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Saffron surge in Congress citadels - The Observer

Suresh Kumar Unnithan ()
20 February 1997

Title : Saffron surge in Congress citadels
Author : Suresh Kumar Unnithan
Publication : The Observer
Date : February 20, 1997

If the outcome of the just concluded Punjab polls and by-elections
is any indication, the present political equations in the country
are going to be rewritten.

In Punjab, the spectacular performance of the SAD-BJP proves beyond
doubt that the Hindus have deserted the Congress.

A post-poll analysis shows that Hindu-dominated seats went in
favour of BJP, not to the Congress.

Some political pundits attribute the BJP victory to a sudden
negative swing against the Congress due to the corruption cases
against its leaders including Mr P V Narasimha Rao and factional
feud within the party.

But there is something more to it than that.

True, Kamal Nath might have lost to Patwa due to his tainted image,
for, he has got the distinction of being fined by the Supreme Court
for misusing his ministerial powers to further his business
interests.

And he was under the illusion that voters in his pocket-borough
would disregard his misdemeanours and once again reaffirm their
faith in the party they have supported without break since 1952.

These by-poll results prove that the voters cannot be taken for
granted, and they are capable of distinguishing between the right
and wrong.

The average voter is aware of the image of the Congress that it is
an organisation that takes recourse to untruths and actively
promotes duplicity in public life.

This 'image problem' cost the party dearly in 1977, 89 and 96.

And there is no evidence that the party has learned anything from
these losses.

It was natural, therefore, that the electorate opted for an
alternative.

And that is how the saffron splash is witnessed.

However, it is not correct to attribute the BJP upsurge to a
'chance'.

A post general election analysis done in 1996 had made it clear
that the BJP was the only party which gained a positive swing,
peaking in 1991 with 8.6 plus.

In the 1996 elections there was a swing of about 3.5 in favour of
the party and its allies which fetched them 195 seats - 71 more
than the previous polls and the Congress to be the biggest loser
dropping 92 seats to finish with 140.

As far as the Congress is concerned its share of votes dropped from
36.5 per cent in 1991 to 28.7 per cent in 1996 - a loss of about 7.
7 per cent.

In fact in 1996, the BJP wag the single largest gainer, wresting as
many as 71 seats from the Congress.

The party polled about 20.31 per cent vote, just 8.45 short of the
Congress - its nearest rival.

So the by-poll and Punjab victory are neither accidental nor
incidental.

The party has been, for all these years, steadily growing and
getting ready to replace the Congress.

But the BJP is still not well accepted by the minorities.

This keeps it one step away from capturing power at the Centre.

More than that the recent happenings in Gujarat and Rajasthan -
leave alone the Sikkandar Bhakt incident in May last year have
brought to the fore the fact that all is not that well with the
BJP.

The party, supposed to be the most disciplined, is now a victim of
dissidence.

The BJP leadership may say that the organisation could not cope
with the sudden growth of the party and hence the problem. But the
reality, according to the political observers, is something
different.

The opponents of BJP are getting united day by day in the names of
'secularism' and 'mandal'. The party knows well that one factor
that prevented it from acquiring absolute majority in the Lok Sabha
is mandal or social justice front which brought together the OBCs,
muslims and, to a lesser extent, dalits.

But the 'allies' of BJP have not done any good to their common
cause either. For example, the party is not sure how far its
alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra will be beneficial to it
politically.

The BJP, like the Congress, started giving more weightage to power
politics, and this allowed it to go for more compromises, even at
the expense of ideological integrity.

In the bargain, the party could get power, but it had to sacrifice
its compactness.

So, the same cancer dissidence and hunger for power - that wrecked
the once omnipotent Congress party may subvert the BJP too. In
short, if the party permits complacency to rule the roost then it
would not take much time for the cancer to take its course.



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