MANY usually sympathetic to the BJP now privately diagnose that its future is bleak. The persistence of serious internal squabbles in the party, regularly being aired in public, and the absence of a clearly thought-out political and electoral strategy confuse them. The BJP is currently perceived to be reacting to events and failing to take the initiative by outlining authoritative new and sustainable policies. On key issues like the employment guarantee scheme there was little credible response and the fate of the Kanchi Shankaracharya only elicited a half-hearted and ambiguous reaction.
Aghast sympathetic observers perceive a parade of strutting prima donnas, who managed to snatch electoral defeat from what appeared the jaws of certain triumph, oblivious of the need for a contrite and humble pause; evidently, being ensconced in a Lutyens bungalow, even in defeat, ransoms the brain to self-delusion. The private interests of the individual BJP members of Parliament are increasingly at variance with declared party policy since the principal qualification for a party ticket is the ability to manoeuvre to electoral victory rather than subsequent accountability. Virtually no BJP member bothered to attend the important parliamentary debate over the controversy on the allocation of land in the capital during the tenure of the NDA.
The repeated accusations against the Congress Party of foul play strike many as childish. They unkindly point out that many individuals and organisations cultivated shamelessly by the BJP, while in power, have now turned against it with alacrity. By contrast, the Congress party has moved swiftly, even malevolently, to consolidate its hold on power, by placing loyal Gandhi family retainers in every conceivable public position, without a hint of apology. Even critics concede admiration for the ruthless display of realpolitik by Sonia Gandhi and Arjun Singh.
BJP leaders in government mistook assiduously providing succour to its own critics as high-minded sagacity. And they disowned their own with step-motherly disdain, playing to the secular gallery, in order to insinuate forlornly that they deserved to govern. This crass behaviour ended up merely highlighting their own deep social anxieties and political insecurities and an embarrassing desire to gain the approval of the very haughty people they criticised while in opposition.
There is also a suspicion that many public appointments were being made by BJP ministers with an eye to positioning themselves favourably, in the perception of a partisan media, to succeed Vajpayee to the NDA premiership. They cynically sought to appear ‘liberal’, mistakenly imagining it would be a good ploy for projecting their own candidature over rivals, consequently portrayed as more hard-line, in order to succeed Vajpayee.
There is a belief that the party, which rose from modest electoral beginnings to govern the country, was profoundly corrupted by the experience of wielding political power. The VVIP syndrome and the cavalier arrogance that accompanies it in India became their hallmark too. There was no perceptible sense of the personal humility that has usually characterised Sangh leaders and personal enrichment proved irresistible for some. In the end, the BJP leadership gave the impression of merely wanting to join India’s entrenched post- Independence political and bureaucratic elites. In exchange for securing membership of this self-serving club and accepting its privileged place in India they abandoned Sangh aspirations for change.
In government, the BJP allowed manipulative civil servants (some of them known only for being corrupt Congress retainers) to shape most policies once the aspiration of attaining a ministerial appointment, with the appropriate trappings of high office, had been gratified. Quite clearly, the BJP, as a political party, lacked and continues to lack basic organisational attributes to function effectively in the modern political arena. Internal policy-making within the BJP remains a grossly amateur affair, without virtually any professional reflection on policy options. There are loud whispers that senior BJP bureaucratic functionaries routinely report to some of the most corrupt and ruthless private corporate interests of India and abroad. There is apparently no ideology, only a lust for power.
The classic Indian syndrome of politicians becoming omniscient on assumption of high office has reared its absurd head. Mystifying and inconsistent public statements point to unthinking postures adopted whimsically. Yet the good and great carry on heedless, because personal pride trumps principle and even the imperative of rational calculation for political success. Some of the same self-regarding leaders are embarrassingly tantalised by stars of the screen, however small, although they are showing more talent for histrionics than winning elections. And once-humble pracharaks are overly deferential towards high social status and enamoured by the moneyed. This is proving an instinctive turnoff for the overwhelmingly poor voters of India, alert to its political significance.
The current belief that political power can be recaptured by sleight-of-hand has, in any case, made policy irrelevant, which is why internal party committees and policy forums do not have a real role. In a sure sign of desperation, some hope that inevitable errors of judgement made by the incumbent Congress party will precipitate a mid-term electoral setback for them, which would benefit the BJP by default. More realistically, others fear it will take a decade for the BJP to recover from the successive debacles and worsening internal fissures of the past year.
Understandably, the far-reaching ambitions of Hindutva were an embarrassment for the BJP. The purported compulsions of coalition politics became an alibi for relieved inaction on central issues that had moulded the Sangh related associations over nearly 75 years. The renewed BJP attempt to retrieve political fortunes by re-appropriating radical Hindu slogans has lost conviction. In any case, financial malpractice and misuse of state power by some BJP legislators and the criminal activities of a non-negligible number undermine the party’s claim to be ideologically inspired. Hindu voters are so demoralised by it all and cynical that the audacious warfare being waged against them is gathering pace unanswered.
In fact, it would almost seem that the BJP has interposed itself as a cordon sanitaire, preventing the backlash of seething Hindu fury across India, at the punishment being meted out to them. It gives the impression of deliberately restraining political protest against forces profoundly inimical to the very future of Hindus as a people and a nation. Instead the BJP is busy making electoral deals with the unsavoury while unconvincingly pointing a finger at others more brazen about their political proclivities.
The harshest critics of the BJP suggest that the fate of Hindus is now hostage to the need of a few leaders to gratify their irrepressible egos. They shockingly allege that important BJP leaders are allowing the party to become grievously compromised in order to protect themselves and their families from legal scrutiny over wrongdoing while in government. Indeed it is being hinted that some BJP leaders need to retain control over the party simply to prevent an unduly damaging attack on the Congress Party. They appear to fear that such action on their part would unavoidably prompt a retaliatory focus on the earlier malfeasance of some of its leading personalities.
Some BJP leaders are supposedly terrified that such a course of action would unravel the quid pro quo, ensuring mutual forbearance, already reached with Janpath and immediately invite the issue of non-bailable arrest warrants against their own errant relatives. It is alleged that some of the latter visited Sonia Gandhi discreetly to congratulate her personally when the UPA formed the government in May 2004. This remarkable state of affairs would explain why the unparalleled extra-constitutional challenge by Janpath to India’s sovereign integrity has only elicited equivocal BJP denunciation. The BJP is, at best, an insouciant onlooker while the Indian Constitution is gnawed lifeless, the judiciary, which had grown encouragingly robust in recent years, cowed and the security agencies operating to order like a private service.
In the meantime, demographic transformation is bringing about headlong Islamization of the Indian polity. There is frenzied Christian evangelical activism, exceeding all known earlier levels, helped by barefaced official sponsorship. One UPA coalition partner has entered into an unprecedented de facto relationship with Naxalite terror to gain electoral advantage. And Pakistan was allowed to brazenly isolate Gujarat from the rest of India, without immediately provoking the imperative cancellation of the cricket tour. Are some BJP leaders holding back the party from unrelenting resistance to the egregious political misconduct of the UPA in order to escape unpunished for their own misdeeds when they were in government?
(The writer taught international political economy at the London School of Economics for more than two decades.)