Say what you will, but at least Pramod Mahajan had the courage to come out and face the cameras and, with some humility and a smile on his face, try to provide some answers for the BJP’s shock defeat in 2004. It was as close to a televised confessional as a nation could come to have seen.
In contrast, the BJP’s 2009 debacle has been remarkable because it underlines the axiom that failure is a pathetic orphan.
L.K. Advani hasn’t even had the courtesy to thank those who voted for his party. The hair-splitting, finger-wagging talking heads who had a problem for every solution—Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Chandan Mitra, Balbir Punj—have all disappeared. Narendra Modi is happy playing his little mind games, threatening to take the “stationary train from Ahmedabad to Delhi”.
In other words, the introspection that a party must make after being subjected to a rout of such a scale and size has been missing. Not because it makes a good sight, but because India needs the BJP. It’s all very well to crow about the Congress victory, but the prospect of a political landscape without a credible, viable, national opposition party is grim if not catastrophic as the 1984 landslide win of Rajiv Gandhi showed.
Thankfully, Sudheendra Kulkarni, the Belgaum-born, Kannada-speaking former left winger who became a key advisor to both Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani provides a small corrective in this week’s issue of Tehelka. The BJP’s failure to convince the people, he writes, is rooted in a combination of structual, political ideological, organisational and campaign-related issues.
These are some of the salient points Kulkarni makes:
# “The BJP’s geographical presence in the country is much narrower than that of the Congress. It won only one seat out of 143 that were available in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Congress won 60.”
# “A principal reason for the party’s success in forming a government in 1998 and 1999 was its ability to forge alliances. After 2004, many alliance parnters left, not becuase the NDA had been defeated but their perception that the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 was an important cause of the defeat and hence their conclusion that continuation of the alliance would cost them Muslim votes.”
# There is widespread ideological confusionwithin the BJP over what the party’s advocacy of Hindutva actually means. There is a section which believes it lost in 2004 because it “abandoned Hindutva” (Ram Temple, Article 370, Uniform Civil Code) and many angry voices have again said the same.
“It’s a deeply flawed view. It errs in believing that the BJP’s Hindu base is synonymous with the totality of Hindu voters. The fact is, Hindus never vote as a block for any particular party. There is only a small section of Hindus who have voted as Hindus for what they perceived as a pro-Hindu party.”
# “It is high time the BJP seriously debated and decided what it means by Hindutva and also what formulations of Hindutva are not acceptable to it. True the BJP must remain an ideology-driven party. But without clarity on what the BJP’s ideology is, the party cannot win the support of more Hindus, let alone the support of Muslims and Christians.”
# “The mentality of a large section of the party is so dogmatic that any idea of promoting the welfare and development of Indian Musims or of addressing their legitimate concerns is quickly brushed aside as “appeasement”. In five long years after 2004, the BJP did not come up with a single worthwhile initiative which Muslims could welcome. The party gave tickets to only three Muslim candidates. ”
# The party has a near-zero presence in 143 Lok Sabha seats. On top of that, it practically writes off 15% of the electorate who are Muslims. In recent years, even Christians hae turned agaisnt the BJP. Even within the Hindu society, the BJP’s support base is less than 25% nationally.”
# “It is obvious that the BJP failed to utilise its five years in the opposition to construct and present a positive agenda that could catch the imagination fo the people beyond its core support base. We harped too much on the UPA government’s failures, without convincing the people how we would perform better.”
#”Never in the history of the Jana Sangh or the BJP was the party enfeebled by so much disarray at the top. The disorder at the Centre and also in several states demoralised the disunited party works down the line, with disastrous results. Although Advani was projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidte, this took place after he had been disempowered after the Mohammad Ali Jinnah episode. The cropping of Narendra Modi‘s name in the middle did not help at all. To the people of India, the contrast was obvious: there is unified command in the Congress, but not in the BJP.”
# “Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul made an essentially weak Prime Minister like Dr Manmohan Singh look strong by backing him solidly. In contrast, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar made a strong leader like Advani, whose contribution to the growth of the party is enormous, look weak, helpless and not fully in command.”
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