Modi is BJP’s ticket to Delhi 2014...

After a period of uncertainty that dates back to 2004, the BJP may have reason to believe that it has embarked on recovery

If the results of the Gujarat Assembly elections come up to expectations, the Bharatiya Janata Party will have good reasons to celebrate.

First, it will be the BJP’s fifth consecutive victory — two under Keshubhai Patel and three under Narendra Modi — in Gujarat. Secondly, if the margin of victory remains as impressive as 2002 and 2007, it is more than likely that Mr Modi will become the first among equals in the BJP. A combination of popular acclaim and the absence of any worthwhile challenger may even propel him to become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general election.
For India’s principal Opposition, next week’s developments could mark a new beginning. After a prolonged period of uncertainty and confusion that dates back to the unexpected defeat it suffered in the general election of 2004, the party may have reason to believe that it has embarked on the road to recovery. At the same time, party loyalists will rue the fact that the Gujarat election and the anointment of Mr Modi didn’t happen a few months earlier. Had that been the case, it is entirely possible that former chief minister of Karnataka B.S. Yeddyurappa would not have left the BJP and formed the Karnataka Janata Paksh — an event that has more or less guaranteed
the eclipse of the BJP from its southern bastion for the foreseeable future.
Actually, Mr Yeddyurappa did not leave the BJP in an act of betrayal: he was more or less forced. For more than two months prior to his formal departure, the former chief minister had dithered over taking this extreme step, hoping desperately for some indications from the party leadership in Delhi that they were willing to acknowledge his formal leadership of the state BJP. Unfortunately for him, the signals were too confusing and less than equivocal.
For a start, the BJP national leadership had become virtually dysfunctional since the day allegations of unethical business practices were levelled against its national president Nitin Gadkari. Unwilling to accept the veracity of the charges but lacking the credibility to ward them off effectively,
Mr Gadkari became a man under siege. Preoccupied with only one issue — himself and his own future — he lacked the mental conditioning to deal with the grave problems in Karnataka. His attitude to the Karnataka crisis, particularly the issues raised by Mr Yeddyurappa, became linked to the question of who was taking which position vis-à-vis the charges against him.
It so happened that among those who rushed to his defence on the Purti issue were those who were most inimical to Mr Yeddyurappa and, in fact, had precipitated the crisis in the first place. This meant that instead of functioning as a national president who is above sectional pressures, Mr Gadkari became the nominal leader of a faction. And that faction had deemed that Mr Yeddyurappa was dispensable, not least because he had also taken a public stand against Mr Gadkari continuing in his post.
To many in the “parivaar”, it was necessary to defy the media clamour against Mr Gadkari and keep him as party president till late-December or even later. The principal reason for this persistence was to show that those who had thrust the local leader from Nagpur to a position of national eminence were not guilty of misjudgment. This astonishing show of vanity was also linked to the wider fear of losing their decisive influence over the BJP. Consequently, it was felt that there had to be an interregnum between Mr Gadkari being acknowledged as damaged goods and his replacement being identified. Unfortunately, this decision was never properly communicated — a lapse that allowed Mr Gadkari to persist with his contrived business-as-usual posturing. In such a murky atmosphere, the Karnataka crisis was allowed to drift till finally Mr Yeddyurappa was left with no other alternative but to jump ship.
The damage that
Mr Yeddyurappa’s exit will inflict on the BJP in Karnataka is incalculable. The party’s meteoric rise in the southern state owed to three factors.
First, Karnataka was one of the few states outside northern and western India where the Ayodhya movement created ripples and allowed a hitherto unknown BJP to win four Lok Sabha seats in 1991. Secondly, it was Mr Yeddyurappa’s sustained articulation of farmers’ interests that added a new dimension to the BJP. Finally, it was the emergence of Mr Yeddyurappa as the BJP’s tallest leader that brought the Lingayat community to the party. With one of the two dominant communities of the state under its belt, it became possible for the BJP to look electable and this in turn brought other smaller communities and the middle class to its side. The extra momentum the BJP acquired to move from third position to
winning power on its own in 2008 owed almost exclusively to
Mr Yeddyurappa. His exit has the possibility of reverting the BJP to third position, behind Congress and H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).
For the BJP, the debacle confronting the party in the coming general election holds out important lessons. Some of these lessons should have been learnt from the exit of Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh and Babulal Marandi in Jharkhand. Tragically, they haven’t and the party has failed to recognise that its success owes considerably to the association of strong regional leaders with it. Without accommodating the strong regional leaders who identify with the cause for divergent reasons, the party’s national leadership will be reduced to generals without an army.

The writer is a senior journalist

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