September 10, 2010

what ails BJP? part I: perpetual opposition syndrome

BJP, the main opposition party in India, is in a state of blissful ineffectiveness after it lost power seven years back. If part of it is due to the losses it suffered in successive elections, part of it sure is due to the lack of leadership. If you interpolate a third reason, i.e. lack of emotive issues with which the party can identify vis-à-vis Congress, you have a perfect diagnosis of the disease that has inflicted BJP: perpetual opposition syndrome.

BJP holds a yearly chintan baithak, or serious discussion session, attended by its top brass as well as leaders of lower levels from all over the country. But such sessions end up with remedies that sicken the party further. Worse, the disease has very benign symptoms that make you think that everything is well: the party manages to get second highest number of seats in parliament, it raises relevant issues in parliament and debates them well, it embarrasses the government often in and out of parliament, it manages to stage protest marches over issues, it mocks and pooh-poohs government’s self praise on major issues, its ‘leaders’ often score well in TV debates over the ruling party reps. While the party thinks it is playing its role well, these very things make it a party suited perpetually for an opposition role.

Now, look at their dilemma on many counts. I will give only some examples. If they become too much vocal and agitated, they will be called immature and destructive. In fact, more than the fear of being branded so, it is their own hesitation. They feel that being politically aggressive harms their collective self-image of being a principled party that needs to play the role of a healthy opposition. If they try to expose the government through mass movements, they find themselves not up to it. They might collect a crowd of slogan shouters but hardly get emotional support from the masses. Their joining hands with the regional parties is a double-edged sword: if they score, the partner gets suspicious; if they lose, the partner is secure but their own functionaries lose whatever confidence they had, and they lose more. When they are in power, they are unable to capitalise on it. Its leaders become as hungry for power and riches almost as that of the most corrupt parties and do not connect with the masses. When not in power, they seem not obliged to serve people and leave all the initiative to the ruling party. Etc, etc.

Unfortunately for BJP and the people of India, the party is incapable of coming out of this syndrome. Unless providence helps it or some big brother in its pariwar shakes it in and out, it has no chance of regaining its lost health.

This is one part of my diagnosis… and I will come back with my diagnostic kit soon because its other ailment is even bigger.

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