People’s Verdict: Pro-BJP or Anti-Congress?

People’s Verdict: Pro-BJP or Anti-Congress?

By Satish Kumar*

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deserves to be congratulated for its massive victory in the 2014 elections. It is not a mean achievement for a party which was bedevilled with intra-party conflicts and ideological deficiencies. One has therefore to look for reasons for victory which lie elsewhere and hope at the same time that the BJP will rise up to the expectations of the people.

The foremost reality that must be recognised is that the people of India were completely disillusioned with the performance of UPA- II government and were angry with the Congress party for not putting up a strong leader as the face of the party. They had no option but to vote for the BJP despite the fact that they had strong reservations about the party and its prime ministerial candidate.

The reservations for the BJP stemmed from the fact that ever since its creation in 1980, the party and its earlier incarnation, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (formed in 1951), were tied to the apron strings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was founded in 1925as a cultural and educational organisation to unite the Hindu community against British colonialism and Muslim separatism. Over the years and by virtue of its training it acquired the characteristics of a para-military organisation and was accused of being involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The organisation was banned for some years and the ban was lifted on the assurance that it will confine itself to purely cultural activities in future.

 The BJP came to power at the centre on the strength of Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1996, even though only for 13 days. However, it formed a government at the centre from 1998 to 1999 and from 1999 to 2004 with the support of coalition partners under the nomenclature of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The government was headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an enlightened leader who had the gift of evolving a consensus among the coalition partners on vital issues and pushing under the carpet those issues on which there were sharp differences. But the BJP was not able to recapture power in 2004 and 2009 because the party could not survive the image of a communal party responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992 and communal riots in Gujarat in February 2002.  

As the 2014 election approached, the people of India were faced with difficult choice. On the one hand the incompetent government headed by the Congress Party had run into deep trouble because of the allegations of corruption, high inflation, poor governance, and loss of rapport with the people. On the other hand was the BJP with the divided leadership, tarnished image, lack of a futuristic ideology, and unwillingness of coalition partners to support its communal agenda. It was in these circumstances that the RSS decided that Narendra Modi will be the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP.

The choice of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate sent shock waves across the country among those sections of society who considered him responsible for the  for allowing and encouraging the anti-Muslim carnage of 2002. There was widespread demand in the media that Modi should apologise for his role in 2002 killings before he could be supported in the Lok Sabha elections. Modi refused to apologise and the BJP launched a massive multi–media high-tech campaign in his favour. This was backed by hundreds of well-organised public rallies addressed by Modi across the country. In a country frustrated by slow economic growth in the last few years, Modi’s Gujarat model of consistent economic growth carried some conviction. Back-breaking inflation had acutely sharpened the appetite of the people for regime change. The BJP gradually succeeded in setting its own agenda of political discourse during the campaign in which communalism got relegated to the back burner and development caught people’s imagination.  

What must be noted, however, is that gradual acceptance of BJP discourse and Modi’s leadership by the people would not have been possible if they had a credible alternative. The only alternative people could look up to was the Congress Party. The choice of the Congress Party for prime ministerial role, even though not stated but obvious, was Rahul Gandhi. It did not require much foresight from the very beginning that he was a poor choice. This was unfortunate because there was no dearth of capable leaders in the Congress Party. But the process of selection of Rahul Gandhi was highly screwed. He was selected for this role merely because he was born in the Nehru-Gandhi family. By itself this need not be a disqualification. But every member of a ruling family who inherits power is not necessarily worthy of it. Reflecting on this phenomenon, Socrates, the Greek Philosopher told his disciple Plato, “A child of a ruler who has no mind for ruling and struggles at ‘higher thinking’ even after a rigorous education; a child like this should not be a ruler. Nevertheless, in a society that is governed by monarchy the child would become a leader, regardless of how much damage they may cause to the society.”

The fact that Rahul Gandhi was elected as General Secretary of the Congress Party in 2007and Vice-President in 2013 is no testimony to his political acumen or popularity in the party. Members of the Congress Party who constituted the electorate for these positions were beholden to Sonia Gandhi as the party president and it was imperative for them to bestow the ‘crown’ on Rahul Gandhi. This is no reflection on the intentions of the Congress President or the desires of her son. This was a natural consequence of the way the Congress party had shaped itself after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

To allow power to be inherited by the scions of the ruling family is neither objectionable nor unusual. In most professions, succeeding generations find it easier and profitable to take to the vocations of their parents. But politics is not private business. In politics, one is dealing with the destiny of the whole nation. In a large democracy like India, the leader must measure up to certain minimum standards. Rahul Gandhi cannot be faulted on grounds of age, or education, or ideology. But Rahul Gandhi’s lack of experience and low acumen becomes too obvious in his utterances. Even the hard boiled supporters of the Congress Party bemoaned the fact that their leader was not taken seriously by the people. And this dissatisfaction with Rahul was totally unrelated to the performance of the UPA-I and UPA-II. In fact Rahul’s lack of credibility as a prospective Prime Minister in a Congress led government became an additional anti-Congress factor, apart from the poor performance of UPA-II, which turned the people against the Congress Party.

The Congress Party is so much identified with the birth of independent India and its growth in the first sixty seven years that it cannot be written off the Indian political landscape. Its ideology was inherited from the freedom struggle and was nursed by visionary leadership. If it has to safeguard its future, it must reinvent itself in terms of leadership style and introduce real democracy in its proceedings. It would be tragic for the country if the Congress Party allows itself to be decimated and leaves the country in the hands of the BJP alone.

The BJP on the other hand has done well in emerging as a national alternative and providing to the country a much needed bipartisan political structure. But it has to go a long way in rounding off its rough edges by distancing itself from the RSS agenda and shedding its anti-minority image. The party must prove itself worthy of the trust reposed in it by the people of India if it wants to rule the country for the next ten years.    

*The author is Director, Foundation for National Security Research, New Delhi