Just when it became apparent that the BJP had fared badly in Uttar Pradesh where the party had pinned great hopes, party president Nitin Gadkari appeared before the press with his usual bravado. Given his penchant for doing politics in Bollywood style, Gadkari cannot be faulted for mistaking content for style. But he committed an unforgivable faux pas which is symptomatic of what ails the BJP.
While describing his party’s victory in Goa, Uttarakhand (half-a-victory) and Punjab (on the shoulders of the Akalis) as a great achievement, causally undermined the Congress’ victory in Manipur where his party does not even figure in the roll call. "Manipur is a small state. It has no relevance in national politics,” he dismissed it with the nonchalance of a fifth grader flunking a class test because it does not matter much.
The president of a national party dismissing a state of the Union of India as small and hence politically irrelevant is a shocker any which way you look at it. But a bigger shock was that he was so engrossed in marketing the Goa win that he did not even flinch once while thus running down the Congress and the state of Manipur. Not just him, even the battery of party heavyweights flanking him did not think there was anything amiss.
So, for better impact, Gadkari repeated the absurdity a while later.
A state with 60 assembly seats (Manipur) should normally be considered larger than a state with only 40 assembly seats (Goa). Even class test-flunking fifth-graders know 60 is bigger than 40 by quite much, but not Mr Gadkari. But it is not just Mr Gadkari's mathematics that is suspicious. His knowledge of geography or his sense of geopolitics too is questionable. Manipur's relevance to India's trade and economic cooperation with South East Asian countries and its strategic importance to India's security because of the place it occupies in our map are obvious to all.
Gadkari’s indiscretion on these counts is inexcusable. It is this kind of indifference from the rest of the country that has alienated the seven sisters. Of late Manipur has faced successive economic blockades for months on end without intervention from the Centre, The ethnic divide between Meiteis and Naga-Kuki combine is being played up to the hilt by the Congress to reap political dividends. And you have the president of the principal opposition party not saying Manipur is not even worth talking about.
This dangerous political game in Manipur is responsible for causing hardships for people of the state. Only four months back, a cooking gas cylinder was sold at Rs 2000 and a litre petrol cost around Rs 200. All this fuelled a strong sentiment among Manipuris who not only feel alienated but also betrayed by the national political leaders and parties. Gadkari’s statement will certainly aggravate alienation and widen the chasm between the people of North Eastern states and rest of the country.
Contrast Gadkari’s bravado with the candour with which Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi owned up the full responsibility for the party’s failure in UP elections. “The fundamentals of our party are very weak in UP. We have to build these fundamentals. That is a long process and in this process of building you have to be prepared to win some times and lose some times. Today we lost," he said with candour and maturity. H did not try to pass on the buck or put up a brave front. Far from taking refuge under invented pretexts, Gandhi’s forthright approach and candour is indicative of critical introspection through which the party will be put shortly.
In the state assembly elections, both the national parties have fared rather poorly. That the BJP and the Congress have been marginalized in Uttar Pradesh, considered as cradle for nationalism, is certainly not a good sign for the country’s politics. What makes it worse is the inability of these parties to bring leaders with foresight and intellect. In this context while BJP president Gadkari presents a picture of hubris, Rahul Gandhi shows hope. This contrast is indicative of what ails the BJP as of now.