RAJNATH SINGH, former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, is naturally disappointed with the party's poor performance in Uttar Pradesh and the outcome of the elections in Uttarakhand. But he takes solace from the party's encouraging show in Goa and Punjab. We lost U.P. because people did not see us as an alternative to the BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party]. But at the national level in 2014, we will emerge as the only alternative to the Congress, he told Frontline in an interview. Excerpts:
The BJP's performance in Uttar Pradesh was not up to the mark. How do you assess the result there?
Our poor performance in Uttar Pradesh was unexpected. We were expecting a much better result, about 100 seats.What went wrong?
Actually, the BSP's governance had caused much anger among the people and they wanted to change the government. In this situation, they made up their mind to bring in a government with a full majority. They viewed the Samajwadi Party [S.P.] as the alternative.
Why was the BJP not seen as an alternative? It was Uttar Pradesh that catapulted the party to the political forefront.
The S.P. was a bigger party even in the previous Assembly. It held more number of seats [than the BJP]. Besides, it projected a fresh face, which changed the people's mindset. The voters wanted to give this new face a chance, hoping that the S.P.'s rule this time would be better than its previous stint.
As for our poor performance, there may be several factors. We need to take stock of the situation. The one thing that is obvious even at this stage is that we fared poorly because of our poor organisational structure. Our grass-roots structure is weak and we have to strengthen it.
Do you think not projecting a chief ministerial candidate made a difference?
That may or may not be the case. In many States we never projected any individual and yet won in the past. So it depends on a lot of other things as well.
In Uttarakhand, the BJP made a last-minute leadership change hoping to improve its electoral prospects. But Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri himself was defeated.
The outcome in Uttarakhand is beyond our comprehension. We are dismayed that we lost. We were expecting at least 32-36 seats. But the party's performance was not all that bad. We are behind the Congress by just one seat. Khanduri's defeat was a big surprise. We are still trying to figure out the reasons.
In Uttarakhand, a situation has emerged where the BJP can get a chance to form the next government. But the party is yet to name its legislature party leader. The impression created is that the BJP has no interest in forming the government.
We are watching the situation there closely. The legislature party leader's name will be announced once the situation becomes clearer. It all depends on whether we need a Leader of the Opposition or a chief ministerial candidate. The Chief Minister will not be the person we name as the Leader of the Opposition.
You may have to seek the support of the rebel Congress MLAs to form the government. How will you tackle such a situation?
Let the situation become clear first. We certainly want to see a stable government in Uttarakhand. Our next step will depend on what happens there in the next few days.
How do you see the election results impacting on national politics? Do you think the country is heading for a midterm election?
The overall results are in our favour. We have formed a government with a good majority in Goa where even Christians supported our party, which is a good indication. In Punjab, we have come back to power together with the Shiromani Akali Dal. The mood is upbeat. I am sure we will form the next government at the Centre. The United Progressive Alliance government has lost its vision, it has become totally directionless. Instead of a full-fledged government, it has started looking like an empowered group of Ministers.
The government's centre of gravity is somewhere else. The government is being run by some extra-constitutional authority, it seems. In this situation, we are the next obvious alternative and we will come back with a bigger mandate, with more constituents in the National Democratic Alliance than last time.
Who will be your prime ministerial face then? Will it be L.K. Advani or some State leader? There has been speculation about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi being projected as the next Prime Minister.
This question will be decided by the Central Parliamentary Board of the party. It is too premature to say anything on this now. Narendra Modi has certainly developed Gujarat as a model State, but different States have different development models and they cannot be uniform. Different States have different development parameters. One formula cannot apply to all.
Are you ruling out the names of Advani and Narendra Modi?
I will not answer this question. I have no comments to make. The party's parliamentary board will take an appropriate decision on this issue at the appropriate time.
The electorate appears to have rejected the mandir-masjid brand of politics and want a government that promises development and good governance. Do you agree?Yes, hundred per cent.
Will the BJP then move away from mandir politics and make development its main agenda? So, you will not include Ram Mandir in your manifesto?
We never made the Ram Mandir an election issue. It has always been a national, cultural issue for us, though it is true that what we had to say on this issue was appreciated by the people at one stage. But this issue has been adjudicated upon by the Allahabad High Court and we must wait for the Supreme Court verdict. I have nothing more to say on this.
You say the organisational structure of the party has become weak. Does it mean that the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, which has always provided the party with its organisational back-up, is not providing that support now?
No, but the BJP should also make its own efforts.Purnima S. Tripathi