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A Crisis of Leadership

October 22, 2009

The results are not yet out as I write this, but from the trends and the leads one can safely say that the pundits were right. The Congress and its allies have swept the polls in all the three states that have gone to polls just now. Arunachal was a foregone conclusion. Any opposition to the Congress was only a token electoral exercise there. In three constituencies in AP there was no opposition, so the Congress candidate there won without having to fight. In Haryana, the results have been rather startling. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) the largest opposition party at the center has been decimated. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has performed much better than expected and has proved that they are not a spent force. The Haryana result has also shown that the calculation of the BJP that going alone will be to their benefit has gone horribly wrong. The leaders who made this decision must be made to account for this huge blunder. The Congress has come to power in Haryana for the third time in a row which is a record of sorts. One cannot help but wonder as to what the result would have been had the BJP not annulled its alliance with the INLD. Any chance to form a government in any of these states will come five years from now, and that is a long time in politics.

The most interesting result has come from the critical state of Maharashtra. The Congress along with its ally the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has swept the polls and will comfortably form the government. The focus of these state elections was Maharashtra and the BJP and the Shiv Sena were hoping to topple the Congress applecart. They have failed miserably. The reasons could be many. The fact is that the state has had a very insipid government at the helm for the past ten years. There has been a power situation that has not improved. There has been a drought and farmers have committed suicide in the Vidarbha and Marathwada region. There was this audacious attack – the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. The condition of Mumbai has not improved either. There has been no industrialization in the past decade or so and to top it all there has been a price rise that has affected the common man like nothing has. Sugar is selling at Rs 40 a kg and yellow dal at Rs 100 a kg. This was an ideal situation for the opposition to play on the huge non-performance of the Congress government. The situation can be gauged from the fact that the chief minister was changed after the 26/11 attacks and the new chief minister was seen as one who had done nothing of note in these few months. And yet the Congress is back in power. The fundamental question is why?

The apologists for the failure of Shiv Sena and BJP are pointing out the debilitating effect of the Raj Thackrey’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) eating into their vote bank. It is true that the MNS has made a dent in the BJP-Sena combine but to be content in the knowledge that because of this they have lost is failing to look at the larger picture. The fact is that both in the Shiv Sena and the BJP there was a crisis of leadership. Politics the world over is personality driven. India is no different. Any party worth its salt must have a credible national leaders and state leaders. Any regional political outfit like the Sena must have a credible leadership that can give direction to state politics. Evidently, the people did not see any credible leader either in the Sena or the BJP. Udhav Thackrey is too gullible and soft to be a leader of any political outfit. He is a misfit in politics. The BJP also lacks a credible face. Gopinath Munde may have worked hard for the party but people would not accept him as the chief minister of the state. There were other names being floated by the BJP and the Shiv Sena but they were minnows. In the Congress and the NCP there is no dearth of leaders. Ashok Chavan may be seen by some not to have done anything in his short stint but he was a credible face as the chief minister. Vilasrao Deshmukh was another name. There are many in the NCP like Chagan Bhujbal and Supriya Sule and others who can fill the gap. The BJP lacks such depth. Besides the Congress and the NCP have so many heavy weights that have a strong base in their region that it is difficult to dislodge them. Men like Narayan Rane and Sharad Pawar have strong base in Konkan and Marathwada regions respectively. In contrast the BJP and the Sena have pockets of influence and the number of personalities who have grass root support is almost zilch. Many of these political heavy weights have recently shifted from the Sena to the Congress most prominent among them being Narayan Rane. The exit of Raj Thackrey from the Sena was the final nail in their political coffin. Both the Sena and the BJP in Maharashtra are rudderless ships. That they could reach somewhere around the 100 seat mark is a testimony to the fact that the anti-incumbency was marked and the people were fed up of the Congress rule. Had the Sena-BJP combine shown some leadership and given voice to the woes of the people they would have easily toppled the Congress-NCP government. But there was no charismatic leader with whom the people could identify and therefore the people played it safe and gave thumbs up to the tried and tested Congress-NCP combine. The MNS can take solace in the fact that they did not allow the Sena-BJP combine to come to power. Those who say that the MNS has been propped up by the Congress and the NCP therefore stand vindicated.

While the state unit of the BJP stands exposed, being a national party, the central leadership cannot wash its hands away from this electoral debacle in Maharashtra and Haryana. The central leadership of the BJP is as clueless as to where the party stands today and where it wants to get to tomorrow and how, as are the state units. There is a complete lack of leadership and direction in the party. The top leadership of L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh are to be blamed. But then the second tier cannot be absolved of their omission and commissions either. The Arun Jaitley’s and the Sushma Swaraj’s and the Venkaiah Naidu’s need to stand up and owe up the debacle as their failure. The party is lacking in direction and seems to be adrift. The top leadership needs to step up and resign immediately and even the second rung cannot stay on shamelessly. The largest opposition party has a role to play and they cannot absolve themselves of their responsibility so easily. A vibrant democracy needs a credible opposition. Sadly, the BJP is sinking into a never ending abyss.

The BJP needs to rejuvenate itself. There needs to be a complete overhaul. And they should stop looking towards the RSS for solutions. The RSS can help only so much and no more. The RSS is not a political outfit and the chaos is of their own making. The BJP also needs to answer some very fundamental questions. Should they remain just to the right of center or should they move further right. If they show a ‘secular- rightist’ face they are equated as a B team of the Congress. The minority votes still escape them and the Hindus fail to vote as a block. Till the Hindu votes are consolidated the BJP and its allies have a very slim chance of coming to power in the center. They also need a charismatic leader. The remarkable thing is that they have a credible leader who also veers to the right and has a personality that has endeared him to the masses. He is verbose and is educated. He knows the ropes in politics and is tech savvy. He comes from the most famous political family of the country. He is also very much part of the BJP. Yes, I am talking about Varun Gandhi. I guess that if the BJP are serious about their chances in future elections they will have no choice but move further right and prop up such young dynamic leaders as Varun Gandhi. That is the only way forward. The man has a political lineage and has a mass following. I know that there will be a complete sense of horror within the BJP at what I am suggesting. They may even say that this will be perpetuating the Gandhi-Nehru legacy in a party that has traditionally been against The Family. But from the current crop of second rung leaders within the BJP I do not see anyone that has the capability to take the party forward. The oldies like Advani and Rajnath have done what they had to do. Their time is up. They need to pass on the baton. The question is – to whom? Jaitley, Swaraj and Naidu can be good satraps but they cannot be national leaders. They have the capability to carry out the directions of the high command in letter and spirit but they do not have the leadership qualities to decide what should be the direction of the party. They cannot lead the party to an election victory. Varun Gandhi, from what little we have seen has a bunch of die hard supporters. He can cultivate his own team and plan things methodically. Something on the lines of what Rahul Gandhi has been doing. The BJP has been presumptuous when they have scoffed at Rahul’s efforts in organizing a membership drive in different states. The BJP should take a leaf from the young man and start their own party membership initiative and make the organization more democratic. Varun Gandhi, if given a chance, I hope will have no such hesitation in emulating his elder cousin brother. My only fear is that the fight between the cousins does not turn ugly. The way NSA was slapped on Varun during the UP elections was politics at its worse. These boys need to have a sense of proportion if the two siblings are to fight it out in the political arena. I hope the BJP shows the resolve and the fortitude to acknowledge that young Varun is the answer to the leadership crisis within the party. And they should have no hang-ups in following the young man. The nation needs a rightist alternative and a credible opposition. The times of Advani and Rajnath are over. The sooner they decide to step down, the better it will be for the party and the country.

There is much speculation about who will be the next chief minister of Maharashtra. Many people are proposing Vilasrao Deshmukh as the next CM. I will hedge my bet on Ashok Chavan. Deshmukh has had this unfortunate incident in the 26/11 attacks during his tenure. Bringing him back will show to the world that we are not serious about our war on terror. Deshmukh realizes this and therefore has said that he is happy in Delhi. My guess is that Ashok Chavan will be given another chance with clear directive that he must perform and make development his top priority. The Congress is on a high. It will take some doing to stop this political blitz.

A Footnote: The Haryana results have not been quite as decisive as one had thought. This has come as a surprise. Congress is short by some six seats. Bhajan Lal’s party has won just that number. However, getting Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldip Bishnoi to support the Congress may not be that easy. They are at loggerheads with Bhupinder Hooda, the present chief minister of Haryana. Congress may decide to throw up another candidate as chief minister. Names being touted are Kumari Shailja and Ms. Chaudhary, the daughter-in-law of late Bansi Lal. This has been a bit of a dampener to an excellent day for the Congress at the hustings.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mala mejmani permalink
    October 23, 2009 8:34 am

    You have done a brilliant analysis and are quite correct that it is only Varun Gandhi that can revive the flagging fortunes of the BJP. Now it is to be seen whether the party has the sense to back him and build him him up to his full potential so that it may re-rmerge as India’s strongest hope for the future. The sooner the Congress is given its comeuppance , the better for India.

    • sharma24 permalink
      October 23, 2009 11:38 am

      The only problem, it seems is that Varun is just too young. The bad news is that he seems to be the only hope in the given circumstances. Old war horses like Rajnath and Advani seem reluctant to step down. The way they have got Vasundhara Raje to resign as the leader of the opposition in Rajasthan assembly today does not bode well at all for the party. It could be a single party rule at the center in the near future.

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