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The knives are out in the BJP

Last updated on: June 11, 2009 12:46 IST
The blame-game has begun in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Those who are directly responsible for the party's disastrous electoral performance are desperately trying to blame others lest their role comes under scrutiny.

The proverbial knives are out. On Wednesday (June 10) evening the 'core group' of the BJP met at L K Advani's residence. There is nothing called the 'core group.' Membership is extended (and/or withdrawn) depending on whether the 'core group' is supposed to massage bruised egos, indulge in collective hand-wringing, participate in self-flagellation, provide for limited expression of contrarian views, or snuff out voices of dissent.

On Wednesday, the 'core group' met for a bit of everything, so those who met were quite representative of the BJP as it is today, which is like a fish that has begun to rot head downward. (When we Bengalis buy fish, we check the gills; hence my choice of this metaphor.)

What was discussed at Wednesday's meeting is really irrelevant and inconsequential. At the end of the meeting, everybody decided to meet again. As always, no decisions were taken. So much for the slogan, 'Determined Leader, Decisive Government.' It's not surprising that voters were not persuaded by it.

Jaswant Singh has made bold to raise the three 'P's -- Prabandh, Parinam and Puraskar -- which should have engaged the party leadership after the May electoral debacle, but shall never be discussed.

Meanwhile, Sudheendra Kulkarni, who undid the BJP's election campaign in 2004 with the 'India Shining' slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark, has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP's inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame. (Anil Chawla, his classmate at IIT Bombay, has circulated an 'open letter' by way of a rejoinder to Sudheendra Kulkarni's article.)

Sudheendra Kulkarni has made the following points:

  • Everybody should own up for the party's defeat, collectively and individually.
  • Disunity among the party leaders contributed to its electoral failure.
  • The Parivar (I wish he had shown courage by naming the RSS) hobbled the campaign and made L K Advani look weak.
  • Negativism ruined the BJP's chances.
  • Hindutva is the real obstacle between victory and defeat.
  • The BJP has failed to expand its 'limited' social base.
  • Allies have been abandoned and new alliances haven't been forged.

Here are my responses:

  • The moral responsibility for the defeat is entirely that of those who led from the front. If they failed to enthuse voters, it is because they did not come across as inspirational leaders. The reasons for the credibility-deficit do not merit elaboration.
  • Having abandoned the practice of collective leadership and placed individuals above party, not to speak of promoting those who thrive on divisions, groupism and factionalism, no purpose is served by pointing a finger at 'disunity' at the top.
  • The RSS -- as well as the greater Parivar -- did nothing to hobble the campaign. The Sangh endorsed L K Advani as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, instructed affiliate organisations to join the campaign, and made every effort to bolster him through word and deed.
  • Negativism was the core of the campaign fashioned by Sudheendra Kulkarni and his team vested with over-riding powers. (They came up with a real election-winner: After coming to power, L K Advani's government will gift a smart phone to every BPL family.)
  • Hindutva is the new bogeyman. So blame it for everything wrong under the Sun. There's a problem though. Even if the BJP were to abandon Hindutva -- the Hindu ethos which once made the BJP stand out from others, the pride in India's cultural heritage and civilisational identity, the unifying concept of nationhood -- Muslims wouldn't vote for the party. Not even after reading 'Advaniji at a glance (in Urdu)' and finding that all mention of Vande Mataram has been erased from the BJP Web site by the 'laptop brigade' which was supposed to lead the party to a stunning victory, but instead led it to a humiliating defeat.¬†Fiction: Muslim disquiet with BJP can be resolved. Fact: Muslim hatred of BJP is visceral. Problem: How do you work around it?
  • The BJP's failure to expand its social base is directly linked to its Pavlovian response to forging alliances. In every state the BJP has forged an alliance, it has moved from nothingness to nothingness, and not strength to strength.

    It began with Uttar Pradesh (The BSP gained at the BJP's expense). It has been seen in Andhra Pradesh (The TDP used the BJP's vote share, weakened the party and then abandoned it).

    In Orissa, the BJD used the BJP to consolidate its base and then cast it aside.

    In West Bengal the TMC used the BJP, plundered its organisational base and then denounced it as 'communal'.

    In Punjab the BJP has suffered on account of the Akali Dal's politics.

    In Bihar we shall witness a repeat of all this and more before the next assembly election when the JD-U dumps the BJP.

    The best way to stop new leaders emerging from the ranks (and thus posing a challenge to the entrenched leadership of the BJP) is to stump the party in the states by forging alliances and forcing local leaders to don sack cloth and ashes and become grovelling supplicants in the courts of the allies.

Elections come and go but parties remain, at least those who are in politics for more than power at any cost, now or never.

The BJP's leadership is suffering from a disease called 'last bus syndrome': If it can't catch this bus to power, then it will never get to be in power.

I am tempted to recall what L K Advani once told me, many years ago, before another general election: "As things stand, we could win enough seats to come to power. But I often ask myself, are we prepared for power?"

Kanchan Gupta is Associate Editor, The Pioneer. He blogs at kanchangupta.blogspot.com

Kanchan Gupta