BLUNDER BY BJP
Date: 17 May 2009
BJP forgot Delhi often comes via Lucknow
Anshul Chaturvedi Sunday May 17, 2009
“We all know that the road to Delhi is via Lucknow”, Atal Bihari Vajpayee reminded the national council of the BJP in December 2006. Even if he does usually speak a tad softly, a point as basic as that mustn’t have been that difficult to catch. A pity, then, they didn’t pay him much heed.
Contrary to the widely shared opinion, going by television debates, that the BJP’s primary error was its sustained campaign against Manmohan Singh, I don’t think the BJP really made an gigantic electoral blunder by picking a ‘negative campaign’. Or by attacking Manmohan. Or in its choice of alliances, or the lack of them. The BJP got the plot fundamentally wrong the day it got so enamoured of its own success in social experimentation, that it began to equate its electoral epicentre with Gujarat — forgetting the fact that it had been steadily, irretrievably, losing it completely in its actual epicentre, UP.
In its quest to go beyond the Hindi belt, in its desperation to be the truly national alternative to the Congress, in its attempt to disown the right-wing hardline branding that Kalyan and Babri brought it, the BJP kept on stretching, reaching out, looking to expand. But where in God’s name was it expanding from? Its “growth” pattern was the equivalent of gleefully working on the décor of newly built additional rooms in your house — even as the roof slowly comes down on the living room itself. And if the Ram Mandir and Article 370’s abrogation were hardline issues and had to be dropped, how the Gujarat massacres and their patrons were sort of legit stuff the party was willing to live with, beats me completely.
The BSP recently accused the SP of acting as the BJP’s B-team. I beg to differ. The BJP in Uttar Pradesh is the unqualified title holder of the “B-team” tag, and no other party can come within a mile of it in this context. While there are reference points aplenty, for the sake of convenience I go back to a piece I wrote in TOI five years ago: Second Force: BJP as the B-team of Uttar Pradesh Politics. The fact of the matter is that the BJP in UP was so fascinated and then emasculated by the first taste of power it got, that it was subsequently willing to play along with anyone and everyone so long as it could be in the system, or, at least, be friendly with the system. And this was quite irrespective of ideological or strategic factors, and in defiance of long-term interests, with nobody willing to check the trend.
The BJP’s journey to obscurity in UP and its branding as a perennial B-team began when it first hoisted Mayawati to the chief ministership with barely 60-odd MLAs, in order to topple Mulayam. While Mulayam may well have lost power, the BJP didn't gain it, either. Mayawati, despite allying with the BJP, treated it with disdain, made no effort to hide the fact, and ran the state on her terms.
When the rakhi that Mayawati religiously tied Lalji Tandon finally snapped, the BJP warmed up to Mulayam. The NDA government took note of Mulayam's silent patronage of the UP BJP and had a benign approach towards it. The SP put up a dummy candidate against Vajpayee in Lucknow in the last general elections. The BJP's Kesri Nath Tripathi continued as Uttar Pradesh assembly speaker for several months in a SP-majority assembly. And when the late Lalit Suri was elected to the Rajya Sabha from UP, it was tough to ascertain whether he was an SP-backed BJP candidate or vice versa. There are numerous other instances and episodes. After all, the BSP-BJP had three marriages of convenience, and the BJP-SP ‘personal friendships’ stood the test of time. Frankly, why on earth would the SP have an ideological issue with the BJP when it has no issue with Kalyan Singh, of all the people, in the name of Ram?
So, the BJP, to not be too far away from power, and to not be too hostile to another party in power, developed an amazing skill. It mastered the inexplicable ability to be the B-team when in governance, as well as the B-team when in opposition. It therefore never got the credit for anything decisive the government did when it shared power. Equally, it simply couldn’t draw the anti-incumbency sentiment while occupying opposition benches. It basically atrophied, and the brokers and fixers took over. And it outdid all other parties in one thing, over the years, though — sustained, vicious, petty, organizational infighting.
Meanwhile, the national leadership exulted over Gujarat, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, etc — forgetting that it was the massive chunk of 52 seats that UP gave the party in 1998, further going to a dizzying 57 in 1999 – to repeat, FIFTY SEVEN Lok Sabha seats from ONE state for ONE party — that catapulted it to a party capable of thinking of ruling from Delhi in the first place.
The BJP had clearly lost the race to be a party identified as a strongly ‘local’ one in UP long back. It was apologetic about its Hindi belt moorings, and both the SP and the BSP anyways outdid it comprehensively in their appeals to specific voter groups. These elections prove that the BJP has also lost the race to be seen as the one national party of relevance, which voters sick of micro-level appeals would turn to. That slot has now swung back to the Congress.
So from 57 seats a decade back to the 8 it has today, the BJP has come a long way. There will be many chintan baithaks to follow, for sure, but the party’s satraps know what they have been doing — or not doing, all these years. When the largely-believed-to-be-dead Congress comes out the morgue and gets almost three times as many seats on its own as the BJP in UP, of all the places, how in God’s name can the BJP get more seats than the Congress nationally, pray?
Before concluding, I think I need to accept the need to modify the position I took in 2004, when describing the BJP as UP’s B-team. In all fairness, as a party that has worked so hard to work its way to the bottom rung, to be the fourth among the four major players, it now needs to be duly recognized as the definitive D-team of UP. Not that it matters. Does anyone know what it stands for, there, anyways — apart from itself?