June 15, 2014

CROSSING THE HURDLES

THE FIVE BIG CHALLENGES THAT THE BJP OVERCAME TO WIN 2014

Original: IBN Live/Reuters
It has been about a month since the BJP created history by becoming the first political party in nearly three decades to win a simple majority on its own. Of course, we all were expecting the saffron outfit to do well and finish as the single largest party in the 16 th Lok Sabha. Even some of the leaders in the UPA including NCP supremo Sharad Pawar had said this. However, except perhaps for the team at Today's Chanakya, I don't think that any of us had thought that the results of the General Elections would be so one sided in the favor of the BJP. While the numbers may suggest that it was a cake walk for Modi & Co., those of us who followed the entire campaign will know that it was anything but that. Here are the five big hurdles that the saffronists faced and overcame in its successful quest for power after warming the Opposition benches for ten years.

(5) Controversial Entries: With the UPA battling anti-incumbency and the NaMo fever sweeping the country, leaders from many political parties and organizations flocked to the saffron camp, hoping to finish on the winning side. The BJP courted a massive controversy when Pramod Muthalik, the head of the notorious Sri Rama Sena - a right wing group, infamous for attacking women in the port city of Mangalore for going to pubs. The move did not go well as the party came under attack from the media as well as women's right groups. Even Goa CM Manohar Parrikar made his displeasure clear to the central leadership, aware that the Hindutva leader's entry could hamper the party's support amongst the Christians in Goa. As PM nominee Narendra Modi intervened, the right wing leader was shown the door, barely 5 hours after joining the BJP. A teary eyed Muthalik swore revenge and contested the elections against BJP state president Prahlad Joshi who eventually emerged as the winner with a margin of over 1 lakh votes. Similarly, the induction of former JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP Sabir Ali raised a storm with minority leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi slamming his party for welcoming 'terrorist Bhatkal's friend'. While he was shunted out, Ali filed a defamation case against Naqvi. However, the two made up and according to reports, the party has decided to support Ali's candidature to the Upper House of the Parliament from Bihar as an independent candidate. And lastly, how can we forget the home-coming of former Karnataka CM B S Yeddyurappa and his colleague Sriramalu into the BJP. Although both had cases of corruption against them, the BJP welcomed them with open arms in spite of repeated attacks from the Congress. The move proved to be a political master stroke; the BJP won 17 seats in the southern state just a year after being routed in the 2013 state polls (Link).

(4) Coalition troubles: Many will remember the manner in which the JD(U) walked out of the NDA, following the announcement of Narendra Modi as the PM nominee of the BJP-led coalition. We shall discus that sometime later. Meanwhile, this was not the only problem the saffron outfit had, at least in regards to its coalition partners prior to the polls. To prevent the split in the anti-UPA votes, the BJP tried to do, what many believe is next to impossible - get the Shiv Sena (SS) and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) together as a part of the 'Mahayuti' (Link). As Nitin Gadkari opened channels of negotiations with Raj, his cousin Uddhav was furious, accusing the national party of violating the coalition dharma. Finally, the BJP relented; president Rajnath Singh making it clear that the party had nothing to do with MNS. A few days before the state went to the polls, there was turbulence in Andhra too. Having joined the NDA after ten long years, the TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu was furious at his coalition partner for fielding 'weak' candidates in the assembly polls held simultaneously with the 2014 General Elections. The BJP sent its spokesperson Prakash Javdekar who succeeded in placating the former AP CM. Even Punjab CM and Akali chief Prakash Singh Badal gave the BJP some headache when he introduced Arun Jaitley as the future Home or Finance Minister in an election rally in Amritsar. This was not taken lightly by some in the saffron camp. But as they say, 'alls well that ends well'. The BJP-SS combine swept Maharashtra whereas the BJP-TDP alliance pipped the YSRCP in the southern state. And, Badal's prophecy did come true.

(3) The war of succession: I remember an article in a reputed magazine in 2005 about the war of succession amongst the second generation leaders in the BJP. It had been an year since the NDA suffered a shock defeat and the Atal-Advani era was coming to an end. Questions were being raised as to who would lead the saffron camp in the absence of these stalwarts. The names doing the rounds back then included the late Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and Uma Bharati. Many believed that the party would implode, much like the Janata Party did in the eighties. With the BJP failing to come to power in 2009, the situation deteriorated further. Now, I believe in may ways, it is ironical that it was Modi who took the party to its best ever performance. Ironical, because in my opinion, the stigma of the Godhra riots was one of the biggest reasons that the Vajpayee government was voted out a decade ago. The former Gujarat CM was first appointed as the head of the BJP's election campaign. A few weeks later, the party made the big decision at a convention in Goa. In spite of opposition from all corners, including some senior leaders and pressure from the JD(U), Rajnath Singh went ahead and declared Modi as the NDA's official PM candidate (Link). He did not have any choice. The cadre wanted Modi, the RSS wanted Modi and as the results have shown, the entire nation wanted Modi to undo all the harm that the two terms of UPA had done to the country.

(2) Sulking Seniors: Probably, the biggest critic of the party and its new leadership was Bhishma Pitama - Lal Krishna Advani. The former Home Minister who was the saffron outfit's PM nominee in 2009. As the party anointed Modi as its PM candidate, the veteran leader decided to stay away from the function, giving the media and the Congress much needed ammunition to target the BJP. In the run up to the 2014 polls, there were reports that the convener of the NDA wanted to shift his constituency from Gandhinagar to Bhopal, preferring to work with Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Chauhan than under Narendra Modi. After hectic negotiations, Advani was somehow convinced to contest from his constituency in Gujarat. However, his confidante Haren Patak was dropped in favor of Modi's close aide film actor Paresh Rawal - a clear signal that the time had come for the old guard to exit, 'gracefully'. Another senior leader who was not in favor of Modi assuming the charge was former president Murali Manohar Joshi. Joshi who represented Varansi in 2009 was upset on being asked to shift his seat to Kanpur in favor of Modi. Another veteran Sushma Swaraj was reported not very happy with the rise of Modi. In fact, she had hit out at the party and its policies via twitter. After that unprecedented victory though and that splendid mandate, these things seem to be a thing of the past. Sushma has been given the charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Joshi is a front runner to the post of the Defence Minister. Advani, meanwhile, is still sulking!

(1) The ghost of the 2002 riots: Having come to power after riding high on the Hindutva sentiments following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the BJP is considered by its opponents and the so-called 'intellectuals' to be a 'communal' party. With Modi at the helm of affairs, the problem compounded further. In fact, the elevation of the former Gujarat CM within the saffron ranks made 'Secularism' one of the most important issue ahead of the 2014 General Elections. To be frank, this was the ploy used by the likes of the Congress and its allies to divert the attention of the public away from the numerous failures of the UPA regime. In fact, many believed that the candidature of Modi whose role in the 2002 Godhra riots is still under the scanner would lead to consolidation of minority votes in favor of the Congress and thus hamper the BJP's prospects. Besides, a large number of 'intellectuals' and 'scholars' came out in the open and criticized the saffron camp for promoting the then Gujarat CM and endangering the so-called 'idea of India'. Probably the biggest blow came when the JD(U), the second largest party in the NDA walked out of the 17 year long alliance. Also, many were of the opinion that the anti-minority image of the BJP would keep many prospective allies at bay. However, both Narendra Modi and the BJP did work hard for an image makeover. Modi made 'development for all' his plank during the campaign. At the same time, while the PM nominee was on a whirlwind tour across the nation, president Rajnath Singh worked overtime to stitch together a formidable alliance to fight take on a weak UPA. The return of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan to the NDA sent out a strong signal because the former Railway Minister was the first to exit the Vajpayee government after the 2002 riots. It was a clear indication that the Godhra was a thing of the past; an indication that politicians across the political spectrum were ready to do business with Modi. A clear and resounding mandate to Modi's BJP and the decimation of the Congress, the JD(U), the RJD and others has shown that the people of the world's largest democracy have moved on since 2002.


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(1) Original: IBN Live/Reuters