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The Party of Little Men

The form in which the BJP is coming to terms with its defeat explains why it deserved to lose. Many of the explanations have rightly focused on a number of factors.

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | New Delhi |
June 13, 2009 6:03:22 pm

The form in which the BJP is coming to terms with its defeat explains why it deserved to lose. Many of the explanations have rightly focused on a number of factors. BJP has not been able to ideologically reinvent itself,its campaign was tactically clueless,it organisation moribund,its message confused. Some have gone deeper and pointed out the fact that the mainstay of the party,the RSS is also in deep crisis. The issue is not how much the RSS controls the BJP. The issue is that the social importance of the RSS has declined immeasurably. It is simply not attracting young people. Others have pointed to the fact that the party did not exercise leadership at crucial moments. It did not speak enough to the future. Its handling of Malegaon,Mumbai and Varun Gandhi was atrocious. All of these things are in some measure true.

But fundamentally parties,in addition to ideology and organisation,are made by a sense of character. The squabbles that are emerging in the party are almost a psychological personification of the weaknesses of BJP’s ideology. It is a party that has specialised in nursing grudges and capitalising on them. Now all the personal grudges are coming out. It is a party never been known for generosity and forgiveness,a sense of let bygones be bygones. Now you will not get those gestures of reconciliation that can help tide over differences. It is a party that thrives on victimhood: whatever happens is always someone else’s fault. No wonder “atma chintan” is looking a bit like an oxymoron. Other parties have abandoned nationalism for opportunism. BJP did something worse: it made nationalism opportunism. No wonder its leaders cannot face up to the fact that most of them have been playing a game of such petty interests. They could not tell the distinction between opportunism and something else even if stared them in the face. For a party that claimed the mantle of nationalism there is an astonishing degree of parochialism. Let us face it. The current face down in the BJP has nothing to do with ideology or analysis. It has everything to do with the fact that most of its leaders are cramped up personalities,who cannot look beyond their noses.

This is a real shame,because India needs a good Opposition party. It also needs a sensible conversation about many of the issues the BJP raised before it completely lost track of what it stood for. But all the recipes being proposed: the BJP should ideologically reinvent itself,it should jettison the RSS,it should be forward looking,face one obstacle. Who will bell the cat? Is there any leader amongst this lot who has the minimal credibility to take the party in any direction?

In a way it is good that the BJP is having a public fight. Perhaps the only way out of the deep whole it is in is to have a period of public catharasis,where all the grudges and sensitivities,all the warts and all fully come out. What it needs is not some much chintan and much as a manthan. This ugly process may be a way of sorting out the poison. But for the sake of the party and the country one hopes this process gets elevating at some point. More than the RSS,it is now clear that what made the party viable was Mr. Vajpayee. Perhaps in this debate,the BJP may want to take a leaf out of the book of their arch enemy,Gandhi who said,”our besetting sin is not our differences,it is out littleness.”

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