By Waled Aadnan:
On 6th April 2012, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrated its 32nd Foundation Day with several functions organised in different parts of the country. In Gujarat, the BJP’s focus state given the upcoming Assembly elections, Chief Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the party’s Kishan Yatra in Rajkot. Aimed at bringing advances in agricultural research and scientific agricultural methods closer to the farmers of the state, the yatra will tour Saurashtra over 12 days.
Clearly, the BJP is wooing the agriculture-dominated region of Saurashtra, with Modi criticising the UPA government at the Centre for banning cotton exports recently, which he said had adversely affected the farmers, especially of Gujarat. It however remains to be seen as to what response the yatra receives from the people. During the past year, the BJP banked on the LK Advani-led Jan Chetna Yatra to draw attention to the problems of black money and corruption. Also the Jan Swabhiman Yatra, the Satta Parivartan Yatra and the ‘Arakshan Hatao-Samvidhan Bachao’ (remove minority quota and save the constitution) campaign yatras were organised in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections. Among other things, these yatras were used to rake up the Ayodhya temple issue, to call for a change in government in UP and to protest the proposal to introduce 4.5% reservation for religious minorities. However, the BJP has been unable to appropriate much gains from the anti-corruption movement of 2011 while its performance in the UP elections was abysmal, winning just 47 seats, four less than in 2007.
In the light of these facts, is it that the sting has gone out from the BJP’s once-popular yatras? There is no doubt that they have been incessantly organised at the state as well as national level in the recent past. Given the response received in election results, the strategy does seem to be suffering from diminishing returns. If in fact there is a sense of yatra-fatigue among the masses and possibly even among the cadre, then serious introspection is due on the part of the central leadership to devise newer ways of connecting with the people.
Of course, a political strategy is only as good as those implementing it, as the Congress refuses to admit from its Rahul Gandhi experience. And an important reason why the BJP is failing to inspire the kind of mass support it enjoyed in the 1990s and early 2000s is the lack of an apparent unified command. The sense of constant bickering among the national leaders which has become a norm since the general election defeat of 2004 has alienated a vast section of the party’s support. The vacuum left behind by Atal Behari Vajpayee then remains unfilled. At the same time, allegations of corruption against the then Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and the induction of tainted former minister Babu Singh Kushwaha in UP has weakened the grounds on which it was criticising the scams in the UPA government.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 remain a blot on the BJP’s report card in most parts of the country, although surprisingly not in Gujarat itself. The present yatra comes in the wake of an advertisement in a Gujarati daily depicting Modi as Lord Krishna. And indeed, it is widely expected that he will ride the BJP’s chariot past the finishing line come the Assembly elections.
However, the party and Modi himself has one eye set on the next Lok Sabha polls. But power at the Centre seems a distant prospect today. If the BJP has to win the next elections, it is imperative that it shakes up its party organisation so that the important decisions are taken democratically by its workers rather than through diktats from Nagpur. Also, the RSS recently complained in its mouthpieces ‘Organiser’ and ‘Panchjanya’ that the party had a “bigger army of leaders than workers”. And rightly so! One positive aspect that emerges, however, is that the party’s tryst with “Shining India” as an election campaign base is over. As Modi has shrewdly calculated, the connect needs to be maintained with the poorer sections of the population. The Kishan Yatra is a step in that direction. The party has come up with its Vision 2025 for various states recently and a national vision statement is expected later this year. That document promises to shed light on whether it has learnt from its mistakes or whether stagnation has set in for good.