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Calibrated by the Congress

Calibrated by the Congress
For the delegates who attended the national council of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] at Surajkund in Haryana last week, there was a reason to get worried. There was neither seriousness nor clarity in the message emanating from the Bal Apte auditorium, where the party deliberated on ways and means to wrest power.

The party, ahead of the next general election, wants a feeling to sink into the cadres that they are already on the road to power with party president Nitin Gadkari giving the call,
Singhasan khali karo ki Janata Aati Hain
[vacate the throne for the people]. However, the necessary atmospherics to create that feel good factor was absent during the three-day jamboree.

The BJP should also recall the lesson it was given in the 2004 polls that a feel good among the party cadres does not necessarily transform into a reward in terms of votes polled – Janata, with whose support alone the party can sit on the
singhasan.
In the run-up to 2014, as of now even the atmospherics of 2004 is absent.

There were three main factors that must have worried all the delegates – question of leadership, lack of economic road map and absence of political treatise. There indeed was rhetoric in plenty and so was the eagerness to bad-mouth the ruling alliance at the Centre but no substance to project itself as the national alternative. The leadership question first. The undercurrent of the power struggle within the party was palpable all through the three-day meet. Presence of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] Sahsarkaryavah [general secretary] Suresh Soni at the meet and more importantly RSS supreme leader Mohan Bhagwat’s presence in Delhi during the same time was indicative that BJP’s guardian angel was in no mood to suffer any roadblocks in the way of the present party president Nitin Gadkari getting another term in office.

The adoption of resolution by the national council to amend the party constitution to give its presidents two consecutive three-year terms means that Gadkari, who completes his three years in January next year, could have a second consecutive term. Furthermore in a move to outsmart any attempt at a later date to waylay Gadkari, especially if there is positive result from Gujarat assembly elections, the polls for the next term of BJP president will be concluded by mid-November, much before the results of Gujarat assembly elections are known.

On the first day of the national executive, in midst of close door deliberations, senior party leader and former union minister Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav made a plea to declare Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi party leader ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He expectedly received an instant snub. Modi himself made sparing appearances during the three-day meet where his counterpart from Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan was feted over him as party’s face of good governance.

Despite Gadkari’s belligerence, party veteran Lal Krishna Advani’s concluding remarks made it amply clear that the leadership question was far from settled. By asking cadres to have zero tolerance towards corruption, Advani expressed his reservations towards Gadkari, who all through the conclave, battled indirect charges of corruption with his name being linked to party’s Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti in Maharashtra irrigation scam.

On the economic front too, behind the veil of compound sentences and well-articulated phrases, there existed confusion how the party was going to tackle the Congress initiative on reforms. The ambivalent and at times contrary opinions expressed by party spokespersons Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javedkar on the issue of FDI in retail left many bewildered on what course the party sought to adopt vis-a-vis the economic reforms. The economic resolution drafted by Yashwant Sinha and tabled by Arun Jaitley also failed to give a clear road map.

The erudite lawyer introduced the resolution stating, ‘the BJP is committed to economic reforms which are in national interest.’ However, he failed to define what the reforms in national interests were and what policies BJP proposed to introduce to bring changes which were in national interest. His address ended up being a counter-affidavit to the reforms piloted by Manmohan Singh without proposing an alternative.

Similarly the political resolution adopted on the last day of the council meet failed to clearly spell out the path of struggle which the party wanted to adopt to wrest power from the Congress at the centre. This resolution did not  even reflect the spirit of the presidential address which, by the way, was quite vehement in advocacy for a spirited struggle to change BJP’s status from being the principal opposition to the leader of the ruling alliances. But unfortunately neither the political resolution nor the presidential speech spell the attitude party is going to have towards its allies.

Party, in fact, failed to even send a message about having its own in house in order. With the exception of LK Advani, Arun Jaitley and a few chief ministers, the more flamboyant BJP leaders including Narendra Modi and former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia, with their guest appearances, succeeded in giving the message that they really did not need to look up to the leadership for their sustenance in their respective states. Gadkari has the challenge to steer the party ashore swimming against the tide of history. Their increasing convergence with the Left on matters of political practice for sure would hurt their ideological base. BJP needs a charter which looks beyond anti-Congressism.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post.
Sidharth Mishra

Sidharth Mishra

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