Was the BJP done in by its politics of arrogance? An analysis by Sucheta Dalal of the factors that led to the stunning rejection of the National Democratic Alliance by large parts of the country.
By Sucheta Dalal
Fortunately for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Sonia Gandhi herself plans to renounce the Prime Ministership of India. Otherwise, despite its protestations, the BJP would have been solely responsible for giving independent India its first foreign-born Prime Minister.
BJP’s failure to get the requisite numbers was a shock to the country, as much as the Congress’s emergence was to both the party itself and the rest of India. But let’s not get carried away by Pramod Mahajan’s long and facile explanations to every television network in the country.
Much of the blame for the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) electoral debacle can be attributed to the politics of arrogance as practiced by the BJP. Some of it was hidden by the higher growth rate in the last year and the seeming ‘shine’ of the Indian economy. But clearly, even middle class voters hadn’t forgiven or forgotten some of its sins.
Sonia Gandhi, in her speech to the Congress Party leaders correctly said that the country had rejected divisive ideology and the politics of arrogance and personal attacks followed by the BJP. Is the party now showing any signs of introspection? Unfortunately not. The Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan, kicked off by Govindacharya, Uma Bharti’s resignation as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and the threat by Shushma Swaraj and her husband to resign from the Rajya Sabha are only diverting attention from the real issue. And that is the mistake of the BJP, which lost it the people’s mandate.
The overconfident BJP is now reduced to 138 seats in parliament, compared to the 182 seats it held in 1999. And the NDA didn’t even come close to the 200-seat mark (they have 189 seats). Instead of the Promod Mahajan strategy of discrediting every hypothesis that seeks to explain its losses, the BJP may like to consider the many small factors that individually led to its overall arrogance and failure.
Gujarat: Most secular Hindus continue to be deeply offended at the Gujarat genocide, and in several States the Muslim vote has clearly polarized towards the Congress. The party, which swept the Gujarat assembly elections (five months ago), has lost 12 of the Lok Sabha seats to the Congress. Could it be a gradual realization on the part of Gujarati people that riots had badly damaged their image? Or is it that Muslim voters who were too scared to exercise their franchise in the assembly polls were emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to transfer the Best Bakery case out of Gujarat and voted in larger numbers this time?
Urban Middle Class: The rejection of BJP by the urban middle class in Mumbai and Delhi has shocked the party. But is it so shocking? While the BJP threw GDP growth numbers at them and touted the increase in mobile phone usage, it glossed over some real losses. For starters the Scam of 2000 and the collapse of the Unit Trust of India (UTI). The party made an all out effort to ensure that investigations didn’t get off the ground. The Joint Parliamentary Commission (JPC) was carefully stuffed with friends of stock market speculators who were responsible for the scam. It was also headed by someone who did not understand stock markets. All this was carefully ‘engineered’ by a top party functionary to cover up the Scam instead of punishing the guilty. The former UTI Chairman S.Subramanyam got away almost scot free, merely by threatening to expose his political friends. And although UTI has revived after the appointment of M.Damodaran as Chairman, investors have still lost substantial sums of money invested in units. The collapse of scores of cooperative banks in Gujarat also caused huge losses, and that too in LK Advani’s backyard, yet Ketan Parekh, the main culprit, is off on to London and continues to manipulate the system.
Economy: If the BJP is projecting the image of a party that has created economic wealth, that is only partly true. Similarly, low interest rates may have helped the economy and yuppie borrowers of consumer finance. But for lakhs of senior citizens, it has meant a substantial squeeze in income, over and above the losses in UTI. BJP’s handling of the telecom policy has been patently anti-consumer.
Even the government’s celebrated privatization programme was riddled with flaws. Arun Shourie allowed the creation of a monopoly in the downstream petrochemicals business and sold two government hotels at well below cost, allowing some RSS functionaries to make a killing. Shourie’s braggadocio about making investment bankers to wet their pants and his ranting against bear cartel showing little understanding of how the markets work.
Governance: We tend to forget that the first visually recorded bribery cases happened during the BJP rule. The Tehelka and Judeo bribery episodes exposed the “clean” image of the party. But the BJP covered up its own wrongdoing by pointing fingers at the opposition. No serious attempt was made to pursue these investigations and some heads that rolled, did so must reluctantly. The outpouring of shock and anger at the death of an IIT engineer working on the Prime Minister’s prestigious Golden Quadrilateral project was a unique phenomenon in India. The Indian Express carried out a unique campaign to highlight how this whistleblower had attempted to draw attention to corruption in the handing out of contracts, to the attention of the PMO. He asked that his name should not be leaked. It was. And Dubey was shot dead by those he sought to expose. This startling story on a Sunday morning shook up people around the world. Over 52,000 people signed an online petition demanding justice for Dubey. Not only did the Prime Minister maintain a shocking silence on the issue (except for one vague statement at the persuasion of a leading businessman), but the investigations has been scandalously mishandled in order to destroy evidence and allow the culprits to get away. The BJP leadership never advocated the right path, instead of what was politically expedient. Interestingly, the man behind this policy of ‘fixing’ all problems is supposed to the Pramod Mahajan. The same person who was so certain of a BJP victory that he helped lead it to a debacle.
Regressive Policies: Murli Manohar Joshi, minister of Human Resources Development (HRD) ordered the Indian Institutes of Management to cut admission fee and remained firm against national and international outpouring of anger and concern. The party and senior leaders maintained complete silence, alienating the intelligentsia. At the same time, the examination papers of almost every major competitive entrance test were leaked. In Mumbai the Bcom exams were scandalously cancelled twice. The corruption in the education system had parents and students across the country in tears. Surely Joshi should have focused in cleansing the system and ensuring primary education for all Indians before meddling with the IIMs or working at rewriting history.
Leadership: While the Congress fielded a large number of youngsters and was led by a tirelessly campaigning and energetic Sonia Gandhi, BJP did not field many of its visible younger MPs and projected the leadership of LK Advani and AB Vajpayee. The latter found it physically difficult to move and often forgot names in public meetings.
Advani, considered the man behind BJP's growth in the 1990s, misread the BJP’s imagined support. He, along with other party leaders persuaded the Prime Minister to advance the polls. He is also understood to have thrown his weight behind several of the wrong decisions that the NDA made. BJP was also a fertile ground for many constitutional forces, late converts and hangers-on. S.Gurumurthy, the Chennai based chartered accountant and Swadeshi ideologue had acquired a larger than life image. According to reports, he is seen to have lobbied the Shankaracharya and Hindu Munnani to persuade the BJP into its disastrous decision to ditch the DMK in favour of J.Jayalalithaa’s AIDMK, despite the party’s prior terrible experience of being brought down by her lone vote against the NDA. Of course, Gurumurthy has categorically denied this.
People’s verdict is not in favour of the Left, the Congress or the Samajwadi Party. In a variety of ways, the verdict was against the arrogance, callousness and misgovernance of the BJP-led NDA. And the BJP is only making it worse with its backward and obscurantist views. What is one to conclude when a smart lawyer like Shushma Swaraj loses her senses enough to threaten that she will shave her head and lead the life on an ascetic if Sonia Gandhi becomes Prime Minister? Is this a part of the Shining India that the BJP was promising us?