Thursday, October 22, 2009


Almost everyone seems to think that the results that have been declared today for the assembly elections in Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra are, as Barkha Dutt said in a tweet, "terrible news for the BJP". Some analysts like Prannoy Roy also believe that the Congress is on a roll.

The one thing that most analysts agree on is that Maharashtra has not be won by the Congress; it has been lost by the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. As far as Haryana is concerned, the Congress has suffered a clear set back, despite an opposition in utter disarray. Its seat tally is down sharply from 67 to 40, six short of majority. In the morning, when trends were showing that the Congress was heading for a clear win in Haryana, Jayanthti Natarajan was claiming that each candidate had been personally chosen by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Now that the picture is different, the entire blame, in true Congress tradition, is being passed on to Chief Minister Hooda.

I will not attempt to analyse the reasons for the defeat of the BJP in Maharashtra - it was never strong in Haryana - but will briefly examine whether it is really bad news for that party, as everyone seems to think?.

In the immediate aftermath of victory or defeat, everything appears exaggerated and we often jump to conclusions. But we must remember that, in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections, a BJP victory was not expected by anyone anywhere. Therefore, had there been a surprising result in its favour, while it would have been something for the party to celebrate, I am not sure it would have done it any real good in the long run. There is a big difference between holding on to power and wresting it. So, a BJP victory in Maharashtra would have given it a massive adrenaline rush, no doubt, but may actually have worked against it.

Defeat leads to introspection which often leads to dumping of the dead-wood that otherwise cannot be shed. Victory papers over everything and all looks well. What the BJP needs now for its own good, therefore, are not victories but defeats in states where it is not in power.

Have we not seen what happened after the party's comprehensive defeat in the Lok Sabha elections? Many voices were raised against the many ills that have weakened the party and made a mockery of its claim of being 'different' from its main challenger, the Congress. But what has been the net result? The coterie and the leaders almost wholly responsible for turning a near certain victory into defeat have closed ranks and dug in their heels. They are just not stepping aside and giving way to others who can substantially steer back the party to the values that made many Indians overlook the rough edges in its ideology and vote it to power in 1998.

A victory now, therefore, would have only swept under the carpet the issues that the BJP must grapple with honestly, if it wants to have any chance of coming back to power at the Centre in 2014. It would also have put life back in those who are responsible for weakening the party. The defeat should ensure that failed leaders both in the state and the Centre are not able to strengthen their positions and continue to weaken the party for much longer.

There is a real opportunity here for the BJP to re-invigorate and strengthen itself systematically with fresh blood to take on the challenge of the Congress in 2014. Dr Manmohan Singh is not going to be available to the Congress then to rout LK Advani's replacement in a Presidential-type face-off. Nor is the Congress going to project another non-Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate.

I don't think any one is in any doubt that Rahul Gandhi will lead the Congress in the next general elections. He is already being systematically projected by the media, both visual and print, to the nation almost daily, as the Great All-knowing Leader who is the blessing that India really needs. He must be a good human being sure, but leader? Having watched him as closely as I could for a couple of years, I am convinced that he might just be the best thing that can happen. Not to the Congress. To the BJP. Surprised? More on that some other time.

So, over the next four years, the BJP has to do just a few things right. One, it has to be very careful and deliver good governance in the states governed by it, and hold on to power there in the next assembly elections that will be due before 2014. Two, it has to re-kindle the once strong but now forgotten anti-Congress sentiment - read resentment against dynastic rule - by publicly refusing tickets to sons/daughters etc, to win back the lost trust of the people. This is really important even though it may not appear to be so now. Three, it has to find a leader who will make Rahul Gandhi look like Rahul baba compared to him, and put him in charge neither too early nor too late. The timing is important. The face-off in the next election too will be Presidential; Rahul's challenger must be someone who can credibly rub home the message, through all the thick smoke that will be generated to 'hide' Rahul, that Rahul is in the race because of his family, not his ability.

Just as the defeat in Maharashtra can be a blessing for the BJP, for the Congress, its third successive victory in the face of the apathy of an increasing number of voters who have lost hope, and the Bhindranwale-like rise of Raj Thackeray that it has facilitated, might prove to be a curse not only for the party but even the state of Maharashtra. This victory could well set in motion dynamics similar to what India saw in the eighties. If that happens, the Congress could be in serious trouble. Indians may not overlook all and vote emotionally every time, particularly if there is a ready alternative available. There is more to worry about for the Congress in this victory than rejoice.

Let us see which party learns the lessons that it must. For India.

Picture: ibnlive
Related reading:
1. Will the BJP's drooping lotus bloom again?
2. Will Modi accomplish his 'Mission Impossible'?