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Will the BJP succeed in reinventing itself?

Will the BJP succeed in reinventing itself?

Author: P. Raman
Publication: Free Press Journal

A full-scale debate has already begun within the extended parivar with almost the entire Advani crowd, including the media activists and hangers-on, working hard to 'reinvent' the BJP without its '19th century baggage.' The new generation Hindu, they have discovered, has grown enough to bother about any
threat to the community.

Even If the BJP has suffered a severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, it can certainly feel happy that it is never short of advisers and sooth-sayers.

NRI professors, Haward analysts and our own desi TV channel anchors all have the nauseatingly similar homilies on offer.

It is almost a reproduction of the same brief: the BJP lost because of the 'weak-PM' campaign, Varun remarks, Narendra Modi's projection as future PM, Mangalore pub attacks and the party joining the 'obstructionist' Left on the nuclear deal.

Absence of the Vajpayee `aura', they say, had failed the BJP. Another golden advice is to make the BJP a right-of-centre party free of the RSS control. A UK-oriented analyst wants the BJP to reinvest itself like 'New Labour'. A US faculty head wants it to become a Republican Party. What is common with the experts is their singular lack of understanding about the dynamics of the BJP's working and the RSS parivar's intricate inter-relationship.

Take the Vajpayee 'aura' of 1998-99 and up to 2004. His cultivated liberal image was critical in getting the support of about 20 secular allies after the BJP had reached the striking distance of power, not before.

It was the Advani durbar's strategic skill, rather than the Vajpayee magic, that had led to the BJP success in 1998 and 1999 elections.

The former could work wonders with the prevailing political chaos. It was a time when Sitaram Kesari had pulled down two UF governments in quick succession.

The Congress itself was on steady decline. The Advani-led BJP had then grabbed the opportunity to project itself as the only viable alternative. The BJP's united leadership under the two stalwarts and its yet untarnished image as a disciplined 'party with a difference' had apparently appealed to sections of the voters. These sections fell for the 'sabko parkha, hamko parkho' (tried all others, now try us) slogan.

The party was seen as an emerging force with fresh ideas under an earnest leadership.

It was such hopes and aspirations that made large sections, including middle class youth, to fell for a hitherto untested set of leaders. Also, it is too simplistic to claim that the BJP's poor showing last month was due to the
absence of Vajpayee's liberalism.

Even in 1998, the party's campaign (and manifesto) had a heavy dose of Hindutva like Ayodhya, Artcle 370 and common civil code which was frozen only after the NDA was formed.

Now on the 'obstruction' of PM policies. In 1998, the BJP went to the polls on its Swadeshi economic nationalism and emerged largest single party. The RSS had openly intervened to block 'pro-corporate' Jaswant Singh's appointment as finance minister. The Swadeshi thrust persisted in 1999 polls with an assurance that 'India will be built by Indians'. Parivar leaders claim the middle classes had endorsed Swadeshi, and had enthusiastically acclaimed the Pokhran II. They had valiantly resisted the resultant US sanction on India. Where 'we' went wrong was in not going to the people in a big way to explain the dangers of `mortgaging' India's right to minimum nuclear deterrent, a dominant parivar section say. According to them, this might have made all the difference.

Look at the lofty idea of mutating the BJP into a right-of-centre party. It was some thing tried and failed three decades back. After the first experiment of merging the Jana Sangh into Morarji Desai's Janata Party in 1977, had led to a disaster, the new-born BJP was repackaged as a clean right-ofcentre outfit in 1980 under Vajpayee.

It had 'Gandhian socialism' and 'genuine non-alignment' as moto. Secular leaders were inducted into it in a big way. But in the next election, it ended up with just two MPs. And thus ended the second right-of-centre experiment.

The armchair analysts overlook the BJP's intricate dynamics. After three decades, there is little change in its core support base, i.e., thousands of RSS and parivar cadres.

Who else will bring voters to polling booths? Largely unseen by the elite media, the lotus is rooted deep in this manure-rich silt at the bottom which gives it the nourishment.

Vajpayee had realized, first in 1984 and then in 2004, that the water above alone cannot keep the lotus afloat. True, the RSS itself often feels helpless to control the VHP and other such elements who insist that the government under them serve the Hindu cause. In fact, Vajpayee had encountered more VHP/Bajrang
Dal protests than Manmohan Singh.

Occasional political floods can sink the lotus but it comes up again above the water. But the moment it gets a right-of-centre, secular garb, it will get uprooted from the parivar silt and get wilted.

And when the doom comes, even the media friends will dump them like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

This perpetual clash of interests compulsions of relying on the RSS cadre strength and the need to give a liberal look to impress the wider sections of voters has been the BJP's bane. The two parallel lines can never meet. But historically, the BJP had flourished only when one line got distorted during the Mandir movment when Hindutva gained upper hand and the NDA rule when power politics reined supreme.

Putting a Jaitely here or Sushma there is purely a cosmetic measure.

Fundamental changes can come only through a deeper parivar-BJP dialogue of the old Sariska type. For, a full-scale debate has already begun within the extended parivar with almost the entire Advani crowd, including the media activists and hangers-on, working hard to 'reinvent' the BJP without its '19th century baggage.' The new generation Hindu, they have discovered, has grown enough to bother about any threat to the community. With the backing of the emerging middle classes, a reinvented BJP could make deep inroads into the Congress constituency. The parivar loss could be compensated by the cooption of more influential forces in the new right-of-centre party. That is how they see it. However, this does not convince those like Murli Manohar Joshi. They dismiss such suggestions as immature. RSS veteran M.G.Vaidya even says that the BJP loss was due to its distancing from the basic Hindutva tenets. Even some among the reformists find fault with the timing. It should have been tried when the Advani-Vajpayee team was in full bloom or when the former was removed as party chief three years back. Now it is too late for an aging Advani to organize such a massive movement.

Those like Venkaiah Naidu see scope for a BJP resurgence even within the existing arrangement with a better ideological and functional balancing with the Parivar. But so far there seems no serious move within the parivar for a heart search.

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