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BW Businessworld

Pique Of The Ancient

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Here is a declaration. I am neither a supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nor have I voted for a BJP candidate in the past. I have interacted with some of the senior leaders, as I have with those from other political parties. What I write here has nothing to do with my personal political views about the BJP. It is about how I see that party’s chances in next year’s general elections.
The question that faces the BJP is what should it do to win enough seats to lead a coalition government after a decade. Can it happen with the old guard which is comfortably ensconced in Delhi, led by Lal Krishna Advani? Or does it need Narendra Modi? 
To answer this, go back to 25 September 1990, when a younger and politically more ambitious Advani started his Somnath to Ayodhya rath yatra in a chariot-like Toyota. Almost 23 years later, it is clear that the rath was Advani’s political apogee with hordes of supporters ringing bells, blowing conches, beating drums and shouting “Hum mandir wahin banayenge”. 
In 1984, the BJP was trounced by Rajiv Gandhi. In 1989, it had increased its Lok Sabha seats from two to 85. Advani’s conscious leveraging of the Hindutva wave in UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat helped the BJP raise the number of seats to 120 in 1991. Subsequently, the party raised this to 182 seats in 1999 and succeeded in forming the government under the universally liked 
Vajpayee. Yet there is little doubt that it was Advani, with his hard Hindutva line in 1989 and 1991, who created the core electoral base for the party.
Having run government as the coalition leader during 1999-2004, the BJP got used to being a Delhi-based party. Soon, the comfort zone of its key leaders was in Lutyens land, full of parliamentary perquisites, talk shows, high and mighty evenings and film premieres. 
As the party became effete, the Lok Sabha tally started to fall — from 182 in 1999 to 138 in 2004, and then to 116 in 2009.
Can the BJP leadership that lives almost all the time in Delhi successfully run the next election and win at least 175 seats? I should think not. That lot is either too old; or too content; or too out of touch with today’s electorate. A long, carefully calibrated and steadily ‘upped’ election campaign across the land is no longer its cup of tea. 
I cannot see the likes of Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitley or even Sushma Swaraj haring off hither and thither through heat and dust in sweaty places to solicit votes day after day. Even the venerable lauh purush of yesteryear is an old man who is bereft of energy but wants his age to determine the last word on everything. The 24-hour-long  resignation drama was a silly bit of pique resorted to by a person who realises that his days are over.
Does Modi have the electoral energy and drive? The answer is yes — and certainly more than the jaded Delhi lot. Do his words touch more people of the country than those of the current BJP leadership? Absolutely. Can he help the BJP do better than the last time? Almost certainly. Will he polarise India between seculars and others? Probably, as he has earlier. Can he garner 175-plus seats, what with some allies becoming things of the past? It is a tough call.
Do I like him? No. But this piece is not about who we like. It is about who might win. BJP with Modi leading the polls should by definition do better than before. It may not suffice to form the government. But the party has chosen correctly — in opting for a win with probability over yet another loss with certainty.
Which is why those left in the slipstream are moping. They know that a new force is in play. And that their days are numbered. 

The author is chairman of CERG Advisory.


(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 15-07-2013)