Saturday, June 13, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, June 08, 2009

YOU can tell a lot about the state of an organisation by just looking at its headquarters. At 11 Ashoka Road, the BJP’s Central Office, the neon lights that shone on giant cutouts of the party’s top leaders don’t even come on anymore. It could be a case of a simple short circuit which the electricians there haven’t been able to detect. Quite like the disconnect between the party and the majority of Indians, which its leadership failed to detect, bringing the party to this pass.

And now, nearly a month after the results came out, they are still unable to decipher what went wrong. Far from taking collective responsibility for their shared failure, they even persuaded the lone man who owned up and offered to quit to stay on, so that they themselves continue to enjoy the perks of power without the burden of responsibility.

There are turning points in the history of political parties, when the future is made or lost. For the BJP, one such moment was in 1987 when it adopted the Ram Mandir as its mascot and a symbol of cultural nationalism. It reaped huge benefits. In the space of just 11 years, the BJP which had just two members in the 9th Lok Sabha went from strength to strength until it became the largest single party in Parliament in 1999. Sadly for the party, from then on, it’s been a downhill slide.

Party leaders hoped E- 2009 would reverse the trend. But if the defeat in 2004 was a tidal wave that left its leaders shellshocked, last month’s humiliation was a tsunami that killed their spirits.
They are still trying to figure out what went wrong. But if history is anything to go by, they don’t have to look far, just within. After the 2004 debacle, a committee headed by Ananth Kumar was set up to look into the matter. My good friend Ananth never made his report public because like everyone else, he knew the truth would be embarrassing for his own peer group.

Sometime in the near future, they will have a Chintan Baithak where, my instincts tell me, there will be a clamour to push the truth under the carpet. Instead of accepting responsibility and taking corrective measures, the leadership has gone into a shell, leaving it to some self appointed apologists to offer explanations for its defeat in all kinds of fora, except the party where one ceased to exist long ago.

So what really went wrong? Was it the mid term projection of Narendra Modi as its prime minister- in- waiting in 2014? Was it the failure of the leadership to zero in on the right candidates and convey the right message? The apologists, who never understood the party’s culture and yet dominated its leadership’s mind space, have it that the party lost because it was seen as a Hindutva outfit that was out of step with a vibrant and modern India. They argued it was time the party abandoned its original platform and transformed itself into an inclusive outfit, much like the Congress. That they have the leadership’s eyes and ears has in turn sparked off a conflict Rahul: Master stroke between these “ friends” of the BJP and the party’s original ideological stakeholders who gave their blood and sweat to build the BJP. There is recrimination rife among the latter who feel the party is paying the price for deviating from its original path; that LK Advani, who single- handedly built up the party, has compromised it by playing into their hands.

Thus the same people who sang Advani’s praise for seizing the moment in 1987 now hold him responsible for the irreparable harm. They point to his 2005 visit to Pakistan and the secular certificate he gave to the Qaid- e- Azam. It may have won him admirers in the country of his birth but it alienated his party.

Many see that as the beginning of the downturn, as he could neither sell his ideology to the cadres nor enthuse them. To be fair, Advani did not pursue the ideological shift, but neither did he attempt to extricate himself from the vice- like grip that the BJP’s new found friends had on him. This in turn led to demoralisation and waning enthusiasm among the party hardcore who were the dipped- in- saffron types.

SO SHOULD the party change just to give a comfort zone for a few? Or should it go back to its original roots that saw the BJP clocking the fastest growth rate that any political party in India has ever had? No is the opinion of the paratroopers and self appointed ideologues. But the long- term faithful, not to speak of the parent organisation, the RSS, feel the BJP has no option but to adopt its original and distinct identity if it is to remain a potent political force. Such dilemmas have of course never been a bother for the party’s famed Gen- Next who will soon engage each other in a war of succession to determine who will lead the party five years hence. As things stand now, whoever is unfortunate enough to get the top job can only lead the party further down the road to oblivion.

The ambitious men and women at 11 Ashoka Road should perhaps draw some lessons from Rahul Gandhi. The mandate for the Congress had less to do with its performance record and more with young Rahul’s bold decision to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. One master stroke and some untiring work and the Congress won back the support of a large section of Dalits, Muslims and pandits, its core constituency that once seemed lost forever. The BJP should also try going back to its roots. And also ponder why its leaders are now reluctant to chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai while the Congress Jai Ho chorus wafts all across the country.

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