vanvaas again in 2014?