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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2958

Poll blow to the Saffronites

By Chandrahasan - Syndicate Features

First it tried the ‘Hindutva’ mantra for winning electoral battles. The ‘Hindutva’ spell worked once in the 1998-99 polls but not later. The search for the next magic mantra began and the gaze stopped at ‘terror’. To make it more potent it was generously daubed with communal colours and presented with political coating. That was to provide the Bharatiya Janata Party a short cut to power.

Or so it thought before the recent elections in six states—Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Mizoram and Jammu & Kashmir. The new mantra failed during the ‘semi finals’ of the national polls. The BJP won—rather retained-- two states against three by the rival Congress one of which (Rajasthan) was a BJP ruled state. If the BJP has learnt its lessons the least it should be doing now is to stop looking for shortcuts or magic mantras to regain power at the centre.

It is noticeable that the first reaction of senior BJP leaders after their party retained the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh was that much of the credit for the victory must go to the ‘image’ of the two chief ministers—and the ‘development’ work they had done in their states. The BJP leaders’ newfound love for talking about ‘development’ is in sharp contrast to their excessive pre-poll emphasis on subjects like ‘minority appeasement’ and ‘terror’ and the government’s alleged ‘soft’ approach towards it. The intention to polarise the voter was writ large in this.

For a party that continues to swear by ‘discipline’ the readiness, with which the blame for defeat in Rajasthan was openly attributed to the ‘image’ of Vasundhara Raje, was incredible. Her arrogance had alienated many top state leaders of the BJP long ago but the party did not want to let go of a ‘maharani’.

More surprising was the assertions made by BJP leadership that Delhi was lost because the party had projected 77-year-old V.K. Malhotra as an alternative to Congress’ Sheila Dixit—and, of course, the ‘development’ works she had initiated. Till the last day of the polling in Delhi, Malhotra was among the most venerate BJP leaders, hailed for his political acumen and rich experience in the party. Now they don’t know what to do with him!

As for ‘development’, the controversial BRT corridor in Delhi alone was supposed to defeat the Congress in Delhi. Sobered by party’s dismal performance, Malhotra jogged his memory to see that Dixit had indeed taken up some crucial ‘development’ projects in Delhi—after ridiculing them all along during the poll campaign.

Everyone in the BJP seemed to be talking in different tones after the results. Defeat does strange things, especially to the BJP which after the 2004 loss in the Lok Sabha polls had for months refused to believe that it had been trounced by the voters. India continued to look ‘shining’ to the BJP even though its own fortune had eclipsed suddenly.

The saffron party with exclusive claims on patriotism is shattered because the polls results have dealt a blow close to the all-important Lok Sabha elections by next summer. The blow must be particularly hard on octogenarian Lauh Purush L. K. Advani who can hardly wait to occupy 7, Race Course Road, the official residence of the Indian prime minister.

If it does not cause offence, it can be said that the Pakistani terrorists who were hurling bombs and firing indiscriminately at innocent people in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, late in November were actually striking at the political career of Advani. The terrorist bombing was expected to bring hordes of votes to the BJP which had tried so hard to sell the idea that only the BJP can wipe out the terrorists.

The voters, already witness to Advani’s clumsy stewardship of the home ministry during the six years of National Democratic Alliance rule, were unimpressed by BJP’s self-praise. The ‘terror’ mantra failed to help the BJP at the recent hustings.

Now doubts are being raised about the previous predictions about Advani as the most likely next prime minister of the country even though Mayawati seems to be inching her way up. But media predictions and projections have a strange habit of going wrong and cause deep disappointment to those who take them too seriously.

Weeks before the six state assembly polls the media was forecasting a crucial role for Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party. It was said with conviction by many commentators that the BSP may not be able to form the government in any of the six states on its own strength but would be playing the role of ‘king maker’ in many of them. No such scenario emerged when the results trickled out.

The Congress, looking for some morale-boosting miracle after defeats in 10 state elections since it came to power in 2004, is pleased as punch. But surely the party knows that the six assembly poll results will not automatically be transformed into Lok Sabha victories in the summer of 2009.

The Congress and the BSP, despite their rivalry, do have a common thread running through them. Both are organisationally deficient. Of course, the BSP has a strong organisation in UP where it rules. But for a party whose ruler dreams of becoming prime minister it is absolutely necessary to have strong organisations in most, if not all, the states.

There are plenty of BSP leaders—strong in muscles and with deep pockets—in all the states. Even a cursory glance at results from states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh suggests that the BSP would have seen better results if it had strong cadres and a well –oiled organisation in these states.

It is perhaps odd that the Congress has a fairly good network of organisation in most states—except UP, the most important state in terms of number of MPs it sends to the Lok Sabha. Yet, top leaders of the Congress are not willing to end sniping at each other. That in-fighting contributed to the Congress defeat in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

An interesting thing about election results is the decimation of the saffron-robed Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh. . She was at one time the star in the BJP firmament, one of the motivational factors behind Babri demolition and BJP’s decision to adopt ‘Hindutva’ as its electoral mantra.

The maverick sanyasin left the BJP to form her own party, Bharatiya Janshakti Party with a more clearly pronounced rightist agenda.

Voters in her home constituency of Tikamgarh rejected her plank and inflicted a humiliating defeat on her. That may not be a definite indicator that the days of maverick politicians or those who pursue extreme right political agenda are finally over. Clearly the appeal of the right wing messages is shrinking. The BJP might perhaps pay some heed to it as it renews its search for another mantra.

- Asian Tribune -

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