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.