Feel Good Factor
Good Enough For NDA?
By Pankaj Vohra
22 January, 2004
rapid pace at which political developments have started unfolding since
the last fortnight clearly indicate that the big fight tentatively slated
for end March would be a fiercely contested affair. While the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) started with an advantage over the Congress initially,
its inability to forge a concrete alliance in the southern states would
not only become a cause of great worry for the party but could also
tilt the balance in favour of its opponents.
In its over enthusiasm
to project the self proclaimed "feel good" factor in favour
of the BJP, its strategy think tank seems to have ignored the importance
of a proper and workable alliance in the southern states. Even though
the BJP and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) have an understanding in Andhra
Pradesh, a section of the party led by Janga Reddy continues to be of
the opinion that any truck with Chandrababu Naidu will be a recipe for
disaster in the state.
Instead the section
led by Janga Reddy who incidentally was the first MLA of the Bharatiya
Jana Sangh in the State as also the first Lok Sabha MP, feels that a
tie-up with Telengana Raksha Samiti would have proved more productive.
Since the party has officially decided to align with the TDP, the prospects
of the BJP candidates especially in the Telengana region might adversely
affect three ministers of the Vajpayee government.
Similarly, in Tamil
Nadu, the AIADMK does not appear to be in any mood to give any seats
to the BJP whose presence in the state is negligible. In Karnataka,
barring a few areas where Ananth Kumar has helped the party to consolidate
its position, the BJP will find it extremely difficult to make any inroads.
In Kerala, the party has marginal presence and is not expected to win
The worrying factor
for the BJP and the rest of the NDA would be that the entire south India
barring a few pockets may not fit the scheme of things and therefore
calculations of renewing the mandate could go topsy turvy unless the
overall image of Vajpayee helps both the BJP and the TDP to retain AP.
In sharp contrast,
the quickness with which Congress President Sonia Gandhi has initiated
dialogue with secular parties shows that the party was in fact preparing
to create an upset on the national scene. Having sewn up alliances with
the DMK and its allies in Tamil Nadu as also NCP, Mrs Gandhi is hoping
to have a tie-up with the Bahujan Samaj Party. And if that happens,
the "feel good" factor which has prompted the NDA to go in
for early polls could very well become a "feel regret" factor.
The Congress president
has already stated that "feel good was no good" and this could
be the catch line of the Congress slogan to counter the BJP's propaganda.
One wonders whether cleverly coined slogans can make things good, great
or best. The hype is because of new marketing techniques being deployed
by political parties to influence the popular sentiments. In order to
evaluate things with an open objective mind, one need not be swayed
one way or the other by the hype. Instead if one sticks to "the
feel normal" factor, the assessment would be more realistic.
During the meeting
of its national executive in Hyderabad last week, the BJP leaders continued
to take pot shots at their opponents for not being able to declare anybody
as a common candidate of the anti-NDA front to be pitted against Atal
Bihari Vajpayee. The underlining point was that the Lok Sabha polls
would be Vajpayee versus ? It made one to wonder whether there was an
element of shadow boxing involved since the BJP did not see any opponent
or an alternative to Vajpayee outside the ambit of NDA. There is no
doubt that Vajpayee has been the leader of the BJP in the past and will
continue to be its leader for the future as well. Despite his advancing
age he does not have an alternative even within his own party.
But there have been
elections contested in the past where alliances did not project anyone
for the prime ministerial position but emerged victorious defeating
the ruling party. For instance, when the Janata Party came to power
in 1977 contesting on the Lok Dal symbol, neither Morarji Desai nor
Babu Jagjiwan Ram nor Chaudhary Charan Singh was projected as prime
ministerial candidate against Indira Gandhi. Each had a claim but Desai
was finally elected as the Prime Minister and both Vajpayee and Advani
alongwith their Jana Sangh colleagues were party to the decision.
Similarly, in 1989,
when the Jan Morcha had an understanding with several political outfits
including the CPM and the BJP, no one was projected as the prime ministerial
candidate though everyone knew that VP Singh was the major factor in
the fight against Rajiv Gandhi. And it was V P Singh indeed who finally
became the Prime Minister while Chandra Shekhar and Devi Lal played
secondary roles. Both Advani and Jyoti Basu kept the government going
with outside support for nearly eleven months.
In 1991, it was
only the Congress which projected Rajiv Gandhi as their prime ministerial
candidate but following his tragic assassination, P V Narasimha Rao
headed the minority government at the Centre for a full five year term.
After 1996 elections, Deve Gowda and I K Gujral became Prime Ministers
for short tenures even though none of them was ever projected for the
post. Therefore, the BJP propaganda of Vajpayee Versus "who"
does not hold any ground.
Politics is a game
of possibilities and it is not at all essential that the leadership
question of the anti-NDA Front should be addressed immediately. The
Congress being the main opposition party as also the largest political
party in the country has taken the lead in cobbling an alliance. Its
president Sonia Gandhi without abdicating her claim has herself indicated
that the alliance partners will choose their leader after the polls.
The top priority for the new alliance is to first defeat the NDA and
then choose its leader. A common minimum programme would be worked out
in consultation with all the allies.
And those who have
been making much of the Congress compulsion of getting into an alliance
with other secular parties forget that in the past too, the party has
practised coalition politics At present, it has coalition governments
in Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra and Kerala to cite an example. It
has contested elections alongwith both AIADMK and DMK in the past. It
is a part of the Rabri Devi government in Bihar and also supports Mulayam
Singh's government in UP although the support could be withdrawn if
an understanding is reached with Mayawati.
While the NDA and
the BJP seem to be convinced that they would get a renewed mandate,
one cannot make precise predictions in respect of the outcome of the
polls. In 1977, Indira Gandhi announced parliamentary elections in the
third week of January with the firm belief that she would sweep the
polls. However, opposition leaders on being released displayed political
maturity and forged an alliance to accept the challenge. What happened
thereafter was historic. Indira Gandhi herself was defeated. Therefore,
it is to be seen whether the "feel good" factor being talked
about will be good enough to get Vajpayee and his team a renewed mandate.