February 28, 2002


 Search the Internet
E-Mail this report to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on HP Laserjets
Recent Columns
The economic black-
    hole called Kerala
Gone Enron
The abduction of
    Daniel Pearl
The limitations of a
Let there be war

T V R Shenoy

Why the BJP needs a Laxman

The Bharatiya Janata Party once used to like being described as 'the party of Ram'. Right now, however, what it truly requires is not a Ram, but a Laxman!

Which Laxman? Not the prince of Ayodhya, but the gentleman from Hyderabad whose swashbuckling 281 brought the all-conquering Australians to their knees last year in Kolkata. When he came out to play, India had lost the first Test, had been bowled out humiliatingly in the first innings, and were on the verge of losing the series altogether. And then Laxman found some steel, went on the offensive, and Waugh's men found themselves at the receiving end.

Where is the Bharatiya Janata Party to find a Laxman? (Even Laxman doesn't seem to be a Laxman just now!) It is fine to speak of "introspection" and of "searching self-examination", but does it really require such effort?

This is not, after all, the first time that the BJP has lost Vidhan Sabha polls. We saw much the same situation a little over three years ago after the party lost its stronghold of Delhi. Then as now the problem was a compound of disillusionment and anger.

Go back a couple of years and recall the election slogan the party used in all its advertisements: 'You have tried all the others. Now give us a chance!' That is the trouble; after getting the chance it wanted, the party simply couldn't demonstrate that it was, in fact, a 'party with a difference'.

Think about the plight of the average Indian voter. I live in the heart of the nation's capital, but electricity cuts, taps that run dry, poor roads and the endemic corruption are facts of life which confront me on a regular basis. If that is what Delhiites must endure, I really don't want to know what life is like for someone in rural Uttar Pradesh.

These are the issues that really loom large in our lives. And these are the issues that the Bharatiya Janata Party failed to tackle. Other parties have failed too, but then that isn't much of an excuse.

The last nail in the coffin, to my mind, was the method used to retain power -- the calculated cynicism with which Kalyan Singh split parties and then gave every defector a ministerial post. His legacy was honoured even after Kalyan Singh himself parted ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Only after Rajnath Singh replaced Ram Prakash Gupta -- surely a little too late -- was there any effort to rein in this idiocy and focus on development.

All this is not to say that the so-called 'large issues' -- terrorism, national security, and so on -- do not matter. They do, but these are national issues, and there are more down-to-earth concerns in a Vidhan Sabha election.

I think the Indian electorate is sophisticated enough to understand the difference between electing a representative for the Lok Sabha and one for the Vidhan Sabha. And if certain parties in the opposition think otherwise, they might like to ponder over the lessons of 1998 and 1999.

In the twelfth general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party won the lion's share of the seats in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. That was in the early spring of 1998. In the winter of the same year, the voters handed landslide victories to the Congress. Then in the thirteenth general election, in 1999, the voters opted overwhelmingly for the Bharatiya Janata Party again.

At the national level, Sonia Gandhi did not measure up to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and nor were their teams of the same calibre. But Digvijay Singh had done a decent job in Madhya Pradesh, and the electorate was smart enough to want him to continue. And in Delhi, as noted earlier, citizens' real concerns simply had not been addressed.

Memories of these polls will probably give the opposition some pause when they think of trying to topple the current administration. And it isn't as if the Bharatiya Janata Party has been the only party to suffer some embarrassing losses...

The Amethi Vidhan Sabha seat, the very heart of Sonia Gandhi's Lok Sabha constituency, has fallen to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Doab region, once Mulayam Singh Yadav's fortress, has been breached. Even in Punjab and Uttaranchal, the Congress victories rest upon a few percentage points, less than 5 per cent and closer to 1-2 per cent

Second, I suspect that the non-Bharatiya Janata Party organisations have not really succeeded in enticing the party's voters. Going back to the Delhi assembly polls, later analysis suggested that many of the party's supporters simply stayed at home. They were disillusioned, but could not bring themselves to vote for the Congress. How much less so for the Samajwadi Party!

The foreign media loved to describe the Bharatiya Janata Party as a "right-wing, Hindu nationalist" group. Some of the Bharatiya Janata Party's former supporters are disappointed precisely because none of those adjectives turned out to be correct!

One can understand that the exigencies of coalition politics make it necessary to put some issues -- Ayodhya above all -- on the backburner. But it is difficult to say 'nationalist' when thinking of that shameful surrender of terrorists in Kandahar in December 1999. And the supposedly right-wing party has found it hard to chip away at the dead mass of socialism -- whether it is the sale of decaying public-sector undertakings or labour reform.

The mistake made by the Indian team in Kolkata last year was to retreat into a defensive shell, yielding the psychological advantage to Australia. Laxman, and Dravid too, changed that mindset, turning the tide.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has lost the first Test -- the assembly polls. It is in the middle of the second Test -- the Budget session. Will it come out fighting for reform or retreat again? Remember that there is a third Test -- the fourteenth general election. The time to come out fighting is now!

T V R Shenoy

Tell us what you think of this column