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Is ‘Feel Good Factor’
Good Enough For NDA?

By Pankaj Vohra

Hindustan Times
22 January, 2004

The 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 any seat.

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. Between us.