The party is surging because non-BJP parties are disunited. Mere Congress-bashing will not help anymore, because Modi has to give his report card. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee predicted while launching the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 — “Andhera chhatega, sooraj niklega, kamal khilega” (The darkness will dissipate, the sun will come out, and the lotus will bloom).
Today, the party has mostly fulfilled Vajpayee’s prophecy. On its foundation day last week (6 April) in Mumbai, many senior leaders remembered his prophecy. The BJP, along with its allies, is currently ruling 22 of the 29 states covering 67 per cent of India’s population. It has become a pan-national party, and is the richest political entity in the country with an income of Rs 1,034.2 crore.
Using the occasion to launch the 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign, BJP chief Amit Shah noted with pride: “Our party started with 10 members. Today, we have over 11 crore members. Earlier, we were teased with ‘hum do, humare do’ (a reference to the BJP’s two LS seats in 1984); today, we are running a full majority government.”
The BJP has indeed come a long way since 1980. It is the political front of its parent organisation, the RSS, which claims to be “cultural” and “non-political”. The core Hindutva agenda of the BJP includes building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, a ban on cow slaughter, uniform civil code, abrogation of Article 370, and ultimately moving towards a Hindu Rashtra.
The BJP grew in stages. The first breakthrough came when party leader L.K. Advani launched his famous Rath Yatra from Somnath temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya in 1990, catalysing a chain of events that resulted in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
The BJP’s biggest expansion took place between 1989 and 1992, when its Lok Sabha seats increased from 85 in 1989 to 120 in 1991 to 161 in 1996, when it became the single largest party in Parliament and formed a government for 13 days.
The next phase came Vajpayee formed a coalition government in 1998. He became its liberal face to attract allies. During the six years of NDA rule from 1998 to 2004, the BJP’s core issues had been pushed to the backburner.
Once in power, it no longer remained a “party with a difference”, as seen during its silver jubilee celebrations in Mumbai in December 2005. The party wowed the city with a 36 foot huge lotus with 14 petals, revealing ten top BJP leaders seated on the dias, while the 15th petal at the back opened out to reveal Vajpayee and Advani emerging on a hydraulic lift.
In the third phase, when the BJP remained out of power from 2004 to 2014, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi emerged as the new poster boy of Hindutva after the Godhra carnage in 2002. Though his Hindutva theme remained an undercurrent, Modi cleverly began to project himself as development-oriented chief minister, and later Prime Minister.
During the fourth phase, the BJP came to power in 2014 under the leadership of Modi, winning 282 seats in the Lok Sabha on its own. Unlike in the past when it could not go whole hog on Hindutva due to coalition compulsions, now that the party has a brute majority, the beef ban, cow vigilante groups and other things are becoming more and more evident examples of intolerance.
The BJP is surging because the non-BJP parties are weak and disunited. The Congress is facing a leadership crisis while the Left has almost vanished. There is a generational shift in regional parties like the SP, Shiv Sena, DMK, PDP, National Conference, and others. Moreover, the BJP has a committed cadre, good election machinery, unlimited finances, excellent communication skills, and a docile media.
However, it is not all hunky dory for the party. Sidelined senior leaders are keeping mum, waiting for Modi to slip. The BJP has seen some slide in recent by-elections. Voters are slowly realising that Modi is not able to fulfill his poll promises, particularly on the agrarian front, jobs, petrol prices, inflation and corruption.
Secondly, BJP’s caste coalition is slowly tottering, as seen by the recent Dalit rage. In the 2014 elections, 24 per cent Dalits voted for the BJP, its highest ever.
Thirdly, the regional satraps in Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, UP, and other states might pose a challenge to BJP’s expansion plans.
Fourthly, there are cracks in the NDA. The TDP has quit. The Sena plans to go it alone. The Akalis are feeling sidelined. The PDP is unhappy.
Fifthly, the BJP has peaked in northern and western India. It not only has to hold these regions but also penetrate the south, which may pose problems.
So the road ahead shows that 2019 may not be 2014. Amit Shah claims: “Some workers tell me that the golden era of the BJP has begun, but I want to make it clear that it is not the golden era of the party. The BJP is still not in power in states like Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka.”
Mere Congress bashing will not help any more, because Modi has to give his report card. The BJP was voted to power mainly because the people wanted to vote out the Congress. Amit Shah and Modi know this. However, the party could find its Waterloo only if the opposition gets united to take on the BJP. Or else, Modi will be back in South Block triumphantly — on his own, or leading a coalition. #KhabarLive