In war, a good tactical move that nets short-term gains may prove strategically flawed from a longer-term perspective.
The BJP may have much to reflect on the wisdom (or otherwise) of its tactical move in 2004 in opposing, along with Subramanian Swamy, Sonia Gandhi's perceived interest in becoming Prime Minister.
The BJP, which was at that time emerging bruised from an election it had expected to win, was convinced that Sonia Gandhi, as the leader of the single largest party, was preparing to anoint herself Prime Minister. Swamy claims that during a visit to Rashtrapati Bhavan, at the invitation of the then President APJ Abdul Kalam, he even chanced upon a letter signed by Sonia Gandhi - expressing support for her own candidacy as Prime Minister!
And convinced in equal measure that it had latched onto an emotive political issue that had great resonance among the people, it raised the issue of Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin" and claimed that she did not qualify for high office on that ground.
Escalating the "culture war" rhetoric, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said she would "shave her head", and subject herself to other forms of ritual self-abuse if Italian-born Sonia Gandhi became Prime Minister.
Perhaps as a result of that backlash - or perhaps, as Swamy continues to claim (here), Kalam 'advised' Sonia Gandhi not to press her bid for prime ministership on the ground that it would be open to legal challenge - Sonia Gandhi stepped back, claiming to have listened to her "antaratma" (inner voice) and instead appointed Manmohan Singh as the party's candidate for Prime Ministership.
The BJP perhaps had reason to believe that it had won a "tactical victory" and had forced the UPA to appoint a political lightweight to the top post.
But events since then may give the BJP reason to reassess its gains and losses from that "historic blunder". It's open to dispute whether it won a tactical victory at all: Kalam has revealed in his memoirs (more on that here) that "if she (Sonia Gandhi) had made any claim for herself I would have had no option but to appoint her".
And over the longer term, the BJP's reflexive opposition to Sonia Gandhi's ascendance as Prime Minister in 2004 has lost them strategic advantage as well.
First, it gave the space for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress' spinmeisters to take the high road by making a virtue of her "renunciation". Given the alacrity with which Indian politicians leap at the faintest prospect of holding office, Sonia Gandhi's "renunciation" of the highest elected office - which was being offered to her on a platter by her fawning and wailing party MPs - resonated rather more with the people than the issue of her "foreign origin".
Even diehard opponents of the Congress felt compelled to concede at that time that Sonia Gandhi had won the news cycle narrative of the day and made her political opponents sound like petty whingers who, having lost the election, had stooped low to influence a rival party's choice of leaders.
Since then, the Constitutional and other legal provisions that would have been invoked in the event of Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister have been discussed threadbare, and it seems reasonably certain, going by judicial pronouncements (see, for instance, here and here) that Citizen Sonia's credentials as an Indian citizen, and her right to hold high office, were always constitutionally and legally beyond challenge.
Second, the BJP's effort to block Sonia's path to the Prime Ministership effectively let her off the hook - and shielded her from the constant glare of public attention that would have exposed her political and administrative failings. It let her retreat behind the high walls of 10, Janpath, from where she has exercised extra-constitutional power and authority, and from where she emerges only at a time and place of her choosing, in carefully choreographed moments.
Today, the BJP wails that Sonia Gandhi made no "sacrifice" in 2004 by renouncing the Prime Ministership because she functions like a "super-Prime Minister". But then, it was the BJP's primary objection to - and its political campaign against - Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister that elevated her to the 'Super-Prime Minister" pedestal.
There are plenty of grounds on which the UPA government is susceptible to trenchant criticism. In the past eight years and more, the UPA government has lorded over the most venal corruption, and its brand of "Meena Kumari politics" (as Shekhar Gupta calls it) has run the economy to the ground, and killed the aspiration for excellence, reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator of societal guilt-tripping.
Yet, for all that, if Sonia Gandhi-the-Super-Prime-Minister remains largely unaccountable, it is because of the short-term focussed campaign to keep her from becoming Prime Minister by dwelling on her "foreign origin" (which anyways didn't give it great political traction). Now, by the simple expedient of passing on all the blame for the administrative failings to Manmohan Singh and his band of merry ministers, Sonia Gandhi has gotten away relatively scot-free.
The writer Truman Capote famously said that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. The BJP may well have reason to regret that its prayers to keep Sonia Gandhi from high office were answered - effectively leaving her to become an unaccountable "super Prime Minister."