ONE IS the ruling party at the Centre and the other the main Opposition but the dividing line between the Congress and the BJP on economic matters has got blurred in recent years. Even on some political issues, the twain have met. But that’s where similarities end. The 125 year old Congress has a spring in its step, a stomach for a fight and has a clear roadmap for the future; the 30 year old BJP is content playing second fiddle to regional partners. The Congress is led by a feisty leader at the Centre whose handpicked nominees rule in the states.
The BJP on the other hand has a spineless central leadership, yet has star chief ministers in the states.
Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh, Prem Kumar Dhumal and B. S. Yeddyurappa are in office on their own right and they have gone about their job in a way to have won grudging admiration from even some of the UPA ministers at the Centre.
I would have thought that with a high stakes election going on in Bihar, the BJP's High Command would let loose these party mascots across the state to win votes for the JD( U)- BJP alliance government in Patna. But no. The presiding deities at 11 Ashoka Road have decided that there is no need.
The BJP has been in the grip of the warped ideology of political correctness for quite some time now. This was highlighted once again last week when the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha said in Patna that “ Modi’s charisma and magic have worked in Gujarat, but it is not necessary that everybody’s magic works in every place”. More than anything else, Sushma Swaraj’s statement is a pointer to the deep centre- state crisis that has engulfed the BJP. The powerful cabal at Ashoka Road thinks it knows what’s best for the party, and runs it accordingly, often with disastrous consequences. Ranged against them are popular chief ministers who have fought all odds, both from within and outside the party, to keep the BJP flag flying in several major states. Sushma’s graceless remarks about Modi show not just the depth of the divide but the lengths to which some of the party’s leaders will go to belittle one another.
It’s tragic but true that the party’s chief ministers are not involved in any of the important political decision making process. Barring Lal Krishna Advani and BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, none of the other leaders even talk about the performance of governments in BJP ruled states in their speeches. Even in Bihar, BJP leaders remain content prais- Narendra Modi ing Nitish and playing second fiddle to him and dare not utter the ' M' factor in his presence. “ In Bihar, the magic of Nitish Kumar is at work and we are confident of our victory,” Sushma said last week. Nitish’s aversion to Modi campaigning is well known, but Gadkari had told me on my TV chat show Seedhi Baat , as well as made several public statements, that the decision to nominate the party’s campaigners remained the sole prerogative of the BJP. Then why are its star campaigners being kept out? My instincts tell me that the chief ministers have been kept away from the campaign by the central leaders who fear being dwarfed by them.
Now look across to the other side at the Congress whose best hopes are centered on coming in a respectable fourth or fifth position in the polls. Yet it has drafted almost all its chief ministers for the campaign.
In the elections in which Nitish has made development his biggest plank, the BJP has asked Modi, Raman Singh and Chauhan, the party’s development mascots to stay at home. Almost all the Congress chief ministers have visited the state at least once and in the last fortnight, the Congress sent its own development mascot, Delhi’s three term chief minister Sheila Dikshit on two whirlwind tours of Bihar ( October 19- 20, 26- 27) during which she addressed more than 15 campaign meetings.
When things go wrong in politics, they never go half wrong. The defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections shattered the morale of the BJP; the elections last year broke its back and there is a very good chance that even without any damage being inflicted from outside, the men and women at Ashoka Road will finish the job.