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Mandate not against ideology but its dilution

Mandate not against ideology but its dilution

Author: Shyam Khosla
Publication: Organiser
Date: March 10, 2002

Introduction: The BJP needs to analyse why the voting in recent election was on caste and communal basis rather than on issues like development and national security. It must also ponder over the factors that helped to transcend caste loyalties during 90s. Was it not Hindutva? Is it not a fact that certain decisions of the BJP Government were perceived by the masses as appeasement of the Muslims-a charge the party has been leveling against pseudo-secular parties?

The Congress has reasons to be happy that it captured power in Punjab and Uttaranchal but it is deluding itself if it thinks it is on the ascendancy and will come to power on its own strength in the next parliamentary election. These States are not significant so far as parliamentary election are concerned as they send a very small number of Members to Parliament. In any case, the Congress did not sweep the polls in these States. The Akali Dal, that is an ally of the NDA, in Punjab and the BJP in Uttaranchal are not far behind the Congress. A close analysis of the votes polled by various parties show that the Akali Dal, despite a split in the party, was able to retain its mass base. It lost because the BJP failed to deliver the urban votes to its ally. The saffron party got the drubbing in Punjab largely because it lost its identity and failed to address the concern of urban voters. Consequently, the urban voters chose to go the Congress way. Another factor was that the party fielded its sitting legislators that did not enjoy a good reputation. If the Akali Dal and the BJP remain together, as they are expected to, and mend their fences in the coming months, they can turn the table on Sonia Gandhi's party in the parliamentary elections.

The Congress party is in deeper trouble than it realises. Not to talk of revival, its performance in UP that sends the largest number of MPs was even worse than in 1997. It could win only 26 seats against 33 it won five years ago and its poll percentage was down to nine per cent as compared to 15 per cent in the parliamentary elections in 1999. As for Sonia's charisma ' the Congress lost in three of the six constituencies where Sonia addressed rallies in Punjab. Beaming the CPM politburo members that are hopping from one TV channel to another claiming victory have fared miserably in all the four States despite their alliance with the Congress in Punjab and the SP in UP. They are clowns who are celebrating the "victory" of enemies of their enemies.

UP results show a disturbing trend. The SP and the BSP casteist parties that indulged in minorityism-have made deep inroads into the mass base of national parties. The BJP now occupies the third place with only 88 seats in the 403 member House, while the SP increased its tally from 110 to 143 and the BSP from 67 to 99. One of the major causes for a shift away from the BJP is the disenchantment of the voters with the party's performance during the past five years. Rajnath Singh's commendable efforts to revamp and clean-up the administrative machinery during the year and more he was the Chief Minister was obviously not enough to win back the confidence of the masses. The results might have been different if he had more time on his hands to undo the damage his predecessor had done to the party's image and the State's economy. The BJP was doomed the day Kalyan Singh indulged in horse-trading to form a jumboo-size ministry five years ago. The BJP leadership's rationalisation of this amoral politics did not go well with the masses and its cadres as they expect it to be a "party with a difference". The party must realise that the response of its cadres and supporters is different from the followers of other parties, including the Congress. The BJP can't afford to indulge in horse-trading and other politically immoral actions and still expect its mass base to remain intact.

The BJP's choice of Chief Ministers-in-UP and Uttaranchal did play a role in its unexpectedly poor performance. Someone must take the blame for putting Ram Prakash Gupta. in UP and Nityanand Swami in Uttaranchal in the Chief Minister's chair. They proved unmitigated disasters. Swami is a party hopper. He defected to the Congress several decades back and returned to the BJP when he found greener pastures on this side of the divide. The BJP workers in the hill State say Swami had no contact with the cadres and behaved like a Congress Chief Minister. He was duly punished by the voters in Dehra Dun. Bhagat Singh Koshiyari is in touch with ground realities and has risen from the ranks but he had little time to refurbish the Government's image.

The stark reality is that the saffron lost and the green won in UP and to a certain extent in Uttaranchal. The Muslims resorted to what is claimed to be "strategic" voting but what in effect is communal approach. Although at the state level Muslims did not vote for a single party, in every constituency where they have a sizeable presence they resorted to bloc voting in favour of the candidate who in their opinion could defeat the BJP. This is a disturbing trend so far as communal harmony and national unity is concerned. In 90s, Hindus responded by voting en mass for the BJP in these constituencies. Why this did not happen in the recently held polls? Is it because the Hindus do not perceive the BJP to be a party committed to Hindutva? If that is so, the BJP must take the blame for sacrificing its ideology in the vain hope of joining the "secular camp". Even if the party were to be accepted as 'secular" by the Muslims, they would rather vote for the parties they perceive to be "more secular" (read more pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu). That is why despite the BJP's silence on the Ayodhya issue during the elections and several efforts to appease the Muslims, the community targeted it as its enemy No. 1.

The BJP must do some soul searching if it is to prevent the domino effect of recent reverses. It needs to analyse why the voting in recent elections was on caste and communal basis rather than on issues like development and national security. It must also ponder over the factors that helped to transcend caste loyalties during 90s. Was it not Hindutva? Is it not a fact that certain decisions of the BJP Government were perceived by the masses as appeasement of the Muslims a charge the party has been levelling against pseudo-secular parties? And let the party give a thought to the consequences of not including the party's commitment on building the temple at Ayodhya in its election manifesto. The party must find out how far the perception that it too has joined the "secular brigade" (read indulging in appeasement of) led to the shrinkage in its support base. The only saving grace is that having suffered big setbacks in UP, the BJP behaved in a dignified manner by promptly respecting the popular mandate and deciding to sit in the opposition. That it did not indulge in horse-trading or trying to tie-up with the BSP to form a rag-tag Government, has enabled the party to regain some of the credibility it had lost in recent years.

February 2002 polls is the biggest setback to the BJP since 1993 when the party lost in UP, MP, Rajasthan and Himachal. The defeat in 1993 had come as a big surprise to the party as it had hoped to ride the sympathy wave generated by the dismissal of the BJP Governments in these States in the wake of demolition of the disputed structure in December 1992. If the party lost despite the widely held perception that these dismissals were unwarranted, there must be some good reason for the people turning their back on the party in the States that are perceived to be its strongholds. Was it because it failed to govern well and ignored its cadres? The party demonstrated its resilience by doing remarkably well in 1996 and emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. It came to power in 1998 and 1999 with the help of its allies.

Recent defeats in UP, Uttaranchal and Punjab have sent shock waves among the BJP cadres and demoralised the leadership. The party's defeat in Jammu parliamentary bye-election and Yamuna Nagar Assembly bye-election-where the party nominee came fourth after O.P. Chautala's INLD, Bansi Lal's HVP and the Congress in an urban constituency-have also sent strong signals about the decline in the fortunes of the party. As of now, besides heading the ruling alliance at the Centre, the BJP is running the Governments only in Gujarat, Himachal and Jharkhand and sharing power as junior partner in Orissa. It needs to come up with a strategy to turn the tide in its favour before the next parliamentary elections that are not far off.

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