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Opposition withers, whither BJP?

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The country is shocked to see the way some key opposition parties are virtually melting under the heat of corruption investigations pursued by the agencies ED and CBI. The MVA govt in Maharashtra has already collapsed, AAP in Delhi is tottering after Satyendra Jain arrest, TMC in West Bengal is facing gravest crisis of credibility in the wake of Partha Chatterjee’s arrest in connection with teachers recruitment scam.

Further, the two top leaders of Indian National Congress are facing very tough charges in National Herald case and this has potentially debilitating impact on 3 states ruled by the party singly or in coalition. Then there are reports against chief ministers of Kerala in connection with gold smuggling and Jharkhand relating to alleged mining scam. In a nutshell four major opposition parties -INC, NCP, TMC and AAP seem to be on back foot in recent time.

There were always apprehension about corruption in political system in the country. But probably few had doubted the rot has been so deep and the opposition space has been so fragile. Does that leave BJP an empty field to score easy goals in 2024?

Though the opposition parties are alleging selective misuse of central agencies and also corruption by BJP, these are vague, non-specific and therefore politically non-issues. Therefore BJP seems to be the only major party that has, by and large, remained unscathed so far. Does that mean BJP will have a easy smooth win in 2024 LS polls?

BJP and NDA have a clear edge over rivals on the issue of governance and corruption free image. However, some important challenges are brewing within the party and so far it does not seem to be cognizant of them. These can snowball into major issues unless recognized and tackled well ahead of 2024. Of them, let us examine three.

First, across the world, for any ruling political party, the key to sustainable hold over power rests in its organizational strength and grip over the political executives who  head ministries. It needs to have the capacity to ensure that the government machineries sincerely carry out the principles and programmes it has promised to its voters. The apex level of the party cannot be sub-servient to its members running the government but has to keep a healthy check over the latter.

Over past few decades successive party presidents whether M M Joshi, LK Advani, Kushabhai Thakre, Venkaiah Naidu, Nitin Gadkadi, Rajnath Singh or Amit Shah performed that role effectively and authoritatively over central or state governments run by the party. But many political analysts feel there has been a departure from that tradition over last one year or so. A new trend has been in evidence of the present party president often seeking directions from the top level political executives, especially the prime minister and home minister even for organizational matters which must fall within his own authority and domain.

This has a historical background. Present party president JP Nadda was chosen as the ‘working president’ in June 2019 and was virtually mentored by his illustrious predecessor Amit Shah for over six months. Amit Shah became the home minister in the same month and could not hold both positions as per BJP’s constitution. Nadda finally took over as president in January 2020. However, the dependence seems to have continued.

Such practice may give a pyrrhic glamour of power to the party president, but works counter to the long term interest of the party.

Why? What are the implications?

This new practice is depriving the government of useful checks and guidance from the party machinery. On the other hand, it takes away extremely valuable time from the top political executives, especially the home minister, who has scores of important tasks to carry out in a short time frame. Notably, the NDA government has less than two years before it completes its present tenure. Meanwhile, party’s core voters expect the present government to implement CAA, take the repeal of Article 370 & 35A to their logical conclusion including resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits, take concrete steps in the matter of population control, UCC, religious conversion, police reforms, temple decontrol and other critical issues. But as the home minister Shah remains extensively occupied with every important party’s organizational decision whether strategizing election campaigns, cabinet formation or expansion (like in Maharashtra or Karnataka or other states), handling intra-party conflict in West Bengal, and numerous such others, there is hardly time for him to address scores of important issues stated earlier.

Second, BJP seems to be interpreting couple of important political developments unrealistically and worse, devising strategies based on the same. The most important example relates to its unexpected success in Azamgarh and Rampur bye elections where Muslims form significant part of electorate. The party has seemingly interpreted it as a shift of Muslim voters towards itself because of its series of pro-minority measures such as inclusion in OBC quota, largescale scholarship, residential coaching programme for civil services examination,  five new universities primarily to cater to minority community students, and so on. The twin by-elections win had seemingly excited the July 2022 deliberations in its  National Executive meet in Bhagyanagar (Hyderabad) and corroborated this line of thinking and interpretation that the party feel will gain more minority votes if more doles are made available to the concerned community. In this connection PM Modi’s ‘triptikaran’ doctrine looked significant to political observers.

But that is an inaccurate explanation of the party’s by-election success. Further, it conceals the more plausible reasons for the unprecedented victory. Wrong interpretation of electoral success and wrong strategy built upon it can do grave harm to the party in 2024.

What are then the most likely reasons for party’s emphatic victory in these two LS constituencies in UP? To any discerning observers, they are (a) hugely improved law and order; (b) reduction in corruption in public offices; and (c) implementation of government’s welfare schemes across caste and creed without discrimination. It is axiomatic that the vast numbers of poor people across caste and creed divide always become the biggest beneficiaries of these three cannons of governance. Their gratitude has reflected in vote box.

For nearly seven decades, the poor Muslim voters have been exploited in the name of religion by various parties. For the first time they have understood that their interest is best protected not by religious fundamentalism and empty promises but by quality of governance. They voted accordingly. Though to the uninitiated this explanation may sound counter intuitive, the key to beginning of a shift in Muslim votes, if it is fact, has most likely been due to the Yogi model of governance, which in turn embodies the values of Indic civilization. It will be a great folly for BJP top leadership to undermine this factor and attempt to innovate newer methods of appeasement for the minority community.

There is likely to be a massive counter-impact of how BJP handles this issue upon its core constituency of voters which is the vast religious majority community. They were oppressed for centuries under foreign rule on the sole ground of religion. They want an early end to any kind of discrimination in government policies going forward. Unlike Sachchar Commitee for Muslims, there has not been any Commission to bring forth the story of distress and miseries of the majority community as a whole.

Mandal Committee touched only one layer and that unfurled a disconcerting picture of deprivation of very large number of people of majority community who were classified as ‘OBC’. But there are several other groups in majority community considered as ‘upper castes’ who have been discriminated against. They suffered economically including in matters of education and job opportunities since independence. Intermittent movements by some communities such as Jat, Gujjar, Patidar Patel, who are varyingly considered as ‘upper caste’ and ‘OBC’ by various states bear testimony to this fact.

On the whole the majority community want the government policies to be fair and non-discriminative. They want the party they vote for should implement that . They connect naturally to BJP’s planks like ‘Justice for All, Appeasement to None’ and ‘Development for All’. These gel very well with policies such as ‘strict law and order’, and ‘zero tolerance for corruption’. In their perception all of the above together ensure all round and integrated development of all communities.

If social media responses are anything to go by, the growingly politically aware section of the majority community are showing their reservations to BJP’s new slogans like ‘sabka viswas’ and ‘triptikaran’.  The party therefore needs to be cognitive of concerns of its core constituency as well. Their support is essential in 2024 polls as well and that cannot be taken for granted.

Little elaboration may be useful.

Factually, winning election is about vote. It is a matter of disquiet that demography is changing gradually in several parts of the country due to proliferation of  Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar. To add to it the success of some parties in misleading religious minorities cast vote en bloc against BJP on communal consideration have been impacting poll results. Due to passive approach by BJP with regard to issues such as NRC and CAA, this threat is snowballing. Its impact become consequential because the majority community has been traditionally lax in casting their votes.

BJP must have seen how such dynamic had swept them in Delhi state elections twice in a row. Nothing, including the proverbial Modi charisma, could save it from two successive humiliating defeats. There is a danger that the Delhi template may be used on wider scale across the country in 2024. The only safeguard against it is to motivate BJP’s core constituency voters to come out and vote in large numbers. Even their indifference can cost the party, let alone displeasure or frustration. That can be fatal!

Third, the party’s incorrigible tendency to repeat mistakes seems to continue. It still shows a propensity to bring in leaders from rival parties rather than grooming and giving responsibilities to party insiders. This strategy had badly backfired in West Bengal but  re-tried unsuccessfully in Uttarakhand and UP state elections. In the latter state also it, damaged, party’s prospect in the poll and now posing threat to harmonious working of the cabinet. Worryingly, the party appears to be unconcerned. The cases of Goa and   Jharkhand are most recent examples.

All of these however constitute genuine concerns of the party’s core constituency. But it seems to be ignoring them in quest of extremely uncertain gains. The party seems to be in a hurry to expand rapidly disregarding these issues. BJP need to realize these will become important handicaps in 2024 unless tackled urgently. The fact that the opposition is quickly falling apart raises risks for ignoring them and pursuing reckless policies and strategies.

Therefore, in the present times with the opposition in disarray the road to 2024 may appear easy and straightforward to BJP, but great circumspection and caution are called for on its part. The party must not swim with the political executives, but think independently and guide them in statesman like manner.

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