Blame it on Barack Obama. The previous time he was here in the days of UPA-II, trouble started the day after he left. That was the day Sonia Gandhi reacted to the Adarsh scandal and dismissed Ashok Chavan as Chief Minister of Maharashtra. After that, scams started multiplying for the Congress and the party never recovered from its problems.
History luckily does not repeat itself. Not exactly anyway. Whatever Delhi voters do on February 7 is, as of now, unpredictable. But the signs are clear that for the first time in six months, the BJP is rattled. Not only is the RSS openly discussing its woes, but high-level members are saying that the Delhi election is not a test of Modi versus Kejriwal even before a single vote has been cast. That is proof indeed that the BJP is nervous.
This was not unexpected. The Delhi BJP has been a problem for a very long time. During the 2013 elections, it was clear that they had no obvious leader. For some reason, Indian political parties do not go through a proper voting procedure among bona fide members to elect a leader locally or nationally. Leaders ‘emerge’ at the national level and are ‘chosen’ at the regional level from above. Where the top leadership is not sure, the whole question of who is the regional leader is left undecided. Then the issue becomes who is a potential chief minister when elections are held. In Delhi, BJP named Harsh Vardhan in December 2013. This time, they abandoned their long-serving members and chose Kiran Bedi.
That may have been good on grounds of name recognition, but the troops who have to slog hard to get the vote out don’t like outsiders being brought in. It is alright in the Congress where you join knowing there is no hope of being a leader if you are not a Gandhi. But anyone joining the BJP may harbour dreams of getting to the top as it is supposed to be an open democratic party.
In elections, be they in India or Britain, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact between the voter and the party activist. That was what delivered Uttar Pradesh for Amit Shah in the general election. But UP had no BJP structure to be disgruntled. The party had been demoralised for ages and Shah could create a new cadre in the vacuum. The Delhi BJP is not a vacuum, just a cauldron of unfulfilled ambitions. Here again is an object lesson for all parties to begin introducing inner party democracy.
In the meantime, whatever the result, it will be a shock for the BJP. The triumphant days may be over. The march to a Rajya Sabha majority may take longer than assumed last May. The Prime Minister has been focused on foreign affairs, communicating with the nation and fighting elections at state levels. While a lot has been done, there is still a hunger out there in the country for something dramatic. A lot of small improvements — no doubt necessary — do not add up to the radical shift people were led to expect.
The Budget will be the first test for the government to show that it means business. The July Budget last year was just an interim one though even then the BJP missed a chance to expose the extent of fudging that the outgoing Finance Minister had indulged in. This time there is no one else to blame. The Budget needs to provide a roadmap for the remaining four years of where the economy is headed. We may abandon Five Year Plans and rightly so, but a medium-term macroeconomic strategy is still required. The country needs to know where the jobs are going to come from and how soon. The pace of investment, especially infrastructure investment, will determine job creation for the unskilled and semi-skilled. Manufacturing growth has to be forecast to create jobs for the young skilled workers.
The Prime Minister has to show that he is focused on the nation’s problems. Sacking the Home Secretary was a good sign that the government will not tolerate covert pressure whatever the level it came from. A few more gestures like that and the country will know there is a new broom in town.