Politics of projection
The BJP appears to be on cloud nine after its victory in the Karnataka assembly polls. The victory had as much to do with planning and projection of issues by the saffron party as it had to do with poor election management by its main adversary, the Congress. In fact, all the victories of the party during the past few years have largely been on account of Congress scoring own-goals because of faulty handling by Sonia Gandhi’s close aides. But then a win is a win and you cannot take it from anyone, even the BJP.
The significance of BJP’s victories in state elections lies in the fact that they have achieved this despite a factional war being fought within the Sangh parivar. While it is Mohan Bhagwat versus Madan Das Devi in the RSS, it is L.K. Advani and his coterie versus others, including party chief Rajnath Singh, in the BJP. The latter blinks when the confrontation starts assuming serious proportions. But victories in assembly polls does not mean that the BJP is going to have a dream run in the next round of Assembly polls or for that matter the Parliamentary elections.
The BJP has always been proud of the fact that it is the only party that knows its chief ministerial or the prime ministerial candidate before the polls. It is another matter that it ends up changing the CM before his or her term ends, though there are some exceptions. Vasundhara Raje continues to be the CM of Rajasthan since 2003 though she has become a cause of embarrassment for the party, leading to the shifting of the National Executive venue from Jaipur to Delhi in the wake of the Gujjar agitation. Many of her colleagues also seem to agree with the opposition’s criticism that Raje’s handling of the Gujjar issue was poor and could cost the BJP dearly in the state polls. Therefore it has to be seen if the BJP sticks to her as the leader of the party when it starts campaigning. However, it will be difficult choice. With Raje, they will find the going tough and without her, they will have to be on their defensive best.
Mind you, the showing in the assembly polls in Rajasthan, like in other states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi — will have an impact on the Parliamentary polls that may follow or will be held simultaneously. It is to be seen who the party projects in MP and Chhattisgarh. In MP, last time Uma Bharti was the Saffron party’s mascot and everyone knows how she got dumped shortly afterwards. Babu Lal Gaur, who succeeded her, was also replaced by the present incumbent Shivraj Singh Chauhan for whom carrying the party in the polls could be a tall order. Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh is certainly not the most popular man in the region.
The BJP naturally wishes to get Delhi this time but after the decimation of Madan Lal Khurana as the party’s mascot in the national capital, it does not know whom to project for the office of the CM. There are four contenders for the post already. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the South Delhi MP is senior to even Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K.Advani in the Jana Sangh-BJP politics, though he is much younger in age. He was Delhi’s most successful chief executive councillor (1967-72) but if he is considered old, then the BJP central leadership will have no case to project Advani as the next PM.
Others who maybe wanting to be considered for the post include Vijay Goel, former MoS in NDA government, Harsh Vardhan, state BJP chief and Jagdish Mukhi, leader of the opposition in Delhi Assembly.
There are also indications that the BJP’s central leadership could draft in Arun Jaitley or Sushma Swaraj as the CM candidate in order to present a face for the future to challenge Sheila Dikshit, whose popularity would undergo the ultimate test in this year’s assembly polls. Many in the Congress wanted a change of leadership ahead of the elections but senior central leaders have thrown their weight behind Dikshit leaving Ajay Maken, Ashok Walia and Subhash Chopra to wait for their turn.
For Dikshit, this could be a historical moment, since the Pradesh Congress leadership under J.P. Aggarwal is with her even though the Congress suffered huge reverses in the Delhi Cantonment polls recently. Many of Dikshit’s adversaries are predicting that she may not contest the polls. Some within the BJP are also toying of fielding Shatrughan Sinha from Delhi and projecting him as the CM in order to seek the Poorvanchal votes.
Obviously, these decisions may not be taken in the National Executive of the BJP since these are ticklish issues. Advani is sitting pretty now since he is most certainly going to be the BJP’s PM candidate. Since India follows the Westminiser model, he has maintained that the leader of the opposition is the shadow PM.
It may be interesting if in this hypothetical situation the shadow PM also spells out his shadow cabinet. The BJP prides itself of letting people know about their leaders in advance and it would be nice to know whom does Advani have in mind for the deputy PM’s slot: George Fernandes or Sharad Yadav? Who will be his shadow foreign minister — Yashwant Sinha or Jaswant Singh? Will the Home ministry be entrusted to Murali Manohar Joshi or Sushma Swaraj? Will Finance be with Arun Jaitley or Arun Shourie and Defence with Ananth Kumar or Rajnath Singh? How will the spoils be distributed among other NDA partners?
The BJP will be setting big standards for the future by projecting the shadow cabinet ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Will the RSS be an extra constitutional authority? All these things are as hypothetical as Advani’s prime ministership. Between us.