By Amulya Ganguli
It is rather unusual for the BJP president, Amit Shah, to concede that his party is not as favourably placed as he normally suggests because his is an uncompromising “win at all costs and take no prisoners” approach.
It was somewhat uncharacteristic of the blustery, ever-confident party chief to say, therefore, that the Samajwadi Party-BSP combine poses a challenge to his party in U.P. For a master tactician who is hailed as a modern-day Chanakya with his belief in the saam (discussion), daam (payment), dand (punishment), bhed (division) policies of the philosopher/politician of the Mauryan period, an admission of this nature means that the BJP is facing a major road block, at least in U.P.
The central point of this acknowledgment is that if the BJP’s opponents combine against it, then the party is in trouble even if the alliance is derided as an “anarchist” group, as Arun Jaitley has done from his hospital bed.
However, there is a modicum of truth in Jaitley’s argument that the “chemistry” of a New India will overcome the “arithmetic” of “disparate” political groups because of Narendra Modi’s personal popularity. Yet, what is undeniable is the possibility that the addition of the voting percentages of the anti-BJP parties can substantially erode the BJP’s margins.
This calculation is behind the belief in the opposition camp that even if the BJP retains its position as the No. 1 party in the Lok Sabha in 2019, it may fall short of the halfway mark as, for instance, it did in Karnataka despite the “chemistry” of Modi’s appeal.
In such an eventuality, the BJP will be hobbled by the fact that where Modi is concerned, it does not have a fallback option. For the party to surge ahead, it has to be Modi only for there is no one else who can be a vote winner.
The BJP did have L.K. Advani as an alternative to Atal Behari Vajpayee when the two were No. 1 and No. 2 in the party although the rath yatri of 1990 was admittedly a weak substitute. But, In the case of Modi, the appropriate phrase is: “Apre nous le deluge” (after me the deluge) because the others – Rajnath Singh, Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj – are far behind him in the pecking order. There is no way that the BJP can hope to fare well under any one of them.
Not unexpectedly, the focus of Rahul Gandhi’s attack is on Modi and the RSS, in that order. And Modi, too, is aware that the Congress which, in his view (and quite correctly), means the dynasty is his main enemy. He is not bothered about any other party even if the Samajwadi Party-BSP duo is a problem in U.P. Hence, his relentless attack on the Congress and personally on Jawaharlal Nehru, for he knows that it is the Congress which offers the alternative secular and liberal narrative to the BJP’s pro-Hindu worldview.
The BJP’s only hope is somehow to ensure that the “anarchist” combine of the secular parties does not unite against it. How it uses the 2,000-year-old saam-daam-dand-bhed tactics to achieve this objective will be watched with keen interest, but what its opponents will have to guard against, therefore, is a repetition of the Janata Party experiment of 1977 when the hastily put together combination fell apart within two years of its formation.
While four outfits – the anti-Indira Congress, Jagjivan Ram’s Congress, the Jan Sangh and the socialist party – came together in 1977, the number of those who are engaged at present in a similar exercise is much larger – more than 20 if the leaders who were present in H.D. Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru are taken into account. Clearly, a combine of this magnitude cannot give the impression of stability.
Moreover, unlike Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977, there is no towering figure who can exert a unifying and sobering influence on the various, generally fractious leaders. It will fall on the various state-level politicians, therefore, to appreciate the gravity of their mission and act responsibly by first curbing their aggrandizing instints and the penchat for aiming at the top post.
Evidence of such self-serving attitudes can be seen in the call given by Mamata Banerjee’s followers in West Bengal for a Bengali prime minister and by the BSP’s national executive’s decision in favour of giving Mayawati the post. Little doubt that there will be other claimants like the septuagenarian Sharad Pawar and the octogenarian H.D. Deve Gowda (who has received Chandrababu Naidu’s support), not to mention Rahul Gandhi who has already thrown his hat into the ring by saying that he can be the P.M. if the Congress emerges as the largest party.
If more such assertions are made, they will provide an excellent opportunity to the BJP and its social media trolls as well as the pro-BJP television channels to mock the opposition parties. The only hope for the latter are the signs of bhed in the BJP’s own ranks with the Telugu Desam having already broken away, the Shiv Sena engaged in forever carping at Big Brother and even the meek Janata Dal (United) now criticizing demonetization. But the opposition has first to put its own house in order.(IPA Service)
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