BJP needs to rediscover itself, not Rahul Gandhi

Rejuvenation, not reinvention in some other party's likeness, should be the mantra

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Ashish Sharma | February 18, 2010



It is easy, if not entirely wise, to be completely dismissive of the Bharatiya Janata Party these days. The party appears bereft of self-belief, a charismatic leader and, above all, a coherent political strategy. Two successive debilitating defeats in general elections and a painful leadership transition account for much that is wrong with the principal opposition party in the country. Add to its woes a resurgent Congress party and an apparent gravitation of popular sentiment towards the centre of the political spectrum and the picture appears almost intractably messy. What remains inexplicable, though, is the newly-installed president Nitin Gadkari's attempt to reinvent the BJP in some other party's likeness. It is nobody's case that the BJP should not shed its traditional limitations and strive to expand its appeal; only that the party needs rejuvenation more than reinvention to claim what it believes is its rightful place in the sun.

Gadkari's imitation of Rahul Gandhi is just as ill-advised as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's mockery of the Gandhi scion was foolish ahead of the last elections. But Mayawati was at least forced to respond to Gandhi's overtures to her constituency; in Gadkari's case, there is no compulsion to engage in such a self-defeating exercise. If Gadkari's game plan to garner 10 percent additional votes for his party depends on such moves, the road to the party's revival can only get longer.

In any case, the basic strategy itself appears flawed. Instead of trying to muscle in on some other party's hard-won territory, why can't the BJP just strive to reclaim its natural right-wing political space in the country? Why can't the BJP just give up its anti-minorities stance and position itself as a national alternative to the Congress party? Gadkari and the all-knowing strategists in Nagpur need to appreciate that the BJP has slipped not because it has not been able to expand its appeal but because it has failed to stay relevant to even its traditional base among the upper-caste Hindus.

If anti-Congress campaigns didn't do the party any good during the elections, positioning itself as a desperate imitation of the Congress won't work either. What is common to both planks, of course, is an essential disconnect with the masses. Had that not been the case, the BJP would have been able to do much better in the last assembly elections in Delhi, for example, besides of course the general elections. There is still a fairly large section among the voting classes that swings towards the Congress party only in the absence of an acceptable alternative.

The challenge, therefore, is much tougher than Gadkari appears to appreciate. The BJP cannot hope to expand without consolidating its base first. That requires the party to rediscover itself, not Rahul Gandhi. Only then the party can hope to ride a fortuitous anti-Congress wave at some juncture in the future.

 

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