Is this the beginning of the end of the Bharatiya Janata Party? The way the party's functioning has gone awry in the recent times suggests that it will take a serious action to bring the party back on track. But who will take the strong action required? With not even two years left for the next general elections, the principal opposition party is drifting away from its target of cornering the tainted Congress-led UPA government and is collapsing into a bottomless pit of crisis.
BJP's problem is in its daily functioning, the tail wags the dog. The leadership crisis in the party has reached such a point that it has virtually become a B-team of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with the latter's organisational strength clearly toying with the disunited individuals of the former. In Gujarat, the Sangh Parivar has not been effective so much for there, a strong personality called Narendra Modi has not succumbed to the organisational pressure and rather outclassed it with his administrative prowess.
Leadership: BJP fumbles, RSS does not
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani were assets for the BJP not only because they had charisma and good organisational skills. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, an authority on right-wing politics in India, both these persons had "benefitted from an unmatched historical legitimacy". They were first-generation RSS activists-turned-politicians. In the post-Vajpayee era when Advani, too, has quite fallen from prominence, this has been the biggest drawback of the BJP. The RSS, on the other hand, is not affected by succession problem because it has a strong organisational base. The extra-constitutional body has outweighed the party on the question of leadership.
Defeat in two consecutive general elections in the last eight years has aggravated the situation more for the BJP. Only going on an all-out attack on the Congress will not help the BJP for it, too, is losing its high ground fast. Negative activities will not help and the party must reinvent itself today if it harbours any hope to avert a third successive electoral debacle. But the question again is: Who can reinvent the party and give it a formula to win national elections?
Reinventing the BJP is a difficult task
Reinventing the BJP is a difficult task when compared to the Congress. The latter's advantage is that it has a fixed leadership, which is also its USP, and there is no possibility of any external force hijacking the party's agenda. Another disadvantage of the BJP is that the relevance of its traditional politics has gone down considerably.
This is not the 1980s and 1990s when the Congress's soft-Hindutva politics had worked in favour of the hard-liner BJP and the Sangh Parivar that mobilised the Hindu sentiments. The combining factor of Vajpayee's moderate leadership had helped the party to prosper with a rightist economic agenda in the post-liberalisation era. There is indeed a very little difference between the BJP and Congress in terms of economic ideology for the latter has come a long way from the Nehruvian ideals.
Hindutva is not a certain winning formula today although forces of globalisation have, in a way, strengthened fundamentalist ideology. This is because in a multicultural country like India, aggressive identity politics doesn't help to win electoral battles as the shrinking size of the National Democratic Alliance in the post-Vajpayee era has shown. If the BJP chooses an RSS man to lead it, then there is big risk that it will alienate 'secular' outfits in the national politics. But if it prefers a non-RSS and secular incumbent to strengthen its alliance, the internal threat will continue to disrupt its functioning. The party's dilemma with Narendra Modi and Nitin Gadkari is precisely the outcome of this.
Cong and BJP are same in terms of economic ideology, hence BJP's hypocrisy is exposed
The only other way is by stressing development but the problem for the BJP is, since it just mirrors the Congress's pro-liberal economic ideology, opposing the Congress on issue like foreign direct investment (FDI) will only expose its own hypocrisy. The BJP had emphasised on FDI in its 1999 and 2004 election manifestos and now are opposing it.
Other allies of the Congress, which play for popular votes more overtly and does not have the headache of leading a national government, have easily hijacked the BJP's anti-Congress programmes on issue like FDI to corner it willfully. An opportunist activist-turned-politician has also floored the BJP by not only attacking and maligning the Congress on the issue of corruption, but also firing at Gadkari, BJP's 'non-consensus' president by levelling allegations of corruption against him. The BJP with the help of the RSS, thereafter, took care of messing things up for itself.
No leader to direct the party in parliament
The BJP has no parliamentary leader today. Its only strategy against the government is to stall the parliament and allow the country to suffer. Several important issues are being left unattended as the BJP and Congress, both sides of the same coin, fight out an internecine battle. There is little hope that it will manage to get the numbers in its favour to corner the UPA government. The leaders will be preoccupied with the endless internal problems.
Gadkari crisis has harmed the party
The crisis around Gadkari will particularly prove fatal for the party. The BJP allowed the issue to get complicated by allowing its accused chief Gadkari to continue. This will not only blunt its chances of raising the Vadragate issue in parliament, but also terribly harm the momentum ahead of the next big polls.
There was a plan in the Sangh Parivar to project Gadkari as a counter-force to Narendra Modi as the BJP's face for the next Lok Sabha polls for it has been a tussle between organisation and individual but with Gadkari taking a serious drubbing now, Modi seems to be at an advantage. A much-predicted victory in the Gujarat polls next month will strengthen Modi's case further.
The pro-Gadkari camp in the BJP and RSS might blame Narendra Modi for leading the anti-Gadkari game from behind and that the recent outburst by veteran lawyer-turned-politician Ram Jethmalani against Gadkari was actually authored by the Gujarat chief minister, but the BJP would have been done better had it displayed a fair sense of justice to suspend Gadkari as the Chief till he was proved innocent.
Quite understandably, an apolitical RSS leader will not be entertained by senior non-RSS leaders in the BJP. The idea of internal probe and RSS's S Gurumurthy's flip-flops on the issue have dented the BJP's credibility badly.
For the commoners now, Vadra and Gadkari are two equally corrupt individuals. But while Vadra is just a private individual, Gadkari is the head of a national party. Perception matters in politics and the BJP's self-inflicted damage will be costly. Only a Modi will not be able to save the party if it continues to struggle in this way. Is Congressification of the BJP not far? Ask Keshubhai Patel and BS Yeddyurappa.