Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BJP leaders feel the heat: A volcano about to erupt?



BJP’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, made an interesting remark in Bhopal on Monday (June 15) while refusing to comment on the apparent mess that prevails in the party at the moment. It seems, going by media reports, that she described the situation as similar to that of a ‘volcano’ and how the smallest of ‘sparks’ could lead to an ‘explosion’.

Despite much effort, I have not been able to get the exact quote of what she said. Did she describe the situation as ‘bisphotak’ (explosive)? Or did she use the word ‘jwalamukhi’ (volcano)? The media versions are conflicting.

If the situation is ‘explosive’, then things could ‘explode’ due to two reasons: External instigation (a ‘spark’) or internal pressure at the top or any level. If it is similar to that of a rumbling ‘volcano’, then it could explode due to extreme pressure from down below – that’s how volcanic eruptions happen.

Which brings me to the question: What’s happening in the BJP? Is pressure building up at the top? Or is the party leadership (LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, et al) feeling the pressure building up at the ground level, that is, among cadre?

There is reason to believe the cadre is getting restless. Vague talk of ‘introspection’ and ‘chintan baithak’ to assess the BJP’s electoral performance has not served to assuage feelings of despondency among karyakartas, disarray in the ranks and disunity at the top.

These feelings have only hardened in recent days with Jaswant Singh raising the three Ps and Yashwant Sinha dramatically resigning from all party posts to ‘set an example for others’, force a discussion on the need to link performance and reward, and generally seize the ‘moral high ground’.

The entire debate over the need for debate within the party is increasingly getting mired in personality issues, ego problems and the despair which comes with successive electoral defeat.

Two points merit attention.

First, after the electoral debacle of 2004 (which was far less expected than the defeat of 2009), there were, if memory serves me right, a series of meetings, at least two of them at exotic locations, to discuss the ‘way forward’. After much deliberation, the ‘way forward’ was decided and the course charted. Surely this is not the destination the party had set its eyes on.

Second, clearly those deliberations were worthless sessions of mutual ego massage and the decisions that followed were naturally flawed.

So, what is the guarantee, cadre are asking, that this time it will be any different? After all,

. The top leaders seem to be in no hurry to roll up their sleeves and sit down with facts and figures;
. There is great pretence of business as usual – you don’t have to go around in sack cloth and ashes but surely there should be visible concern?
. A two-day National Executive, of which half-a-day will go in presidential and valedictory speeches and another half-a-day on passing resolutions (which have increasingly become utterly meaningless and not worth the paper they are written upon), is the best way to fob off early, elaborate and genuine debate.


There is a view that the National Executive need not have been called at this point of time. Instead, the leaders should have gone into retreat for threadbare discussions and come up with a roadmap to rejuvenate the party and recover lost ground, as well as expand its geographical spread.

There is also the other view: Hold a National Executive meeting, give members an opportunity let off steam in a controlled enviroment, and then get back to doing nothing.

I feel that the first course would have been preferable. But before coming up with a conclusive roadmap, there should be intensive interaction with State units of the party, not limited to office-bearers in the capital cities but also with district units and the largest possible cross-section of party members.

Yes, the entire task would take at least three months, but the move could be initiated right away with a predetermined deadline, say by October, to come up with a tentative roadmap. The National Executive could have then deliberated on it, fine-tuned it, and taken it to the National Council for approval and implementation.

No, it won’t happen that way because over the past decade decision-making has become a hazy process with our own versions of Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale deciding for all the stake-holders in the BJP what should really be decided at a larger, participatory forum. There is reasonable doubt about it being any different now.

Unlike others who have attributed profound reasons for the BJP’s miserable performance, I feel the causative factors are not that difficult to locate and are known to those who lead the party. I would list them as:

. Organisational problems – the party is in a shambles in most States, especially in those where it has been in alliance with others;
. Wrong choice of candidates – in at least 50-odd constituencies people voted against the party’s candidate and not the party per se;
. A meandering, directionless campaign with no clearly focussed ideas and over-reliance on issues on which the BJP’s record in governance is nothing to write home about;
. Failure to anticipate voting preference/pattern in crucial States like Maharashtra (where MNS’s ability to split votes was grievously under-estimated) and Uttar Pradesh (where the shift in caste alignments was fatally overlooked or not sensed) reflect disconnect with grassroots.
. Letting the media aggressively set the agenda and timidly responding to it, instead of the other way round; and,
. Giving the heave-ho to the concept of collective leadership.

I wonder if Varun Gandhi’s alleged ‘hate speech’ or the reprehensible behaviour of Pramod Muthalik, or, for that matter, the Kandhamal violence, had the kind of impact as is being made out.

After all, in Karnataka the BJP has done exceedingly well; in Orissa the BJD would have gone its own way irrespective of what happened or didn’t happen. I think it’s rather far-fetched to suggest that voters in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh were influenced by events in Karnataka and Orissa.

Since everybody harps on ‘good governance’ as the over-riding factor which determines voter preference, we should look at Uttarakhand where the BJP has governed well but has been routed in all five seats. Conversely, in Orissa, where Naveen Patnaik has little or nothing to show by way of tangible achievements over 10 years and social development indices remain abysmally low, the BJD has swept the polls.

It’s unfashionable to say so, but I think the outcome in Bihar (which had very low polling – down to 44.3 per cent from 58.02% in 2004) had more to do with getting the caste arithmetic right, Nitish Kumar tactically decimating the RJD’s support base and the Congress-RJD-LJP alliance falling apart, than with ‘good governance’.

As for Delhi, the real story why the party is on the verge of becoming inconsequential can be summed up in one sentence: The BJP’s inability to figure out the demographics of a cosmopolitan city.

The BJP won in 116 seats without aggressively promoting Hindutva; it lost in other places not because it was shy to promote Hindutva; it got its sums wrong because the figures fed to the leadership were horrendously misleading, apart from the reasons cited above.

So, let us not target Hindutva and make it into a bogeyman or an object of derision. On the contrary, the higher ideals of Hindutva – summed up by a stirring slogan no longer heard, ‘Justice for all, appeasement of none’, the essence of Ram Rajya whose contours are defined by egalitarianism, enlightenment and equity – should be reiterated forcefully.

Just because Hindutva is mocked at by the deracinated urban elite does not mean the BJP should disown its own identity. If Hindutva was relevant in the past, it can be made relevant for our times and the future, too.

What all this adds up to is the need for extensive groundwork to collect empirical data, process it intelligently to arrive at possible reasons why the BJP failed, and work on a roadmap to reach firm goals. Of course, this would simultaneously require rejuvenation of the party and regaining the cutting edge which propelled it ahead of the Congress in three successive general elections.

This is a gigantic exercise. And poses a litmus test for the leadership. If it fails, the BJP's situation would be akin to sitting atop a volcano with lava gushing up.

23 comments:

Jaideep said...

Dear Kanchan,
dont you think the issues that BJP supporters prefer the party to raise such as UCC, Art 370, etc are not considered by the masses as important isues as far as election issues. This lads to a strange problem for the BJP; Issues which enthuse the cadre dont appeal to the masses while those on which the people vote dont appeal to the party faithful. A referendum on issues such as Art 370, UCC and Ram Mandir I am sure will be in favour of the BJP position, however an election in India is never fought on these issues

offstumped said...

Kudos for some hard hitting plain talk.

But I think you are walking into the hingsight is 20/20 trap with an excessive focus on electoral arithmetic.

Leadership is not about the electoral landscape as it exists but about remaking it as it ought to be by breaking thru existing social coalitions to stitch new ones.

You allude to this in your diagnosis of Delhi when you refer to the BJP not understanding the demographics of a cosmopolitan city.

I have said this in private in other fora and let me say it here as well, there was a time when the BJP in Delhi reflected middle class India's aspirations, its choice of candidates in Delhi reflected Middle class role models.

The fact that neither was the case this time around speaks volumes about the Vision/Aspiration deficit.

This is one strong reason why there needs to be a wholesale overhaul with Visionary Leadership that remakes the movement with a Missionary Zeal to break thru last centuries calculus of caste and religon based vote banks.

One last quibble we now have a 4th definition of Hindutva after MG Vaidya's pluarity of faith, MMJoshi's austere way of life apart from the more popular definition that Jaideep alludes to above.

Rather than get defensive on the Hindutva debate you should reflect on why there are so many interpretations and the associated incoherence.

Important to realize the debate is

1. not on the relevance of "essence of Hindu thought"
2. but on articulating a coherent ideology that is
a) consistently understood,
b) interpreted
c) and applied to make policy choices when in and out of government
d) as well as to extrapolate on choices to be made on issues likely crop up in the future

sharmajee said...

All this angst about the election results is just so much hand-wringing by the disappointed, and misdirection by the self-anointed arbiters of truth in the English language media in India.

True, the Indian Right did not win the national election, but let's not forget that the real losers, the utterly demolished ones, are the Left.

BJP retained its strength throughout the country. It's the CPI, CPM etc. that got blown to smithereens. To the extent that they were the vanguard of attacks on the Right, and Center, the BJP must be considered to have actually been vindicated, if not actually been voted into confidence by, at least, its own base.

As to why Congress won is simple, incumbancy. That BJP is not in power is due simply to Advani's foolishness on Jinnah, and to their opposition to the Nuclear Deal.

The Indian Right has nothing to be ashamed of, or to apologize for. Just stop believing what you hear in the English media.

Arun said...

What is the next Karnataka for BJP? It took decades of self-less RSS work in that state before BJP came to power.

I have been banging my head for the conversion of SJM into a political party so we can have a Left-of-Center complement to the BJP and expand in areas that the BJP is unable to.

Without new states, there is no hope of ever tasting power again.

Maverick said...

Hitting the nail on its head!!!

neelakantan said...

Be it 2004 or 2009, the Congress won these states - AP, Kerala, TN. Alliances or no alliances. The BJP has to improve its presence in these places. Otherwise, it will go from bad to worse.

If the BJP "gets rid" of Hindutva it will become a Congress clone without the "ruling family". Is that what the party wants?

For now, the party must get rid of many of the deadwoods there - get out those responsible for the UP debacle and make the party more youth friendly.

The battle for 2014 has to begin now - "Aunty" incumbence will not gift the chair to the BJP because the numbers are way too short.

Swabhimaan said...

Agree with Jaideep that issue such as UCC, Art 370etc are not considered by the masses as important isues. This does not mean that the party should drop them. These issues have national significance and reflect the principles the BJP stands for. The manifestos/Vision documents do talk about issues that interest voters and are current.

Aam Aadmi said...

Vasundara Raje will do better on the national scene. Plus, getting her out of Rajasthan will clear some space for the rest of the folks. Her chances of becoming CM again are not too bright.

Same applies to BC Khanduri, but we can afford to delay this.

offstumped said...

Dear Shri Kanchan Gupta

Good twitter debate.

More links for your reference.

- World Bank Study by Deepa Narayan titled “Moving out of poverty” echoes Offstumped on BPL census analysis http://is.gd/ZLSm

- How to differentiate on true freedom to local government (covers Golwalkar and Govindacharya shud interest you)

http://offstumped.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/the-third-freedom-movement/

- Hard facts from 2002 BPL Census Data
http://offstumped.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/from-agitational-politics-to-aspirational-politics/

Keep the debate going till we distill coherence and clarity else a Congress clone with muddled feel-good moderation on everthing else will be neither here nor there.

Anonymous said...

This is the most convincing commentary I have read so far. Most of the rest is hand-wringing and flailing about.

Right Angle said...

Kanchan... We are debating different things on electoral defeat..

But have we ever discussed EVM fraud?

Please read subramania swamy's latest article on hindu..

http://www.hindu.com/2009/06/17/stories/2009061755160900.htm

We cannot ignore this angle..

Sudhir said...

Kanchan,

Please check this news. I do not know how true this news is

http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?a=jgsp0qijgcf&title=No_Kargil_Divas_this_year&?vsv=TopHP1

Ten years after the Kargil conflict, the government wants us to forget it.

The government has reportedly issued a circular to the armed forces once again, saying it would not be officially celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kargil war on July 26 this year.

Sources told Sify.com that the decision was purportedly taken to avoid `rubbing salt into Pakistan`s wounds` at a time when the peace process was once again being re-initiated.

Arjun said...

It seems clear that the moral compass of the BJP has gone haywire and any attempt at a reinvention should not happen without first defining what the core principles guiding the party are. BTW, These principles don't really have to be defined. They clearly exist in the principles espoused by Guruji and others of the same ilk.

A sanitized version of the BJP sans this strong moral compass will be an inconsequential entity.

A strong set of guiding principles will define what issues a right of center party can support and what it will oppose. This is a matter of very important detail but clearly doable.

Your comments on Hindutva reflect a certain definition of Hindutva that you abide by. Obviously there are others in the BJP that dont believe in your definition. So sure lets not be apologize for Hindutva but first rescue Hindutva from the loonies who are bent on ruining it.

Obviously the rescue has not even been initiated else the BJP would not have sat in the opposition with the taint of Varun Gandhi. BTW, that was a hate speech. I challenge anybody who thinks otherwise to tell me whether any senior leader in the BJP or the RSS would ever have used that sort of language in any fora. It was pathetic and the fact that the BJP did not take strong action is lamentable. Again, Varun's explanations for his comments betrayed a certain definition of Hindutva that exists in his sick mind. That he believed in a sick interpretation of hindutva can be attributed to his lack of education in the core principles that the BJP supposedly believes in.

So let the volcano erupt if only to purge such sick minds from the BJP.

Satya said...

Sudheendra Kulkarni needs to go! He is good for nothing! Has proved to be a disaster for BJP.

Ghost Writer said...

Mr. Gupta,

I quite agree with your diagnosis of the election being lost on the same old caste/vote bank arithmetic, all this talk of “politics of aspiration” notwithstanding. One wonders - do folks in the 116 constituencies that BJP won, have no aspirations? Or are there aspirations not aspiring enough! I also agree that they have to stop relying on the strength of allies. In state after state – wherever they have allied with non-Congress parties, they have enfeebled themselves and enlarged the space for the ally (Orrisa, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar are examples). In states where they have gone it alone for the long haul – they seemed to have managed in building a durable organization (Karnataka, Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand are examples)
However, I do have a suggestion on which I would like you to respond (or hope you will anyways). Why cannot the BJP institute some kind of primary system for selecting state and national leadership? Why are they still relying on a top-down, command and control style of organization? It would ensure a cure for most things you are concerned about (wrong choice of candidates, organizational problem, leadership getting “what they want to hear” as opposed to “what they need to hear”, failure to anticipate voting patterns etc.) Can a primary (or any other intra-party democracy system) work in Indian political parties? Or is it an idea too soon and only end up wrecking things? I would like to hear what you think.

Anonymous said...

BJP legislative party leader and senior cabinet minister of Punjab Mr Manoranjan Kalia has been abused and issued threats by a lowly SAD legislator. How long can we tolerate the tyranny of Akalis despite being so strong in the state? Shame on central leadership for not letting us BJP guys have a DY CM in Punjab!
Central BJP leadership please stop being the yaars (friends) of Badal and support your own party instead of Akalis.

LINKS: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090619/main3.htm
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/BJP-boycotts-cabinet-after-MLA-Kalia-spat/articleshow/4674096.cms

Swabhimaan said...

@RightAngle,
the link you posted is not complete.

Right Angle said...

http://www.hindu.com/2009/06/17/stories/2009061755160900.htm

Right Angle said...

A nice article from tvr shenoy.. http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/jun/17/tvr-shenoy-asks-if-the-bjp-is-a-hindu-party.htm

Its clear crisp on what exactly is hindutva..

Bhavananda said...

Yes, and the best part of the article is where you use Navin Pattanayak's example to call the "developmental politics" bluff. Navin has made no development to talk for and yet he wins elections. And, the "development-politics-screaming-journalists" simply vanish into thin air.
Of course, the ELM has constantly harped on developmental politics ONLY when it comes to BJP. And, there are stupid enough people who'd swallow that. Reminds me of the power of propaganda (Bofors by the communists back in '90s)

Jitendra Desai said...

Kanchan is right.Instead of debating the road map for future, leaders are out to punish each other.Hindus, Hindutva and Hindu Civilisation are still alive.With 116 seats they can protect Hindus and project themselves as their saviours.If CPM could do it with 60 seats, why can't you do with 116? If you play your poltics well, you will win majority next time.If you remain petty like this, you can be reduced to 40 in next elections, pl remember.Hindus are watching you,if you continue to fail them with such displays, they will finally turn their backs on you and find another alternative in next 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Sir, what are your thoughts on the two day national executive meeting?

Anonymous said...

OpenID offstumped said...

Kudos for some hard hitting plain talk.

But I think you are walking into the hingsight is 20/20 trap with an excessive focus on electoral arithmetic.


Kanchan da ,
any reply to that ...