THAT its failure in retaining power at the Centre, capturing the reins in Uttar Pradesh and preserving its government in Gujarat would dominate the BJPs National Executive meet at Jaipur last week was expected. But what came as a surprise was party President L.K. Advanis forthright warning that if intra-party discipline was not maintained, the BJP would go the Congress way.
Addressing the 145-member Executive, which was in session for three days from November 15, Advani held that organisational and, to a smaller extent, behavioural problems were responsible for the BJPs thwarted dreams of capturing power. And so, as he called for introspection, Advani also cautioned that it does not take much for a party to suffer irreversible erosion if indiscipline and factionalism become rampant.
The dismissal of the BJP government in Gujarat and the partys inability to secure an invitation to form the government in Uttar Pradesh (with the attendant accusations against the governor) are no doubt responsible for the new-found combativeness among the cadres. But the BJP leaders are equally aware that growing rumblings within the party have also accounted for its recent setbacks. It is believed that this trend, if not checked, could negate the partys momentum in its agitation for a check on the misuse of Article 356.
Hence, the political resolution held that denying the BJP a legitimate chance to form the government in Uttar Pradesh and the dubious manner in which Shankersinh Vaghela was installed as chief minister in Gujarat smacked of "political immorality and lumpen authoritarianism" on the part of the H.D. Deve Gowda Government, the Congress and the CPI(M). At the same time, the presidential address did not underplay the indiscipline highlighted by the defection of the BJPs loyal legislators to the Vaghela camp, and the loss of an estimated 25 seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly on account of infighting. But further debate on the issue was put on hold as it was agreed that a Bihar-type conclave to exclusively discuss organisational and behavioural problems would be held within a monthwhere senior party functionaries and RSS leaders would be present.
Meanwhile, the party committee constituted to analyse the electoral debacle in Uttar Pradesh had to submit its report with toned-down inferences, given former party chief M.M. Joshis reported misgivings that the party chief set up the panel to put the blame on him (Joshi) in order to scuttle his chances of succeeding Advani in October 1997.
Yet, the problems identified in Uttar Pradesh had national implications as they reflected the problems of a growing organi-sation. For instance, there was a dearth of candidates and only 200 of the 425 nominees were considered acceptable in their respective constituencies. While the RSS is said to have campaigned actively in 125 constituencies, the Sangh expressed reservations about the candidates in another 60.
Then there was the disagreement on approach and strategy. While Kalyan Singh advocated a visible dominance of the backward classes, Joshi and state chief Kalraj Mishra were against the Mandalisation of the party. The result: total confusion. Though the backward classes got more tickets, they felt that the BJP had tolerated the reservation policy for tactical reasons, while not actually accepting their inclusion.
The coming days are likely to witness further conflict within the party on this score, with an intensified demand for backwardisation necessitated by the feeling that the upper castes still have a soft corner for the Congress. Says a National Executive member: "We have to learn to adjust according to changing social and political requirements, and our ideology does not come in the way. The BJP is far more resistant to this need than the RSS, which has gone a long way in redefining its stand on social issues like caste, untouchability and reservation." Moreover, despite the fact that the election of the next BJP president is still a year away, the party is already polarised. Notwithstanding his intellectual sharpness, Joshis election would reinforce the brahmin-bania lobby. There are indications that Joshi does not command much support within the party but has his constituency outside the BJPthat is, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. Joshi would also advocate a hardline approach against the new economic policy which the BJP in its brief stint at the Centre more or less supported.
BUT the partys stand on economic policy is likely to become clear soon as Advani has asked Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to outline its approach. Having successfully run a government in Rajasthan, Shekhawat believes that while the entry of transnationals is inevitable, their contribution to the country will be negligible. "We need to create an atmosphere where indigenous business houses come forward for investment so that we have a choice. At present the indigenous ones want to come in collaboration with TNCs," he said. This implies a middle path for a party beset by a hardline Swadeshi vs pro-liberalisation divide.
This would also indicate a balancing act between the partys agitational role as the largest Opposition party and its aspirations for power in the event of a mid-term pollconsidered a near certainty by BJP leaders, given the growing contradictions in the United Front Government.
The BJP is hardpressed to defy the allegation by political rivals that it has reached a plateau in terms of mass support. Still not tired of his endeavour to groom "the party with a difference", Advani presented a modified version of his now-abandoned attempt to collect political donations through cheques. The party will direct its governments and party units to ensure maximum transparency and accountability, with minimum discretionary powers being allowed for ministers, legislators and bureaucrats. Internal action has been suggested against those found guilty. A call has also gone out to supporters to donate between Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 a year for the "honest and honourable" running of the party.
But the meet did not favour alignment with regional parties wherever the BJP is weak and has no immediate potential for growth. Nor was there a threat of agitations on issues other than the "unconstitutional and undemocratic" removal of BJP governments and Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandaris discrimination. Says Shekhawat: "As a major political player, we react sharply to the violation of the Constitution. Maybe our actions dont match our reaction at the moment. That does not mean we accept such acts. At the same time, we will work for the people, and agitate if necessary for the resolution of their problems." The BJP has also used the stand of the Left parties in its stir on the role of Raj Bhawan and the misuse of Article 356. It is felt that the partys aspirations of expanding its base in the Left-ruled states of Kerala and West Bengal would get a major fillip by these issues.
The BJP has also drawn up a long list of charges to attack the Gowda Government with: CTBT, Indias failure to get a UN Security Council seat, Bhandaris appointment, inadequate response to developments in Afghanistan and the failure to react firmly to the assault on Indian staff in Pakistan. Given the fact that these are issues on which the Congress and the Left more or less concur with the BJP stand, raising them in the winter session of Parliament is bound to embarrass the Government.
Given the anti-BJPism that has of late polarised Indian polity, the party will no doubt gain by this attack on the Gowda Government and the latters resultant loss of authority. But the partys aspirations of securing power still require positive action, mass mobilisation and a clarity in approach on issues like secularism and minorities (it is far from clear whether the presence of burkha-clad women to receive party delegates here was any indication of the party softening its Hindu image). A tall order, but its a prerequisite to counter accusations that the party has reached a saturation point.