BJP’s Nitin Gadkari Vs The Rahul Gandhi Dilemma

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 With a collapsing BJP, the only opposition the Congress faces is from a mix of towering, practically autonomous, regional leaders

Bon voyage? BJP leaders Venkaiah Naidu, MM Joshi, Rajnath Singh, LK Advani and Gopinath Munde wave to unseen crowds at a rally
Bon voyage? BJP leaders Venkaiah Naidu, MM Joshi, Rajnath Singh, LK Advani and Gopinath Munde wave to unseen crowds at a rally
Ashok Malik
ASHOK MALIK
Senior Journalist

SO WHERE will the opposition to the Congress come from? It’s a thought that has haunted political observers since the general election in May. The BJP is committing serial suicide. High-profile regional chieftains – Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar, HD Deve Gowda in Karnataka and perhaps even N Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh – are nearing the end of their innings. Who then will challenge the Congress’ domination?

As 2009 draws to a close, it’s a tantalising thought that the solution to the puzzle thrown up by the summer’s big election may actually be found in two relatively minor winter elections. The first of these is (or was) the round of late November municipal polls in Rajasthan. The second is the Assembly election in Jharkhand, the votes for which will be counted on December 23.

Rajasthan saw voting for municipal corporations in 46 cities, some of which also held direct mayoral elections. The Congress won convincingly, the BJP taking only 10 municipal corporations. Five years ago, when it was in power in the state, the BJP had won 32 of the 46 cities. A decade ago, while in opposition, it had won 22.

This year’s municipal elections were a microcosm of all that had gone wrong with the BJP in recent months. The Congress was always the party of the rural heartland but, especially since 1989, the BJP had been the repository of urban support. After two decades, Rajasthan’s cities turned their backs on the BJP, indicating not a temporary setback but a longer-term decline. The party lost even Jaipur, once among its safest bastions. In Kota, another former stronghold, the BJP mayoral candidate was trounced by a massive 50,000 votes

The recipe for the BJP’s defeat was telling. Its most popular leader in the state, Vasundhara Raje, was sidelined. She was kept out of candidate selection as well as campaigning. Party bureaucrats backed by a scheming central leadership and RSS busybodies – together forming a lethal combination of small-time crooks and big-time cranks – took charge. They decided the sangathan (organisation) didn’t need the services of an independent political personality, that it would distribute tickets to friends and relatives within a small club and voters would just play along.

This horrific miscalculation has left the BJP paralysed in the state. Having used their energies to force Vasundhara to resign from the post of leader of the opposition, the party bureaucracy is now shying away from calling a meeting of legislators to elect a new leader. After the municipal polls fiasco, it fears a revolt.

A vast majority of the party’s 78 MLAs are restive. There have been stray calls for Vasundhara to be reinstated or to offer herself as a candidate for re-election. Without her, and left to the devices of the assortment of sangathan mantris and upper division clerks who now run it, the BJP is sunk. Worried about their individual future, party MLAs are responding as only politicians trained in the fine art of survival would.

Where does Jharkhand come into all this? The answer is a proper noun pregnant with possibilities: Babulal Marandi.

At the root of the supercilious smugness of the RSS-BJP bureaucracy is a belief that, however much they protest, the ‘politicals’ in the party cannot really do much. Nobody who’s left the BJP and put up an independent tent has flourished. Shankarsinh Vaghela became a Union minister in a Congress government but was left crippled in his native Gujarat. Kalyan Singh came back crawling and is now ready to do it a second time. Going back further, Balraj Madhok was reduced to a letterhead.

Rajasthan’s recent municipal elections were a microcosm of all that’s gone wrong with the BJP

Marandi may be at the cusp of changing that equation. At one point he was the BJP’s most striking tribal leader. Then he began to be pushed to a corner. His state and party rival, Arjun Munda, was considered more resourceful and useful to those on Ashoka Road. In 2006, Marandi was more or less shown the exit door.

As it happens, in a decidedly confusing electoral landscape, he could emerge as kingmaker or even chief minister after the Jharkhand election. At any rate, in a state polity overcrowded with swindlers, Marandi is regarded the most honest of Jharkhand’s front-ranking politicians. No wonder the Congress, despite its association with Shibu Soren and Madhu Koda, eventually sought an alliance with Marandi.

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