Identity crisis

Identity crisis

The magnitude of the electoral disaster that has struck the BJP is clear but it will take time and some good sense for the party to comprehend its true nature and reasons. When the party braces itself for another five-year-long night of groping and self-examination, the immediate responses are bewilderment, disappointment and finger-pointing. The Advani era has ended and the scramble for leadership has already started. But the problem is not just one of leadership but of identity, policies and strategies. Taking a longer term view of the past, the party had a good run of politics in the last two decades but it is now at a turning point, with even its ideological raison d’etre coming into question.

The BJP’s share of votes has fallen by about 3.5 per cent in the country since 2004 and by about 1 per cent even in Gujarat from where its man on the saffron horse, Narendra Modi, was expected to redeem the country for it. The Hindutva as a political idea has lost its potency and the projection of Modi as a future prime minister could only have hurt the party. Even Advani’s leadership was not convincing because he was regarded only as a latter-day convert to moderation. The party rode two horses at the same time and this compromised its credibility. Many of its allies in the NDA had deserted it. Among those who remained, only Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) in Bihar did well, that too because he distanced himself from it. In the states where the BJP held power, it fared reasonably only where its governments were seen to have worked for the people and not for its ideology. The development plank, oriented to the poor and the rural sector, rested with the UPA government at the national level. The BJP had no major issue to fight the government on, including its pet theme of terror. The personal attacks on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the absence of any major electoral issue, only boomeranged on it. Ultimately the people voted for stability, not just governmental stability but political and social stability, which derives from social cohesion and not from conflict. The BJP lost out there.

The future direction of the BJP might lie in its internalisation of this lesson. In its hour of crisis it might be tempted to go back to its fundamentalist moorings. Even that core support base, which did not help it to gain power in the best of times, is shrinking. That is why it is at the crossroads.

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