“Converting Swaraj Into Suraj”
Under the charismatic leadership of Nitin Gadkari, BJP has not only championed the cause of the common man, it has also played a pivotal role in strengthening and consolidating the NDA. Mr Gadkari is of the firm opinion that most problems the country is afflicted with are owing to the wrong economic policies and bad governance that have plagued the country under the Congress rule. In an exclusive interview to Uday India, Gadkari talks in details on various issues concerning the party. Excerpts:
What changes do you think of having brought about to improve the image and prospects of the party since you became BJP president?
As principal opposition party in Parliament, it is out constitutional obligation to oppose and resist the wrong policies of the government. We have accomplished this role very effectively and resolutely. Our MPs under the guidance of Shri LK Advani and the leadership of Smt Sushma Swraj and Shri Arun Jaitley have done a commendable job raising all major issues and grilling the government on the monumental scams involving the 2G Spectrum, the Commonwealth Games scam, the Adarsh Housing Society Scandal and other corruption matters in both houses of Parliament.
It is our firm belief that most problems are rooted in the wrong economic policies and bad governance that have plagued our country under the Congress rule for most part of the last 63 years. Giving impetus to good governance, converting swaraj into suraj has been the party’s mission. Wherever in power, we have focused on good governance. We have taken some initiatives. These are:
A Good Governance Cell has been established at the national level with Shri Manohar Parrikar, former Chief Minister of Goa, as its Convener.
Antyodaya movement has been formally incorporated as party programme. Under this programme, every party unit, every party office-bearer as also every elected representative and finally every party worker is expected to undertake at least one social work. Service (sewa) and Development (vikas) are supposed to be the twin objectives of this unique programme.
The Antyodaya Programme is also aimed at making party workers more sensitive to the agonies and aspirations of the deprived. We have adopted a positive approach to augment our vote share in elections concentrating on SCs, STs and minorities, unorganised sector including farm, industrial and construction labour, rickshaw-pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, hotel and restaurant workers. Separate cells have been set up for all these categories to involve them in BJP programmes. Some other initiatives include:
Empowering the unorganised sector. It will help in expanding the party base and reduce the BJP vote-bank deficit of 8 per cent between our party and the Congress.
Similarly, we are mobilising the middle class, intellectuals like professors, doctors, lawyers, writers, poets and journalists who are great opinion-makers.
BJP has underlined the need for research and development and training of party workers. In the last one year we trained more than 10,000 workers at different levels. The party has introduced e-learning and are preparing a vision document 2025.
A plan for the development of North-Eastern states has been prepared to encourage them to get involved in the national mainstream.
BJP was supposed to be a party with difference. Over the years, it has become a party with differences, with observers saying that the party’s main challenges emanate from within, not from rivals and critics outside. Your comment, particularly in the wake of what has happened in Karnataka where it is an open secret that your Chief Minister’s real rivals are from within the party?
I am sorry but your notions about the BJP are completely misplaced. We are the most cohesive national political party in the country. It has a collective leadership taking all the decisions by consensus after a thorough debate in a positive and constructive manner. The party is united and facing the challenge of exposing the Congress government’s failure with the help of our NDA allies by educating the masses. We need cooperation from the media. Please for God’s sake; don’t give any credence to the whispering campaign and malicious propaganda of the Congress party to create confusion among the people about our party. I would advise the Congress leaders to devote their energy to putting their own house in order rather than indulging in mudslinging. These things don’t pay in the long run. What really matters is the public perception and we know what people think about the BJP. The party leadership is seized of the political situation in Karnataka.
What do you think of the support and respect BJP draws from its allies in the NDA, particularly in the context of the complaints of the BJP cadres in Bihar, Punjab and Maharashtra?
The NDA in Bihar, Maharashtra and Punjab is functioning quite well. Recently we have won a fresh mandate in Bihar with 98 per cent strike rate. The NDA government is doing exceptionally well in Punjab. Our senior partners in both the states have maintained cordial relations with the BJP leaders at the central as well as at the state level. I am personally in regular touch with Shri Nitish Kumar and Shri Prakash Singh Badal. They have been attending the NDA rallies and sharing dais with us on all major issues concerning the common man. In both the states we have effective mechanism in place to redress minor irritants which are not unusual in a coalition. As far as Maharashtra is concerned, our relations with Shiv Sena are based on mutual respect for each other’s policies and programmes. We do understand each other’s perspective and will continue to work as long-term allies. I have tremendous respect for Shri Balasaheb Thackeray and have always enjoyed his love and affection.
One thing more, I have requested our party leaders in all these states to allow the party cadres to make a free and frank assessment of our alliance partners’ attitudes towards us and take immediate measures to address their concerns.
GADKARI BJP’S NEXT PRIME MINISTER?
Nitin Gadkari has as the BJP president commanded the BJP exceedingly well. Gadkari has kept himself out of Parliament by not entering the Rajya Sabha, which any BJP President would have and has done. By this act, he has positioned himself high above all the others who will die an instant political death without a Rajya Sabha Seat.
GADKARI WON JHARKHAND FOR BJP
Gadkari demonstrated political pragmatism in dealing with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). In the December 2009 Assembly Elections, the BJP was ahead of all the others. However, a section of the top BJP leadership opposed the formation of a JMM-BJP Government, because it did not like JMM supremo Shibu Soren. It wanted to gift Jharkhand to the Congress Party. Shibu Soren was fooled by the Congress Party to vote for the Manmohan government in the voting for the 2010 Finance Bill in the Lok Sabha.
This faction used the Shibhu Soren’s stupidity as an excuse to get the BJP to withdraw support to the JMM-led coalition government. It can be thus argued that a section of the party connived with the Congress Party to force the imposition of President’s Rule in Jharkhand.
Gadkari then negotiated with Shibhu Soren to install a BJP Chief Minister with Junior Soren as the Deputy Chief Minister. Gadkari has ensured that Jharkhand has a stable BJP-JMM government. Gadkari’s pragmatic wisdom has ensured that the BJP has a powerful undefeatable electoral coalition in Jharkhand to win all the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
GADKARI CREATED BJP BOUNCE IN BIHAR
Gadkari demonstrated his leadership in Bihar. The Bihar BJP voters and workers wanted Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to storm across Bihar to mobilise votes for the BJP. The BJP grassroots workers were agitatedly clamouring for the high-voltage presence of Narendra Modi in the Bihar campaign. But the Bihar coalition leader Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was on an agenda to woo Muslims away from Lalu Yadav. Nitish did not want the BJP to do anything that would repel the Muslims.
Of course, it is well-known that the RSS was not willing to back-track Narendra Modi. Nitin Gadkari sensed the need for the courageous decision and Gadkari ensured that Narendra Modi did not visit Bihar.
Gadkari solidified the BJP-JD coalition by concretising the election campaign on the solidity of centrism. Gadkari got the BJP grassroots to mobilise every Hindu voter without hurting the Muslim voters. And the Gadkari strategy was phenomenally successful.
For the first time in Bihar electoral history after the 1977 Lok Sabha elections and the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, the Muslims voted in a big way for the winning BJP candidates. Simultaneously Gadkari got the Hindu voters to vote in a wave for the BJP. Gadkari thus created the highest strike rate for the BJP. The BJP won 95 of the 115 seats it contested. The Gadkari-generated BJP bounce in Bihar created a big victory for the Nitish Kumar-led government. The Gadkari pragmatism in Bihar has ensured that the BJP-JD coalition will win probably all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar.
PRAGMATIC DECISION ON KARNATAKA
The party does not have many votes in Karnataka. All the votes in Karnataka have been mobilised by BS Yeddyurappa, because of the 100 per cent voting by the Lingayats for the BJP. The BJP won the 2008 Assembly Elections, only by seeking votes for a mandate for Yeddyurappa. But, some quarters in Delhi have been consistently trying to destabilise Yeddyurappa to install Ananth Kumar as the Chief Minister. In fact, it is a well-known secret that Ananth Kumar got the highly purchasable Media, to hype the corruption allegations against Yeddyurappa. Simultaneously, Kumar’s backers in Delhi forged an understanding with the corrupt Deve Gowda family to blacken Yeddyurappa and oust him. In their passion to destroy Yeddyurappa, they were keen to gift the Karnataka government to the Congress-JD coalition. They did everything possible to push Karnataka to President’s Rule, as was done in Jharkhand.
Mercifully, Gadkari punctured their plan. He realised that the “leaders in positions” in the Congress Party and the Deve Gowda’s JD in Karnataka were more corrupt than Yeddyurappa. Gadkari listened to all the factions, to explore the probability of installing another BJP leader as the Chief Minister, to ensure that the BJP did not lose the government. But in the process he discovered that Yeddyurappa and his loyalists, majority of them being MPs and MLAs, would rebel and not allow another chap to become the Chief Minister.
Yeddyurappa plea was simple: “The mandate was for me. If you want I will dissolve the Assembly. You project the leader of your choice, win the elections and install your nominee as the Chief Minister. You cannot steal my mandate to install someone else as the Chief Minister.”
Gadkari realised that the BJP would lose the government and will never win it back. After all, Karnataka is the only state in the South which elected BJP Lok Sabha MPs (19 out of 28). Accordingly, he halted all the conspiracies to topple Yeddyurappa, punctured Ananth Kumar’s campaign against Yeddyurappa and sustained Yeddyurappa as the Chief Minister.
Gadkari told Yeddyurappa: “I will allow you to continue as the Chief Minister. But You must win the January 2011 Zila Parishad polls. If the BJP wins under your leadership, then you can continue as the Chief Minister until the 2013 Assembly Elections. Otherwise You must allow another BJP Chief Minister in January 2011.”
Yeddyurappa has led the BJP to an admirable victory in the January 2011 Zila Parishad elections. Karnataka has 30 Zila Parishads. The BJP won majority in 12. The Congress Party and the JD(S) won only 4 each. In the 8 hung districts, wherein no party has a majority, Yeddyurappa is creating a BJP majority in 5 districts. Ultimately the BJP will win 16-17 Zila Parishads out of the 30.
In other words, Gadkari’s confidence in Yeddyurappa has been approved by the voters of Karnataka in the 2011 Zila Parishad elections. Gadkari’s pragmatism has strengthened the BJP in Karnataka. His wise leadership has now ensured that in the next Lok Sabha elections, the BJP will win 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka.
GADKARI ALONE FOUGHT CONGRESS
During the entire year of 2010, it was widely perceived that the top BJP leadership was too soft on Sonia Congress-led government. Gadkari alone waged a direct public criticism against Sonia, Rahul, Manmohan and the Congress-led central government. Gadkari established personal political rapport with every regional boss, outside and opposed to the central government, even the Communists. Gadkari thus cemented the grand opposition unity to seek the Joint Parliamentary Committee Probe into the 1.76 lakh crore spectrum scam.
Gadkari is now gearing the BJP to unite with the Opposition, to prevent the functioning of the Budget Session of the Parliament. The sustained Gadkari onslaught against the Manmohan government on all the scams is creating a terrific bounce for the BJP in all its stronghlod areas across the country.
Gadkari leadership has now made it possible for the voters to repose their confidence in the BJP. Gadkari has thus through pragmatism, courage and timely decisions ensured that the BJP is on the path to capture the central government in the next Lok Sabha elections in early 2012.
The only state where Nitin Gadkari has not conjured the magic formula is Uttar Pradesh. The 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh can only be won by the BJP, with a dramatic new strategy. Otherwise the BJP’s tally will not cross double digits in Uttar Pradesh.
After all, the failure of the BJP to win more than 55 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh (as was done by the OBC-Ayodhya mascot Kalyan Singh) is preventing the definitiveness of the BJP-led central government, after the next Lok Sabha elections.
In the next Lok Sabha elections, Nitin Gadkari will win from Maharashtra. If the BJP wins only about 150 Lok Sabha Seats, but remains in the Opposition, while a coalition of regional bosses form the central government, then Nitin Gadkari could become the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
If the BJP wins only 175 Lok Sabha seats to facilitate the non-BJP leader like Nitish Kumar to become the Prime Minister of the coalition government, then Nitin Gadkari could be the Deputy Prime Minister.
If the BJP wins near to 200 Lok Sabha Seats, in a Bihar type of bounce across the Hindi belt, with BJP allies winning 60 plus Lok Sabha seats (Nitish 25, Shiv Sena 20, JMM 5, Akali 7, Chautala 5, Ajit Lok Dal 5, AGP 5) then Nitin Gadkari may well emerge to be the Prime Minister of the BJP-led NDA government.
By PR SIDDHARTHA
Are you in favour of expanding the NDA by attracting new allies or building the BJP all over the country?
Certainly. We favour a strong NDA, and why not? The BJP has always played a pivotal role in strengthening and consolidating the NDA since its inception and will continue to do so. We successfully fought the Bihar assembly elections under the NDA banner. The NDA is in power in Punjab and Jharkhand as well. Recently, I have entrusted our senior leader Shri Jaswant Singh with the task of further expanding the NDA by keeping in touch with the existing allies as well as establishing contact with our erstwhile partners in the NDA government under Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee’s premiership.
I am of the considered opinion that only a strong BJP can further consolidate the NDA. That is why we are moving ahead to broad-base the party and augment out vote share by ten per cent, especially by working among the minorities, the OBCs, the SCs, STs and poor and deprived sections of the society, besides the young professionals. I am confident that in the run up to the 2014 general elections the BJP would have expanded its area of influence. At the same time, the BJP along with its allies would continue its crusade against bad governance and wrong economic policies of the government. This will certainly help in generating a wave against the Congress misrule resulting in the return of the NDA to power at the centre.
When can one hope to see a BJP government in Delhi on its own?
You will see us back in power soon. Let me assure you that we will be in power in 2014. Yes, it will be a BJP government. Rest assured people have already made up their mind to bring us back in Delhi.
What is the present state of the equations between the BJP and RSS?
The BJP is a national political party. We are the principal opposition in both houses of Parliament and are ruling in nine states. We are a cadre-based party with mass following. We have our own ideology and formulate our policies and programmes in national interest. Any Indian is free to join the BJP, including the RSS members. Many of our top leaders are also RSS swayamsevaks, me too, and we all are proud of our association with the RSS and draw inspiration from its mantra of patriotism and national reconstruction.
Will your party review its links with the RSS if the UPA government proves the latter’s involvement in terrorist incidents in different parts of the country?
The UPA government has unleashed a sinister campaign of vilification against the RSS to create a smokescreen to divert public attention from corruption scandals it is trapped in. They are systematically spreading a canard dragging the name of a nationalist and responsible organisation like the RSS in some bomb blast cases. Senior RSS leaders like Indresh Kumar are sought to be framed in false and cooked-up cases without any substantial evidence. People are not going to be misled by such baseless, mischievous, politically motivated and malicious propaganda designed to defame the RSS for ulterior political motives. I would like to warn the Congress to desist from such misadventures for petty political considerations. The BJP strongly believes that the RSS has an impeccable record of selfless service to the nation and doesn’t have to prove its credentials to the Congress.
The Other View
BJP AND THE ALTERNATIVE SPACE IN INDIAN POLITICS
The alternative space appears up for grabs with the Congress-led UPA II floundering within two years of winning a second term in the 2009 general elections, first since 1984 for any party or combine that completed its full first term. Not surprisingly, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is flexing its muscle to recapture the national seat of power at the Raisina Hill. Notably, the BJP edged out the Indian quest for a ‘centrist’ alternative to the Congress since 1967, after a tumultuous decade and a half long politics beginning mid-1980s. In any such analysis we should also factor in all major splits in the Indian National Congress, particularly in 1969 and 1978, which changed the party’s election symbol from ‘a pair of bullocks with yoke’ to ‘cow and calf’ to the present ‘hand’.
The intervening period witnessed interesting experimentations with centrist and secular alternatives. The National Front coalition led by VP Singh in 1989 (eleven months) and a brief rump government by Chandrashekhar (eight months) underlined that the centrist (or secular) political forces outside the Congress were still fragmented. Also, like in 1979, they were prepared for a ‘deal’ with the Congress—from Charan Singh to Chandrashekhar there is a remarkable continuity in political compromise for the urge for the prime ministerial chair.
The thirteen-day Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP government following the eleventh Lok Sabha election, in which for the first time since its origin as Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) in 1951 the saffron party trounced the Congress (140 seats and 28.8 per cent votes) to emerge as the single largest party (161 seats and 20.29 per cent votes), showed that the urge for a centrist alternative between a declining Congress and a resurgent BJP was still very strong amongst both the national and the state parties. The two-year experimentation with the United Front (1996-98) with two Prime Ministers (HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral) highlighted that the centrist parties were prepared for political compromises in their quest for power; a coalition with the Congress despite non-Congressism in the name of secularism meant that they were open to bargains. Their internal fissures, leadership void and voracity for power stood exposed. Equally bared was the Congress’s confusion in crisis; its power-clinging proclivity, even with manipulation despite being voted out. For, on each occasion (1977-78, 1989-91 and 1996-98) rather than being introspective about self and acting as a constructive opposition, it preferred conspiring and manoeuvreing.
The alternative space in Indian politics, overshadowed due to the towering presence of the Congress and fudged due to the ‘Congress system’ occupying both the political spaces, opened up with the fourth general elections in 1967. For the first time since the first general elections in 1951-52 the Congress received 40.78 per cent votes and its Lok Sabha seats came down from 70 plus to 54 per cent. It also lost control of government in seven states—Bihar, Kerala, Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madras (Tamil Nadu), and West Bengal, the last two conclusively so far. Significantly, the shunned right wing party BJS emerged as an acceptable strategic partner both for electoral adjustments and for coalescing for forming the government. The sixth general elections in 1977 were historic not only for unseating the Congress from the national seat of power, but also for an unusual alliance of alternative parties under a new banner of Janata Party, bringing the socialists, the breakaway Congress and its variants from UP (Bharatiya Lok Dal), Swatantra and the BJS on one platform. This was the third stage of the acceptability of the BJS, JP movement being the second one, as a strategic partner against the Congress.
However, when the Janata Party’s BJS component pushed its old agenda in the party, this acceptability broke down in 1979. Charan Singh used this to break the Janata Party for his prime ministerial ambition. Eventually, the BJS component walked out soon after the 1980 general elections and formed the BJP. The new name and ideological stance of ‘Gandhian Socialism’ and ‘positive secularism’ at this saffron rebirth in 1980 were aimed at claiming a right of the centre stance. However, rather than these, two strategic moves—hitching on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ram Janambhoomi movement and the seat-sharing arrangement with the National Front in the ninth general election in 1989 that got it 85 Lok Sabha seats after the disastrous two-seat win in 1984 and brought it closer to realising its dream of becoming an alternative to the Congress. Finally, following its unsuccessful quest for allies in 1996 after forming the government, the BJP reinvented national politics, as it were, by seeking pre-poll allies for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which romped home to power with 257 seats, which was further augmented with post-poll gravitation of seven allies with 24 seats, making the NDA 281 seat strong. Interestingly, the BJP had mocked the Janata Dal-led United Democratic Front government as a thirteen-legged animal and ‘kahin ki eent, kahin ka roda, Bhanumati nay qunba joda’ (Brick from somewhere, mortar from somewhere else, that is how Bhanumati—a mythical matriarch—has put together her clan), but the BJP’s NDA stood on more legs. Uncertainty of coalition politics, however, caught up within a year and a truant ally Jayalalitha led to the NDA losing power by one vote on April 17, 1999 while facing no confidence motion tabled by the Congress. The BJP was more circumspect in 1999 and a 20-ally NDA romped home in the thirteenth Lok Sabha election with 306 seats and completed its five-year term, first since the Narasimha Rao-led minority Congress government in 1991-96.
This highlights three paradoxes that the party inheres in its reincarnated existence. First, it has been unable to clearly define its ideological stance as a right of the centre party, despite this quest from its widely believed right extremist position that glorifies intolerant Hinduism, puts nationalism in its Hindutva pot and pursues a pathological negativism towards non-Hindu minorities in the garb of criticising ‘minority appeasement’. Though Gandhian Socialism still adorns its public documents, the BJP’s practice of politics has nothing to do with this paradoxical formulation of 1980. Second, with dogged pursuance of this stance, it has restricted its quest for power to attracting the same set of allies who have been doing alliance hopping for the past two decades rather than attempt to build a nation-wide acceptance for itself as a party that has the capacity to accommodate India’s multi-cultural mosaic. Finally, a comparison of economic policies pursued by Congress/UPA and NDA does not show major difference between the two.
Let us begin with critically examining some of the current postures of the BJP in the light of its stance of a national party with the monopoly over (its own brand of) nationalism. That LK Advani’s aborted Rath Yatra to Somnath was a decisive turn-around for the BJP’s fortunes has given the party the impression that yatras are the only revitalising potion for them, though none of the yatras since has had similar impact. Therefore, the party’s latest 3,037-km Rashtriya Ekta Yatra from West Bengal to Srinagar, aimed to be concluded with hoisting national flag at Lal Chowk on 26 January, defied logic. Imagining a rashtra with Kashmir sans (Muslim) Kashmiris; the party still has a blinkered vision of the India where nation building is an ongoing project. This move is flawed for a party which would have learnt the socio-political sensitivity of Kashmir during its six-year rule of the country. Obviously, the target is consolidation of the ‘Hindu’ vote by inciting sentiments and otherising the people of Kashmir, particularly the Muslims.
Though sore at having been stopped in Jammu, the party’s leadership in-the-making should learn from their failure to derive political mileage from this move. In fact, they would have won many hearts and minds had they worked to embalm Kashmiri psyche during daily avoidable casualties and fatalities in the days of the politics of stone pelting. The party should realise that sensitively poised Kashmir needs delicate handling and the people of Kashmir valley look for emotional support from the country’s civil and political societies rather than any rabble rousing.
The BJP’s core ideology of Hindutva is fuzzily defined. It has guided BJP’s success between 1985 and 1999 and is lauded as the purest brand of Indian nationalism. There are merits in the belief that its religious majoritarian exclusivism has led to avoidable embarrassments in Gujarat (post-Godhra and Dangs) and Odisha (Kandhmal) as also radicalisation of and violence by its cadres. Though the BJP defended each one of these violent outbursts of their Hindutva ‘ideology’ without being apologetic about the loss of life of ‘Indian nationals’, as a claimant for national party status they are still not prepared for an inclusive ideology that could secure a right of centre space for them. As the present Indian National Congress is not even a shadow of the Congress nurtured in the first decade and half of independence leaves alone the Congress of the national movement, the BJP too needs to reflect if its present brand of Hindu nationalism is what the BJS founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee had propagated. He passed away within three years of founding the party (1950) and establishing a strategic link with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, so we would not know if he would have approved of aggressive and violent nationalism of the BJP variety.
BJP takes pride in its party organisation, which is not ‘dynastic’ and leadership that can step into any shoes any time. But the BJP, like most Indian parties, is not democratic; its organisational structure is oligarchic and despite vehement denials, the RSS exercises decisive influence in party matters. Any policy pronouncement that irks the RSS bosses are immediately contradicted.
This obviously restricts leadership autonomy. Atal Behari Vajpayee despite being the liberal ‘mask’ of the party, had to retract several of his liberal stances. In any case, it was Advani who was credited with the famous ‘do se do sau’ (two to two hundred) resurgence of the party between 1984 and 1998, not Vajpayee. Advani’s unsuccessful campaign of 2009 brought in a dark horse Nitin Gadkari rather than any known national leader as the party President. Narendra Modi, despite being a capable administrator and leader, is not acceptable to some of the party allies for his 2002 record, we are not aware of inner party feelings. His insensitive and provocative public remarks against the battered Muslims are unbecoming of a leader. Indeed, though, like any leader in most parties, the BJP too have persons who would step into prime ministerial shoes, the party clearly lacks a national leadership, let alone a leader of the Indian nation. The party’s lifeline of political support comes from its state leaders, who get the BJP electoral support, perhaps funds too, to sustain but lack a national vision. If the national leadership of the party could not touch Narendra Modi in 2002, they have been unable to remove Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa despite complaints, nay clear evidence, of nepotism.
I had compared the main issues in the Common Minimum Programme documents of the UPA and the NDA in a monograph Emergence of Regional Parties In India: Implications for National Parties, Policies and the Democratic System, (New Delhi: KAS-CPA, 2009). It reveals a marked similarity between the programmatic content of the two principal political alliances, which are led by ideologically as diverse parties as the Congress and the BJP. Let us take for example some of the programmes that could be ideology driven, or issues on which the two parties criticise each other vehemently. Economic and fiscal policies, agriculture, industrial and financial policies, each have remarkable similarities. Similarly, defence and foreign policies, which could be ideology driven to a certain extent, also do not have any difference. Both talk of similar welfare and reservation policies for the scheduled castes and tribes and the OBCs. Even the proposed policy on education, which became so controversial an issue between the BJP and the Congress, particularly due to history curricula, speaks only of allocating 6 percent of the GDP to it. Most surprisingly, the NDA’s programme for the minorities, including its assertion that the awaited judicial verdict is the best solution for the Ayodhya dispute, is no different from that of the UPA. A party which is loath to minorityism and pseudo-secularism appears as keen to promote Urdu language as the Congress. It could be attributed partly to electoral calculus and partly to the influence, if not assertion, by the coalition partners, including the regional parties.
Clearly, there is a political consensus on what India needs as it has entered the second decade of the millennium and there is little new that the BJP can rediscover in this domain. Yet, when it describes itself as a party with a difference, it needs to fine-tune that difference. It has already distanced itself from the Ram Mandir despite giving it a space in its vision document. The party is sensing opportunity in 2014, if not earlier, and has started country-wide mobilisation with good response and is fishing for regional allies, as the Congress and the UPA continue to remain smug in power. Obviously, it is prepared for compromises on programmes and policies. The alternative space in Indian politics is more available now than ever before; as the second largest party, the BJP is the main claimant, but the party that claims monopoly on nationalism would do better than rely on default. The BJP needs to reinvent itself comprehensively as a right of the centre party minus its Hindu chauvinism.
By Ajay K Mehra
The RSS chief has repeatedly denounced terrorism in all its manifestations and denied links with any terrorist outfit. The nation believes in what the RSS chief says because of the credibility he and his organisation enjoys in this country and abroad. I don’t want to say anything more at this juncture.
What are BJP’s prescriptions for such burning problems as corruption, inflation, terrorism and bad governance that the country faces today?
The BJP and its NDA allies have successfully conducted several clinical tests and diagnosed the root cause of all that ails the society today. Our findings are that it is due to the criminal negligence of the Congress misrule for most part of the last sixty-three since Independence that the country today suffers from the cancer of terrorism, corruption, skyrocketing prices of all essential commodities, misuse of the CBI against political opponents and appeasement of minorities for vote-bank politics.
Now that the disease has been identified, out prescription to save the country from this sick and tired government is a surgical operation. We exhort all sections of the society to join our nationwide campaign for an early removal of this government from office.
Do you think that the BJP is playing the role of a constructive opposition?
We know how to play our role, whether in government or in the opposition. The BJP is the principal opposition in both houses of Parliament and we are the party waiting in the wings to return to power soon. Our leaders in both the houses have performed their role in a positive and constructive manner. We do cooperate with the government on all issues of national importance. But when it comes to the question of terrorism from across the border, rampant corruption in the highest echelons of the corridors of power, misuse of the CBI against political opponents and appeasement of minorities for vote-bank politics, our MPs cannot remain silent spectators in the house. They have to protest and we did protest in the most dignified manner and in the best traditions of parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately, the government tried to browbeat the opposition and refused to accept our just demand for a probe by a parliamentary committee into allegations of corruption in the 2G Spectrum.
The government’s intransigence, not the opposition conduct is responsible for the deadlock in both houses resulting in loss of the entire winter session of Parliament.
I think the Prime Minister should apologise to the nation for his non-performance on all fronts.
How does the BJP view the emotive but highly divisive issues such as reservations in the private sector, caste-based census and women’s quotas?
I beg to differ with you. The BJP has never considered the question of reservation for women an emotive and divisive issue. Our position is unambiguous on this issue. We have not only supported reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures but also at the party organisation level as well. BJP is perhaps the only political party which has given 33 per cent reservation to women in the party set up at all levels.
The issue of caste-based census has been put on the back burner by the government. The party will formulate its stand when the central government takes a decision to go ahead with that. Meanwhile, the party will hold internal debate on this issue with an open mind. With regard to reservation in private sector, the party is considering the issue with an open mind.
Are you anticipating that general elections could be advanced and in that situation is the BJP well-prepared to face the electorate?
The speculation in the media about a mid-term poll is a bogey and a Congress ploy to divert public attention from the real issues of unabated terrorism, rampant corruption, mounting inflation and rising prices. The government’s credibility has reached its nadir and it is part of the futile attempt by the UPA to salvage its sagging image that they are trying to create a scare among people by threatening to go for a snap poll.
The BJP has never been afraid of facing the electorate. We are always ready for any eventuality.
Will Mr Advani lead the party in the next elections as the prime ministerial candidate or will you project somebody else?
The next general election is due in 2014. Your question is pre-mature. We will cross the bridge when we reach it.
Do you nurture the prime ministerial ambition?
Oh no. Certainly not. I have a job in hand. My priorities are clear. I have to consolidate and strengthen the party in each and every state and prepare it to win the next elections, in the states and at the centre. I have made a humble beginning in that direction and hope to move forward on the track to victory. I have a very strong team of dedicated and committed office-bearers and all of us are collectively striving to achieve our goal. Hum Honge Kamyaab.
By Deepak Kumar Rath