The Bharatiya Janata Party’s obstructionist tactics over the coal blocks allocation scam has now reached the point where it will start yielding diminishing returns.
Despite the general sanctimonious tone of editorials in the media, the fact remains that the party’s unorthodox tactics last week and even today did put the coal scam on top of the nation’s agenda – something it may not have achieved with just a regular parliamentary debate.
Despite the Prime Minister’s strong defence and counter-attack on the Comptroller and Auditor General’s comments on the coal blocks allocation, the public may not quite be convinced he did – or rather failed to do - everything in good faith. The BJP has made its point.
If the party has anything called a strategy, it is time to change tactics, now that the Congress has woken up. The last thing it needs is a rejuvenated Congress party that is all ready to take the battle to the streets. Once that happens, it will no longer be about holding the high moral ground, but about lung-power and muscle-power. That is not a war anybody can win, and in any case is not good for the country.
The obstruction strategy is now past the sell-by date for the following reasons.
One, no party that hopes to capture power will ever win it by seeming to favour disruption over sobriety and order. A little disruption the nation will forgive; dish out a lot of it, and the whole atmosphere could be irretrievably vitiated. It could result in the public turning away from the party.
Two, in these attention-deficit times, no idea, however important, holds the public’s attention indefinitely. Consider how by the third fast last year Anna Hazare was looking like a spent force. Or how Baba Ramdev is now treated as a joke. The BJP cannot hope to hold on to the public’s attention without having something new or interesting to say.
Three, any party that wants to capture the entire opposition space must have more than a single-point agenda. Removing the PM is fine, but it is not an agenda that anyone can buy forever. What after that? The BJP can hope to emerge as an alternative to the Congress only if it now has a coherent ideology that will challenge the Congress’ performance in many ways. It must look for novel forms of protest to keep the pressure up without disruption.
Four, in the short-term, the focus of the party has to be on winning Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and then come the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other elections in 2013. The short-term strategy must thus focus on issues that will benefit the party in those states, rather than broader issues like corruption – which may or may not be the BJP’s strong points in the states now going to the polls. Without wins in these states, the BJP has no chance of ever making it in 2014.
Five, the BJP should try and surprise the Congress by actually helping it pass one or two innocuous bills over which there is no disagreement at all and where there are no electoral benefits to be had for anybody. This will erase any negative memories the public will have of its disruptions.
Six, while Parliament will not yield much, there is still much to be gained in committees like the JPC that is investigating the 2G scam, and the Public Accounts Committee which will examine the CAG report on coal blocks and Delhi airport privatisation.
There is much juice ahead for the BJP to exploit. This is not the time to blow it all by persisting with a strategy that worked well last week, but which could be counter-productive if persisted with for long.
The BJP managed to unsettle the Congress over the last few days; it is time to declare victory and move on.