CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has surprised nobody by stating he does not rule out the possibility of the Marxists' joining a coalition government post-2009 elections that is not led by the Indian National Congress but where the latter plays a participatory role. In their recent interviews, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram, among the UPA Government's prominent functionaries, have spoken cautiously, avoiding direct criticism of the communists, despite the bitterness over the Left's withdrawal of support to the government last year on the issue of India-US civilian nuclear agreement. Any truck with the BJP, however, has been ruled out by Karat, again, not unexpectedly. And no Congressman worth his salt has ever endorsed the idea of a 'national government' comprising all political parties including the RSS's political wing. The post-poll alliance scenario couldn't have been clearer at this stage in the build-up to the upcoming general elections.
The political untouchability practised by the Indian National Congress, the coalition of nine leftist parties and the smaller parties like the RJD, the SP, etc is good for the BJP. It leaves right wing voters less confused about whom to vote. What the BJP cannot afford, however, is the pathological aversion of a major section of the media for it. A larger section of the Indian population is apolitical. This section -- to which the concept of left, right and centre makes no eminent sense -- depends on the media to help it form an opinion about the different political parties. And that is where the media projection of the BJP as a regressive, communal organisation spells doom for the party.
On the other hand, the vernacular media, especially Hindi media, is not that averse to the so-called saffron brigade and its readership is massive too. And then, there are the metropolitan cities where the BJP's think-tanks live. The people of the metros, concerned about infrastructure, have just an overview kind of idea of what constitutes development. For example, most people of Delhi associate, rather funnily, flyovers with progress. This leaves the BJP quite confused at times. Its confusion was in display in ample measure at the party's recently held National Council meet in Nagpur, where it clung on once again to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, misreading Delhi's verdict in the state's assembly elections. It thinks Vijay Kumar Malhotra's development plank did not work though, actually, it was the jaded face of a man past his prime that could not fight the charisma of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. Like the Americans in 1960 who had been enamoured with Democrats, finding then Vice President Richard Nixon's face less gleaming than that of Senator John Kennedy in the televised debate that preceded the US presidential election at that time, the metropolitan youth of this country puts a lot of premium on the faces of respective political parties. Therefore, it is a clear case of oversight that the BJP has once again chosen to ignore the importance of young faces in its campaign and it is here, in the first round of election campaign, that the Congress has caught the public imagination, stealing the show from its biggest rival. The people who cheer politicians from all over the fields where rallies are held do not care if Rahul Gandhi's recollection of contemporary history is not backed by research. His fresh face may still launch more than a thousand votes.
Making the BJP more jittery is Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's jingoistic rhetoric to fight Pakistan like her mother-in-law did, being heard every other day. Though the surprise element that was needed in a possible surgical attack on terrorist camps on the Pakistani soil has now been frittered away, the national constituency may still find, to the BJP's utter chagrin, Gandhi's war-mongering patriotic enough. The nationality of Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law too is no longer an issue. That's yet another big slice of the BJP's vote base, the nationalists, gone.
Burdened thus by octogenarian overheads with ideas of 1980s' vintage -- that is what the Ayodhya issue is -- the BJP perhaps has nobody to look up to other than a relatively young Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister. But Modi too, it seems, thinks that Indians outside Gujarat wouldn't appreciate business talks as much as his state's electorate would. And so he goes about the nationwide campaign, delivering speeches on communal lines, belittling his own achievements on the economic front. Notice, the young voters have not risen from their seats to burst into applause. Would the BJP leadership care to note that India is known as 'the youngest country' owing to its percentage of 18-25 years age group in the total population being the largest in the world?
The Lok Sabha election is indeed a five-year-long soccer match where the reigning champion may concede a goal in 2009 for a defence that it left unguarded anytime between 2004 and 2008. The Congress has done that time and again, thanks to the scam-ridden, communal, terrorist-friendly, mal-administrative UPA rule. For a scandal, it had inducted dozens of ministers facing charges of murder, fraudulence, even rape, in the Cabinet. As for unethical practices, it had the Bihar Government dissolved to prevent the Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar from staking claim to form the government in the state. For a scam, the Volcker Report on oil-for-food nailed it to the ground; the Congress's plea that former External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh, his son and a friend had kept it in the dark convinced none. To question the party's hushed up history, the Mitrokhin Archives detailed how Indira Gandhi's Government used to take dictation on policy matters from Kremlin. As for communalism, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared Muslims had the first right to the nation's resources. To show the premier's poor administrative and leadership quality, a memo was leaked to the media where he was seen pleading with his Cabinet colleagues to keep him in the loop in decision-making processes. At least in two out of the last five years, educational institutions of the country erupted in protest of an ever-increasing percentage of quota for Dalits and Other Backward Classes in its limited number of seats. On national security, the government policy, personified by a defunct (now dethroned) Home Minister Shivraj Patil, refused to see merit in tougher laws to tackle terrorism until the week following the 26 November attack on Mumbai.
Most importantly, the back-breaking, skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, when worldwide recession was yet to set in, could surely translate into millions of anti-incumbent votes. But one sees the Johnny-come-lately having tided over all its ills post-2008 trust vote, emboldened further by some states' mandate not rejecting the Congress for the 26/11 fiasco that saw gaping holes in the country's security apparatus.
If this has left the BJP bewildered, rank indiscipline in the organisation plagued by factionalism is to blame besides its terrible lack of ideas that click with the electorate. Triggered by the lust for power and greed for bounties, the party's third rung leaders had all owed their allegiance to respective fief lords whose mutual animosity led to the inevitable -- defeat in the Rajasthan Assembly elections. Unless this malaise is identified and treated, till the time the party realises that the promise of a temple does not drive a Hindu as much as that of a mosque can drive a Muslim voter, and until simple economics is brought to the topmost position in its manifesto, the political, opportunist devotees of Rama cannot bank on their Lord lifting the BJP's fortunes in April 2009 with divine intervention.