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29 January, 2013

Daunting poll challenge

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is preparing to challenge the Congress party in the 2014 parliamentary elections, has a daunting task ahead.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power from 1999 to 2004. In Atal Behari Vajpayee it had a popular prime minister and the economy did well. Yet it could not win a second five-year term on the “India Shining” slogan. The electorate rebuffed it again in 2009.

Now it has cause for optimism. As many as 39 per cent of those who participated in a recent opinion poll said they would vote for the NDA if elections were held now. Only 22 per cent said they would vote for the UPA.

The poll also showed that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, frontrunner in the party’s prime ministerial stakes, has a 36 per cent rating. Rahul Gandhi, whom the Congress party recently made its vice-president and is seen as its prime ministerial candidate, is way behind with only 22 per cent.

But the BJP has cause to worry too. The collapse of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s bid to secure for Nitin Gadkari a second three-year term as BJP president indicates the emergence of new dynamics in Parivar politics. This is the first time that the RSS failed to have its way in the choice of the party president.

Gadkari, a former Maharashtra minister, was little known outside the state when the RSS picked him for the top post in 2009. He became a source of acute embarrassment to the party when the media brought to light his connections with some dubious business concerns late last year, leading to an official probe. Yet the RSS pushed for his re-election. Stiff resistance by party leaders like Lal Kishen Advani and Ram Jethmalani forced it to abandon him and agree to the election of former president Rajnath Singh.

The Gadkari fiasco has come on the heels of grave corruption charges against BJP leaders in Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. In last year’s assembly elections, the Congress wrested power from the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. Chhattisgarh and Karnataka go to the polls this year.

The BJP is in serious trouble in Karnataka, the only southern state where it is in power. Last year it eased out Chief Minister BS Yeddiyurappa, who had led it to victory in the state five years ago, following allegations of corruption. He has now floated a regional party, styled as Karnataka Janata Party, and is posing it a grave challenge.

The party faces dissension also in Rajasthan, another state where elections are due this year. A section of the central leadership wants to bring former chief minister Vijayaraje Scindia to the fore once again but there is strong opposition to her from within the state party.

Modi enjoys wide support among Hindutva elements, but his projection as prime ministerial candidate is sure to meet with strong opposition from sections within the BJP and the NDA in view of his alleged association with the anti-Muslim riots of 2002. The Janata Dal (United), the second largest NDA constituent, has repeatedly said that he is not acceptable.

The opinion poll also offers the BJP cause for despair. While it forecasts a rise in the NDA’s Lok Sabha strength from 159 to 203 and fall in the UPA’s from 259 to 157, the combined strength of other parties will go up from 125 to 183. It is they who will decide who should form the government.

The others are an odd assortment of small national parties with scattered pockets of influence and regional parties which are powerful in their respective areas. The leaders of some of these parties are known to have prime ministerial ambitions but the post-election scenario is likely to reduce their choice to one of going with either the Congress or the BJP. The moot question is who will be the beneficiary of their pragmatic approach. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 29, 2013.

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