Apparently lacking in confidence despite the "feel good factor" and Vajpayee's leadership, the BJP has temporarily shelved Hindutva and begun to harp on issues such as development.in New Delhi
THE Bharatiya Janata Party has travelled far in its quest for power. Apparently, there is no longer the traditional emphasis on Hindutva, cultural nationalism and Ayodhya; instead, the party is harping on issues such as strategic alliances, development and "Vision 2020". In fact, the party even seems willing to welcome back into its fold adversaries like former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Rashtriya Kranti Party leader Kalyan Singh. Kalyan Singh was expelled from the party in 1999 for "anti-party activities" and for calling Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a "piyakkad" (drunkard) at a press conference. Recently he described the BJP as a "party of traitors", in an interview he gave Frontline.
The BJP's desperation to bring back Kalyan Singh is understandable when seen in the context of a survey the party conducted in Uttar Pradesh. The survey found that the number of Lok Sabha seats held by the party in the State was likely to drop from the present 29. According to informed sources, Kalyan Singh, who has substantial support among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the State, could decide the outcome in 10 to 15 seats. A senior BJP leader said that the decision to bring back Kalyan Singh had brightened the party's chances in Uttar Pradesh, which represented the only weak link in its overall strategy for the next elections.
The desperation to increase its tally is also fuelling the party's desire for an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). On January 15, BJP spokesperson and Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was deputed to greet former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP president Mayawati on her birthday. Informed sources suggest that the BSP president is being pressured into either joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or remaining neutral without joining hands with the Congress(I). Mayawati had to quit the Chief Minister's post after the BJP withdrew support to her government in 2003 (Frontline, September 26, 2003). In the case of the AIADMK, the BJP seems to have forgotten the humiliation it suffered at the hands of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and party supremo Jayalalithaa. She first made the BJP wait endlessly before extending support to its government in 1998 and then toppled it in 1999 to join hands with the Congress(I). BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu is soon expected to discuss with Jayalalithaa the possibility of forging an alliance in Tamil Nadu.
The efforts to mend fences with old foes and win new allies are indicators that despite the bravado of the "feel good factor" and " India Shining" campaigns, the BJP is not as confident of a victory as it would want others to believe. Hence the change in strategy and the adoption of development as the focus of the electoral campaign.
This shift is also inspired by the party's victory in the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, where the campaigns focussed on developmental issues rather than Hindutva.
The direction the BJP campaign would take becomes clear from the political resolution adopted by the party at its National Executive meeting in Hyderabad on January 11 and 12. Celebrating the "feel good factor" generated by the performance of the NDA government, the resolution juxtaposes the NDA with the Congress(I): "It is thus becoming obvious to pundits and lay people alike that the BJP alone is capable of resolving the several intractable problems created by Congress misrule. The BJP is also being seen as the only party that has a clear vision for India's future. This is evident from the enthusiastic response, especially from young Indians, to the Prime Minister's call to make India a developed nation by 2020. Summing up, as the people survey the political choice before them, this is what they see: Continued stability under the NDA versus return to instability under the Congress, faster economic growth versus stagnation and regression, consolidation of the gains in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast versus revival of old problems, resolution of longstanding issues with neighbours versus drift, steady rise of India's prestige in the international arena versus old indifference, and Atalji versus... ?"
Highlighting the latter aspect, Venkaiah Naidu said in his speech: "The contrast with the Congress(I) and the rest of the Opposition is stark. The Opposition is disunited. It is leaderless. Which is why I have said that in the coming elections the choice before the people is Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee versus ?. In their inability to unite under the leadership of the Congress(I) and their refusal to accept its president as a prime ministerial candidate, the Opposition parties are toying with the comical idea of forming two platforms to defeat the NDA. We will not make this (Sonia's "foreign origin") an issue but the people will talk about it." Apparently, the BJP has gained the upper hand with regard to fine-tuning its electoral strategy and planning the campaign.
Venkaiah Naidu initiated the party's electoral campaign on January 23 with a month-long programme named "Atal Sandesh Abhiyaan". As part of the programme, thousands of BJP workers would travel across the country to tell people about the performance of the NDA government under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The party president exhorted party workers: "Reach every village, walk every street, knock at every door, and talk to every voter." Ten senior BJP leaders would participate in the programme, which will be followed by an interaction with the intelligentsia. The party has also decided to constitute a committee, under the leadership of Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley, who played a key role in ensuring the BJP's victory in Madhya Pradesh, to redefine its development-oriented strategy.
Describing the exercise as "Mission 2004", Venkaiah Naidu also said in his speech at the National Executive that the BJP would now seek the support of new sections of society, especially minorities. He said: "I also appeal to our minority brethren: boldly cross the mental barrier of hesitation, vote for the BJP and strengthen Shri Atalji's leadership. You have nothing to lose, except the false notions created by our opponents. However, you have much to gain from India's faster and more broad-based development under our government."