February 20, 2020
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Preparing For The Grand Finale

Preparing For The Grand Finale
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THE odds are heavily stacked against them. The leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be asserting in public that they will be able to prove their majority in the Lok Sabha and save their fledgling Government. But in private conversations most of them agree that the going is indeed tough. A very senior leader, in fact, admitted the possibility of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee resigning well before the confidence vote comes up before the House. "If our gambit of electing a speaker unanimously fails, and if the Third Front-Congress combine stays firm and elects its own candidate, Vajpayeeji may decide not to wait for the formal defeat of the confidence motion," he said.

So why did the BJP go ahead with the gamble of forming a Government at the Centre even though it was aware that it was well short of the requisite strength in the numbers game? Explanations vary from leader to leader. And it is only through the sum total of their answers that we can understand the party's gameplan.

First of all, BJP leaders grossly misjudged the attitude of the major regional parties like the DMK, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Telugu Desam Party. Some of the self-appointed intermediaries had indicated to BJP leaders even during the election campaign that they could be brought around to supporting the party in the event of it emerging as the largest single entity in the Lok Sabha. In the case of the DMK, for instance, senior Tamil journalist Cho Ramaswamy had given a lot of reason to hope. His presence at the meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Party on May 11, when Vajpayee was unanimously elected leader, had sent hopes soaring. The expectation was that if the DMK could be brought around, the TMC would also follow suit. But that was not to be.

But miscalculations apart, the mood among senior BJP leaders is not one of great despondency. They are convinced that even if they fail in saving the Government "on or before May 31", they would have still gained a lot from the exercise of forming what could turn out to be the shortest-lived government at the Centre. And here they are certain about their calculations.

As they put it, they just had to demonstrate to their cadres that they were not throwing away the mandate they had earned without trying to form a government. An ostensibly serious attempt at government formation, its collapse in the face of the combined might of the Congress, the National Front-Left Front combine and the major regional parties would leave the supporters with a sense of deprivation and make them more determined in the electoral battles ahead, is the feeling.

But more than the boost it would provide to the morale of the workers and the supporters, the calculations are aimed at ideological battles ahead. For the last four to five years, BJP leaders have been saying in their campaigns that the era of anti-Congressism is now over and it is the BJP which has emerged as the real force which polarises the Indian polity. The ganging up of the Congress, the Janata Dal, the Left parties and the major regional groups to bring down the BJP will not only reinforce the claim, but provide a major campaign plank for the party in subsequent elections.

The BJP is bound to use this polarisation in a big way in the electoral battles ahead. In Bihar, where it has emerged as the major force along with the Samata Party, it hopes to use it effectively to dilute the Janata Dal's anti-Congressism. "Why waste your votes on the Janata Dal? They will after all join hands with the Congress," will be the assertion. Senior BJP leaders are confi-dent that they will be able to use the newly defined polarisation even in states where they do not have much of a toe-hold, but where the regional parties have been thriving on anti-Congressism by pointing out to the 'betrayal' of the anti-Congress mandate by the likes of the AGP, the DMK and the TMC.

That is not to say that the party has totally given up hope of being able to save its first ever Government at the Centre. Political managers like Pramod Mahajan and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (it is now well known that the duo played the role of hawks when the other senior leaders were in two minds about staking their claim before the President) have not yet dropped the slender thread of optimism. Conduits like Cho Ramaswamy and former Punjab chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala—apart from industrial barons—are still trying to achieve the miracle. But if that remains elusive, the gains will still be considerable.

The BJP is bound to use its remaining days in power to set up an agenda for the future. Defence Minister Mahajan's declaration that his Government would increase the outlay on defence was not a serious declaration of intent. It was meant to reinforce the BJP's threat perception from an Islamic Pakistan and position the party as the one which will not make any compromises with the nation's preparedness to deal with the problem. The feeling is that as hope for the miracle diminishes further, the BJP's jingoism may not remain so subtle.

To sum it up, the BJP would be delighted if the impossible—their remaining in power—happens. But if it does not, they are unlikely to plunge to the depths of depression. Of all the political parties, it is the BJP and the Sangh pari-var which appear to be playing the political game with long-term objectives in mind. If they have to go, so be it. But they will have used the short tenure to reinforce their political agenda. After all, as their sympathisers say, the election for the 11th Lok Sabha was only the semi-final. The final battle has not yet begun.

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