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Daydreams don't win elections

Daydreams don't win elections

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 31, 2002

The euphoria sweeping the Bharatiya Janata Party in the wake of its spectacular success in Gujarat is understandable and justified. A party that looked forward to the forthcoming polls in several States with trepidation suddenly feels vindicated and vitalised. But there is no straight road from Gandhinagar to other State capitals and, if the BJP hopes to give a credible fight in any of these elections, its leadership will have to stop day-dreaming and get down to brass tacks.

Senior Congress leaders have already started introspecting about their unexpectedly poor performance in Gujarat. To their credit, they have grasped the principal reasons for the debacle and have understood that it will not be easy to either stick to or modify ideological positions adopted during the Gujarat campaign. The political crystallisation of the Hindu community is now a factor each party will have to face in future elections. The Congress's problem is that, while it has inwardly recognised the new reality, its President is uncomfortable about it and will probably continue to err on the side of minorityism and caste arithmetic.

This does not automatically translate into advantage BJP, because the party has not reflected upon the true causes of its victory. There has been foolish talk about repeating Gujarat, leading to Opposition charges about communalising the atmosphere. The lively Ms Uma Bharati has been quick to dismiss charges of replicating Gujarat by counter-questioning if there are plans to duplicate Godhra; hopefully this should end such sterile debate.

Anyway, both friend and foe credit Mr Narendra Modi for the triumphal return to Gandhinagar. Yet, if there is one root cause for the Gujarat success, it is the Goa 'coup' whereby determined young leaders prevented the aged and jittery party bosses from deposing Mr Modi to placate national and international opinion. Obviously, if there were no Narendra Modi at the helm, there would be no BJP Government today. An equally germane point is that Mr Modi was made Chief Minister merely to deflect public anger against the inept Mr Keshubhai Patel in the wake of the botched earthquake relief operations, and not because he was considered as a good potential leader in his own right!

The sad truth is that the BJP does not nurture or encourage young talent. In State after State, one finds that a new generation has not been allowed to grow, especially States where older leaders have failed. Take, for instance, Jammu & Kashmir. Is the BJP happy with uninspiring leaders like Mr Chaman Lal Gupta who cannot secure two votes even after terrorist attacks on the Raghunath temple, or does it realise that a youngster who can match the panache of Ms Mehbooba Sayeed is needed to revive the State unit? Why did no leader of stature visit the Valley when the party had fielded as many as 21 Muslim candidates there? Compare this with the number of tickets the Congress gave Muslims in Gujarat, and you will see what I mean. If the BJP had won a single seat in the Valley, the Indian continental template would have recorded a major shift.

In the past, public anger has ousted the Congress in some northern States. But this did not mean that the BJP's old war horses were responsible for the party's victory. In fact, they frittered away the mandate so quickly and scuttled every rising leader, so that future elections became a virtual obstacle race for the party. It is well-known that Uttar Pradesh was lost because of the failure to remove Mr Kalyan Singh in time, coupled with the shameful decision to impose Mr Ram (who?) Gupta on the hapless State. The party lost a fighting chance in Karnataka because of the suicidal pact with Mr JH Patel not long ago.

It is imperative that the rising generation of BJP leaders ensure that those who took such faulty decisions do not enjoy overweening power in future.

In Madhya Pradesh, when the party was riding high on the 'Ram wave' and anti-incumbency factor of the early Nineties, a BJP State supremo unduly created a scandal over an alleged personal relationship of Ms Uma Bharati with a view to damaging her career. The gentleman went on to become the party's national President; mercifully his lack-lustre tenure proved short-lived and ended unsung.

It is to Ms Bharati's credit that she has survived and put a decade-long controversy firmly behind her, and in the wake of Gujarat feels emboldened enough to suo moto assume control of the party campaign in Madhya Pradesh. It may be recalled that she had not long ago refused an invitation to head the State unit, perhaps because she was unsure how she would be treated there if she left the Union Cabinet.

At the same time, if one of the ills facing the BJP is the excessive concern of its geriatric leadership with its own position, an equally serious problem is that this sickness can also be detected in a younger generation of leaders in some States where the party is in opposition. Having got control of the State party apparatus as a result of patronage from central leaders, these men are reluctant to build the party at grassroots level by taking up issues of popular concern.

To cite but one instance, Patna has for the past one month been rocked by the scandal of the daylight abduction of a beautiful married woman by a notorious gangster, Sultan Mia. The news magazine which broke the story stated that she had been forcefully married in a mosque in the Mainpura locality (subsequently denied by the Imam of the said mosque in a deposition before the National Commission for Women). The catch is that the lady, Ms Kanchan Misra, is legally married to another man, whom she has not divorced. Her mother and brother have deposed before the NCW that, in the weeks before the abduction, she feared for her life and that of her family.

One of the scandalous aspects of this sordid story was that the supposed 'nikah' was blessed by RJD Minister Ejazul Haq, who hosted a reception party that was attended by the officer-in-charge of the local police station, among others. A senior police official confirmed to the NCW that a party had been held after the wedding. What emerged from the Commission's investigations is that police and Administration alike are unwilling to get involved in the case, as Sultan Mia is a protégé of the infamous RJD MP from Siwan, Mohammed Shahabuddin.

Despite a strong NCW directive to arrest and prosecute Sultan Mia and produce Ms Kanchan Misra before the Commission within a fortnight, the lady remained in illegal custody at the time of writing this piece.

Most national dailies have steered clear of the controversy out of sensitivity for the feelings of Chief Minister Rabri Devi and RJD supremo Laloo Yadav, MP, who was never once questioned by the media about restoring the woman to her lawful family throughout the recent winter session of Parliament!

But what takes the cake is the behaviour of the State BJP leadership, which acts as if issues of abduction, rape, and law and order, are routine hazards of life, against which they cannot be expected to stir themselves! With leaders like this, neither Ram nor Modi can save the party.

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