//An unending muddle

An unending muddle

The Bharatiya Janata Party is witnessing a persisting downslide with the defection of a key member, murder of another, electoral setbacks and failure to play the role of national opposition

John Philip Delhi, HardNews.COM ,June 2006

"Things fall apart; the Centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…..”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha member did try to put on a good-humoured expression while flaunting his erudition but the other BJP leaders sharing the table in the Central Hall of Parliament did not seem to be in a mood to appreciate his literary predilections. The group had just received the news that efforts to pacify former Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and hold him back in the BJP had failed. Marandi was all set to resign his membership in the BJP as well as in the Lok Sabha, further reducing the party's representation in Parliament. Indeed, the "reading” Member of Parliament's (MP’s) allegory would have been perceived to be in "bad taste", especially because William Butler Yeats' famous words seem to have gone beyond the realm of figurative speech and acquired excessively realistic dimensions for the party that led the ruling coalition of the country not so long ago.
 
“Nothing is going right for the party; in fact everything is going wrong and nobody seems to have a clue how or when things would turn around,” a Lok Sabha member of the party admits without attempting to make scholarly allusions. Last year, on the first anniversary of the UPA government and its Prime Minister Manmohan Singh they were, by and large, in a self- congratulatory mood. The Prime Minister had come up with a grading system for ministers and even announced a major rural development programme titled Bharat Nirman with an outlay of Rs. 1,73,000 crore for improving rural road connectivity, rural electrification, rural drinking water, rural telecom connectivity, and greater irrigation facilities. Such “showmanship” had enhanced the value of the government in public perception and yet the opposition NDA had stood its ground and made strong attempts to raise issues and questions against the government and convert it into a concerted political campaign.
 
“As the UPA celebrated its second anniversary,” the MP pointed out, “the leadership of the government was itself torn by self-doubting and the mood within the ruling coalition was in no way comparable to what existed twelve months ago.” The chutzpah of presenting a system of grading for ministers or announcing new development projects were conspicuously absent. There was also the widely accepted public view that factors including the reverses in the assembly polls – particularly the ones in Kerala and West Bengal – and the confusion over the question of reservation to Other Backward Castes (OBC) in educational institutions have contributed to this situation. But still the BJP and the NDA were found to be completely wanting in making political capital out of it. “The reasons,” the MP said, “were not far to seek." “We were ourselves in greater confusion trying to protect the collapse of the party on several fronts," the MP said.
 
The immediate manifestations of the confusion were of course in the efforts aimed at patching up with Marandi and protecting Subhash Kashyap, the former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha who was appointed Governor of Uttaranchal during the NDA regime. Kashyap had made insulting comments about Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and the Privileges Committee of the House had decided to castigate the former Secretary General. The exercises on both the Marandi and the Kashyap fronts failed to create any positive impact for the BJP. Marandi made it clear that he cannot be persuaded to mend fences with the present Chief Minister Arjun Munda or other segments of the BJP leadership. On the Kashyap front, even NDA partners like Janata Dal (U) refused to toe the BJP line. Efforts to protect him fell flat.
 
But by any yardstick, these were only immediate manifestations. This confusion and the political-organisational bumbling have been part and parcel of the BJP since the shock defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. Naturally, the party failed to play the role of an effective opposition at the national level. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) did realise these deficiencies and the changes that it got made in the BJP last December were aimed at correcting them. The principal change was the removal of Lal Krishna Advani from the position of the BJP President and replacing him with Rajnath Singh. This move was supposed to break the personality cult that was being built around Advani. But the man himself refused to accept such sidelining and used the Varanasi blasts to unilaterally announce an organisational initiative in the form of the Bharat Suraksha Yatras. The political premise of the yatras was that the UPA government’s minority appeasement was virtually helping Islamic terrorist forces in the country.
 
Though the RSS top brass agreed with this social and political pretext and saw it as suitable for the advancement of a Hindutva-oriented mass campaign it also held the view that this situation should be allowed to ripen in order to strike a telling blow on the UPA and the Left parties, which support the UPA government from outside. In the context of such perception Advani's twin yatras were seen to reflect an undue haste motivated by an urge to retain the highest position in the BJP. This difference of view within the Sangh Parivar also, ultimately, made a huge contribution to the failure of the yatras, including the one led by Rajnath Singh, who was virtually forced to accept Advani's unilateral announcement.
 
The murder of Pramod Mahajan, indisputably the BJP's most influential General Secretary, has further complicated matters. He was the party's organiser, fundraiser, election strategist, media manager, coalition-builder all rolled into one. The vacuum left by Mahajan is so huge that it can be surely surmised that the BJP's realpolitik operations would be challenged greatly in the days to come. Needless to say, a major deficiency would be of fundraising, especially because Mahajan was handling it more or less single-handedly.
 
The stories of reverses have continued in the four state assembly elections as well as in the Rae Bareilly Lok Sabha bye-elections. Though the Congress did suffer resounding defeats in West Bengal and Kerala and failed to retain a majority of seats in Assam it was the BJP that suffered in all the states uniformly. Its vote and seat share came down in all the states with the vote loss in Assam and Kerala being huge with 12.2 and 7.4 percentage points respectively.
 
In Rae Bareily, the former Uttar Pradesh BJP President Vinay Katiyar who boldly took on Congress President Sonia Gandhi could claim only third position behind Samajwadi Party's little known Raj Kumar Chowdhary. Chowdhary got 57,003 votes, much ahead of Katiyar who pulled only 19,657 votes. This resounding defeat of a high-profile candidate, who even failed to put a spirited fight, is seen as precursor to the party's electoral fortunes in the state's assembly polls as when they are held. The only consolation for the BJP in Rae Bareily was that it managed more votes than Prabha Singh Lodh, the homemaker propped up by expelled BJP leader Uma Bharti. Prabha Lodh polled only 6,201 votes.

In short, the hopes that were raised within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in January 2006 with organisational changes and plans for new political initiatives lie in shambles in less than six months. Can the party get its act together and strike ahead once again playing the role of an effective opposition and projec
ting itself as a potential ruling party? There seems to be no positive response in the horizon. Clearly things are falling apart and mere anarchy have loosed upon the BJP's firmament.