February 16, 2020
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Coat Of Saffron

It's what the Congress fears and the BJP hopes for in the assembly polls in five states More Coverage

Coat Of Saffron
Coat Of Saffron
"Gujarat se Dilli ka raasta Jaipur ho ke jaata hai (The road from Gujarat to Delhi goes via Jaipur)."
—Praveen Togadia, December 15, Jaipur

The BJP is buoyant, the VHP euphoric, the RSS quietly satisfied and the Congress defeated and challenged. The Gujarat verdict means different things to different people. For the Hindu right, it definitely is a shot in the arm. Does this then mark the second coming of Hindutva? Will the Hindu charge now be led by Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia? Are they the new messiahs of the Hindu rashtra? The VHP believes so and warns of repeating Gujarat and harvesting Modi clones across the country. A triumphant Togadia thundered in Delhi last week: "We'll make a laboratory of the whole country. This is our promise and our resolve.... The stage is set for the real Mahabharat in Delhi." BJP leaders were more circumspect, but no less a figure than Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee did a U-turn last week when he accused Muslims of not adequately condemning Godhra. A sign of the PM's joining the more rabid elements of the right?

Most BJP leaders say an emphatic no. "It's something you secularists are waiting for, not us. Vajpayee has not changed and Gujarat can't be translated to other states," says former BJP president Kushabhau Thakre. But if winning is a habit, then the BJP can't be blamed for imagining they've just begun a spree. After Modi's thumping win, the cadres of the Hindu right are again dreaming big. A period of debilitating drift, they say, has come to an end. Victory in a clutch of assembly polls before the big battle of 2004 looks that much nearer.

The BJP has also learnt a few lessons from Gujarat. Its central leadership will increasingly play second fiddle to a charismatic local politico. From now onwards, the BJP will try to build a presidential-style campaign around one leader: Vasundhararaje Scindia in Rajasthan, Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh and Dileep Singh Judeo in Chhattisgarh. Himachal CM Prem Kumar Dhumal and Delhi leader Madan Lal Khurana do not really allow for such charismatic politics. But MP and Rajasthan are the big stakes for the BJP where the ruling Congress will be challenged by a mega blitz built around CM hopefuls.

In its post-Gujarat musings, the Congress came to the depressing conclusion that it had no answer to hardline Hindutva. Its good governance plank had been knocked aside by the saffron juggernaut, fuelling apprehensions that it would steamroll the nine states going to polls in 2003. Sources close to 10, Janpath described the Congress president as "devastated" and "dejected" about the party's prospects in the forthcoming polls. No hint of that despondency appeared when Sonia addressed the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting last week, urging her colleagues to use the defeat as an "opportunity" to introspect.

One section of Congress leaders believe that despite Togadia's warning, no state other than Maharashtra lends itself to aggressive Hindutva. They stand by the A.K. Antony committee analysis of the 1999 general elections, which found that the party had lost most seats by margins of 6 per cent or less. "A 3 per cent swing could add 130 seats to the Congress tally," said Lok Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyer, a member of that panel. But cwc member Natwar Singh says that while aggressive Hindutva based on the 'Mian Musharraf' slogan may not influence voters outside of Gujarat, the Ayodhya card just might.

So, the party is looking for a socio-economic agenda along garibi hatao lines to counter Hindutva, implying a retreat from Manmohanomics and a "return to Gandhian morality and Nehruvian socialism".

As for the BJP, despite all its talk of terrorism and communal riots, many of its leaders are banking on good old anti-incumbency to win Congress-ruled states.Says BJP general-secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, "Don't see grand designs though we will push the anti-terrorism line very hard. But you will see that at the state level, local issues dominate."

That's something all state BJP leaders agree with. Ideology is great for galvanising the cadres. But it's bread-and-butter issues people are really interested in. And each state has its distinct problems and social issues vastly different from Gujarat. Here is how the picture looks for the BJP in key states which go to polls next year:

Saba Naqvi Bhaumik And Bhavdeep Kang
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