The BJP is riding high after making a historic foray into the South of the country with a remarkable win in Karnataka. The BJP'svictory is not only momentous for the numbers it won or for its maiden foray into Southern India, it is momentous for the agenda that was used by the party to come to power. The BJP'svictories have often been attributed to either the use of Hindutva or on the basis of cashing in on an anti-incumbency vote. By winning Karnataka, the people of the state have reposed faith in a leadership that was wronged and needed a clear mandate to deliver on issues of development and overall welfare of the state. The charge of igniting religious fervour or anti-incumbency cannot gain currency in these elections given how the campaign panned out and considering the fact that the BJP was a partner in the previous government with the JD(S).
The BJP has now gained a foot in the door in the politics of South India and it has an opportunity to now deliver on what the Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani calls the ?GDP mantra??growth, development and protection (security) for all. Having won Karnataka, the BJP must now set its sight on the general elections which are due in 2009. Given the stinging setback suffered by the Congress, it is unlikely that they will call for early elections, wanting instead to bide their time in power. Also, given the surrender of national and international policy at the behest of UPA allies and the Left, the Congress has proved that it is unlikely to rock the UPA boat to carry forward contentious legislation or foreign policy initiatives.
While the BJP will rightly bask in the glory of the Karnataka win, it must keep in mind the next state elections due in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. All three have an incumbent BJP government and all three have issues that may work against them. In all three states the ?GDP mantra? along with local issues will need to be fully deployed for the BJP to have any chances of retaining power. But beyond that the BJP must now formulate a strategy for the general elections due in 2009.
The current UPA dispensation is biding away its time with not much to show in terms of achievements. The Congress will want to claim for programmes like the NREGA and the RTI, but predictably, all other allies in the UPA too will want to walk away with some credit for these initiatives, thereby blunting any electoral advantages to the Congress per se. Rising prices and the precarious state of the world economy will certainly put pressure on the government to prove its middle class credentials at the time of elections. Further, the Congress will face an uphill task on the farmers loan waiver declared in this budget, as it seems unfeasible that a scheme declared in March of this year will have any significance a year from now, when general elections are due.
Given these dynamics and the manner in which the Congress leadership in the government has capitulated to the demands of its allies, the BJP must base its general election manifesto on change. A change from the status quoits nature of the UPA. A change from capitulation. A change from the manner in which vote bank politics guides internal security. A change from the manner in which the office of Prime Minister is not the most powerful political position in the country. A change from the manner in which coalition dharma has come to mean giving in to coalition partners. A change from the manner with which issues like secularism and respect of religion are defined. A change from a manner in which foreign policy is not dictated by the nation'sbest interests but on who can shout the loudest in opposition to government policy. A change from the manner with which terrorism and internal security has been given a shoddy Laissez Faire attitude.
The BJP must offer the alternative to the shortcomings of the UPA government and how it can change the drift we see in national governance. The BJP must fall back on its record as the NDA to act as a guide for where they intend to take their country. The BJP was the first party to declare their prime ministerial candidate if the NDA were to come back to power in 2009. By reposing their faith in Shri L.K. Advani, they have the first mover advantage which will increasingly put pressure on the UPA to declare their candidate. The Congress will be wary of not declaring their prime ministerial aspirant given how it hurt them in Karnataka where not projecting a Chief Ministerial candidate hurt the party immensely. Also, by projecting Shri Advani as its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP has removed any question on the leadership issue. Contrast that to the UPA, where Congress president is always full of praises for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but remains non-committal whether he will be their party'sprime ministerial candidate next year.
The BJP currently enjoys tremendous momentum given their election triumph in Karnataka that follows the successes of Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is incumbent on them to not cede this momentum for the next fights in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will be an uphill battle. The people of India need to know the message of change that the BJP proposes to bring before it can give them another shot at heading the government at the Centre.