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BJP put pet issues on the back burner

The BJP?s spectacular victory in three states may very well signal its emergence in a new mode.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2003 02:40 IST

The BJP’s spectacular victory in three states may very well signal its emergence in a new mode.

It may see the party emphasise less on its Hindutva character and project itself more as the “natural party of governance” — a position that the Congress once occupied.

Senior BJP leaders say the polls are a turning point for the party. The elections in MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi were the first ones in a long time where the BJP did not play issues dear to it — the Ram temple, ban on cow slaughter and uniform civil code.

Instead, the BJP stuck to the new 'BSP' — bijli, sadak, paani (electricity, roads, water) — that are a hallmark of good governance.

Certainly, this was not because the BJP had a change of heart. Rather, it was because its top leadership realised — after the party's rout in UP, Uttaranchal and Himachal in 2002 — that Hindutva alone no longer paid electoral dividends.

Secondly, the party could not corner the Congress on its record of governance in the states that went to the polls unless it resisted the temptation to play on emotive issues. In fact, Digvijay Singh tried to push the BJP on the back foot on issues like cow slaughter and offering of cake by Uma Bharti at a temple. BJP leaders decided such digression would suit the Congress better than their party.

Most importantly, with the Lok Sabha polls less than a year away, BJP strategists said the party had to harp on “the achievements" of the Vajpayee government to show that it performed better than the Congress as a ruling party at the centre.

The Prime Minister, who himself acknowledged that the BJP had not expected such a favourable verdict, said the BJP focussed only on "people-related issues" such as power, roads and that “nobody talked about mandir and masjid”.

As deputy PM L.K. Advani explained, “In the 1970s, we made corruption one of the main issues before the nation, along with Jayaprakash Narayan. Then, in the late '70s, we took up the issue of democracy because of the Emergency."

He said, "In the early 1990s, the Congress' rank opportunism for the sake of votes in the Shah Bano case and Ayodhya saw us take up the question of secularism versus pseudo secularism.”

But since 1997-98, said Advani, with the collapse of the Congress-backed coalition and the emergence of a BJP-led alternative, the party decided to focus on governance. "The country's 50 years of independence had not ushered in development and growth. The people's hunger for good governance remained unfulfilled. My Swarnajyanti Rath Yatra was to highlight the need to transform our swaraj (freedom) to suraj (good governance)."

Arun Jaitley, as the BJP's strategist in MP, used the development card against Digvijay Singh's legacy of 10 years of uninterrupted rule. In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh too, the Vajpayee government's record was touted as the "shape of things" to come if the BJP was voted to power.

So, when even Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was drafted for the campaign, he did not say a word about Godhra or Ram temple. He stuck to the BJP central leadership's approved agenda.

Will the BJP be tempted to go in for early parliamentary polls? Vajpayee has ruled it out. "Still one year is left," he told reporters who asked him whether the polls would be advanced.

First Published: Dec 05, 2003 01:54 IST