The Himalayan debacle

Published : Mar 28, 2003 00:00 IST

The communal plank fails to weave the Gujarat magic in Himachal Pradesh, and the BJP badly needs to revamp its strategies for the next round of Assembly elections.

in New Delhi

THE Bharatiya Janata Party had reasons for not publicly endorsing the media perception that the party's victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections in December 2002 was entirely because of the success of its Hindutva experiment in the State. The `Gujarat experiment', party president M. Venkaiah Naidu had then said, would be replicated in other States going to the polls. When his statement led to concern whether the party, in association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other Hindu sectarian groups, planned to engineer communal riots in order to create an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, and thereby consolidate its Hindu vote-bank, Venkaiah Naidu clarified that the party won the Gujarat elections primarily because of its cohesive electoral strategy, devoid of factionalism. Although it was true that the party owed its victory in Gujarat to the consolidation of Hindu votes in its favour following the anti-minority pogrom in the State, and its vicious communal campaign, the party felt acutely embarrassed to admit it (contrary to its oft-repeated claims that it was not apologetic about its Hindutva platform), because it knew that a similar campaign could not help the party in other States.

That was the reason why the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani were equally reluctant to credit the Gujarat victory entirely to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the executioner of the party's Gujarat experiment. In their public utterances, they attributed the party's victory to the State government'sperformance and the Opposition's aggressive campaign against the Modi government's role in the riots.

The BJP's decisive debacle in Himachal Pradesh has once again brought to the fore the issue of the relevance of Hindutva as its campaign theme. In their initial reactions after the electoral verdict, BJP leaders attributed the defeat, among other things, to the anti-incumbency factor and groupism in the party. As in Gujarat, the BJP leaders refused to admit that Hindutva was an issue in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections. Whatever the party's final analysis of its rout reveals, it would find it difficult to dispel the impression that the Gujarat experiment was tried in a limited sense in Himachal Pradesh but it failed to impress the voters.

The reasons for this were not far to seek. Unlike in Gujarat, the BJP did not blatantly pursue the Hindutva agenda, or indulge in divisive communal campaign, in Himachal Pradesh. However, it subtly tried to sneak Hindutva into its campaign. Vajpayee, during one of his campaign meetings in the State, declared that there was proof of existence of a temple before the construction of the Babri Masjid and that the BJP stood for the construction of a Ram temple at the spot where the masjid stood. Modi's gameplan in Himachal Pradesh was different. Close on the heels of tasting victory in his State on the plank of the `Gujarati pride', Modi smelt chances of arousing the Himachali pride, when Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh allegedly ordered a raid on the properties of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal's relatives in Punjab. The immediate end of the raid, however, put paid to Modi's designs to create discord between the two States. Modi soon cut short his campaign, sensing poor response to it. The `carpet-bombing' - the expression used in party circles to refer to excessive campaigning by a party's central leaders on a particular day in different areas - flopped not only because of the geographical inaccessibility of the hilly State, but also of the insufficient crowd response to the few meetings that they addressed.

Admittedly, the BJP will have to examine the organisational factors that led to its rout in Himachal Pradesh. Of special significance would be the party's likely introspection on why its Gujarat experiment did not succeed in Himachal Pradesh. Party general secretary and the former Union Minister, Pramod Mahajan indicated that wrong selection of candidates was perhaps a factor that led to the party's debacle. In Gujarat, party general secretary of the time Arun Jaitley's `efficient' strategy had ensured unity at all levels of the party, and a consensus was reached on every candidate. This, combined with Modi's charisma, helped suppress factionalism within the Gujarat unit and hence there were very few rebel candidates. In Himachal Pradesh, a similar experiment was tried, but it boomeranged. Dhumal, who lacks Modi's charisma, failed to win over his adversaries in the party. Despite serious complaints against the BJP's outgoing legislators and Ministers, many of them were fielded as candidates, thanks to a `compromise' between the Dhumal and Shanta Kumar groups. When the party's central leadership asked Dhumal to drop from the list of candidates some Ministers and MLAs against whom there were serious allegations of corruption and non-performance, Dhumal insisted that similar punishment be meted out to the Shanta Kumar group. As a result, the leadership let the warring groups reach a compromise.

AS the BJP prepares itself for the next round of Assembly elections, in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, later this year, the limitations of its electoral strategy as pursued in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, become clearer than before. If a repeat of its Gujarat strategy could not help the BJP retain power in a small State like Himachal Pradesh, where factionalism should have been manageable because the party was in power, will the same strategy help the party to return to power in the four States where it is in the Opposition? Advani feels that if in Himachal Pradesh the BJP lost because of the anti-incumbency vote, the same factor would help it to return to power in the four States where the Congress(I) is in power.

But by the party's own admission, the Himachal electorate disapproved of its choice of candidates, many of whom had a tainted record. This, by implication, would mean that in Himachal Pradesh the vote was against the BJP's style of governance, whatever its substantive achievements in terms of its performance in office.

The BJP lost the Assembly elections in the two northeastern States of Meghalaya and Tripura, and made some gains only in Nagaland where it contested as a constituent of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland. The BJP and its allies also lost the seven Assembly byelections held across the country. This outcome clearly reveals that the BJP will be under considerable pressure to depend increasingly on its current or future allies. Both in Gauriganj and in Haidergarh (Uttar Pradesh), the BJP finished third; its ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party , won the former seat and its adversary, the Samajwadi Party won the latter. In Sattankulam, Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam wrested the seat from the Congress(I) with the tacit support of the BJP, while the BJP's ally at the Centre, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, extended indirect support to the Congress(I). The election campaign in Sattankulam is perhaps an indication that the AIADMK could replace the DMK as the BJP's ally in the State before the next Lok Sabha elections. The BJP also lost the Bhokardan (Maharashtra) seat to the Nationalist Congress Party and the Humnabad (Karnataka) seat to the Congress(I) - all pointers to its losing ground across the country.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment