For three days last week, when the Congress was reeling under the embarrassment of the humiliation inflicted by Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav, the BJP sat back and watched with manifest glee.
Just the sight of Mamata Banerjee whipping up a political typhoon in Delhi and working to wreck Pranab Mukherjee‘s candidature for the Presidency – effectively pushing her testy relationship with the Congress to the brink of a break – gave the BJP an armchair adrenaline rush.
If the Mamata-Mulayam revolt had played according to the original script, the very survival of the UPA government may have been on the line, and mid-term elections would have been inevitable, perhaps as early as this year. And although the BJP itself appears far from ready for a mid-term election, it had reason to believe that it would politically gain from the spectacular undoing of the UPA.
By week’s end, however, the Congress had managed to stumble through its acute political crisis and had even managed to pull off a favourable alignment of political forces. Having first weaned away Mulayam Singh Yadav from his opportunistic partnership with Mamata, it has politically isolated Didi – to the point where she is back in Kolkata, fretting and fuming about the political ‘treachery’ that she had been subjected to.
And having forced Mamata, who had held the UPA government to ransom for over a year since she stormed to power in Paschim Banga, the Congress is now actively looking to advance some of the long-pending reform measures, beginning with the proposal on FDI in mult-brand retail.
Any dispassionate assessment of the political dynamics must acknowledge the reality that the Congress has retrieved some of the political momentum it lost last week. It still has formidable electoral challenges and popular disapproval to face, as the byelection results in Andhra Pradesh confirmed. And it still remains tainted by the monumental corruption scandals under its watch in recent years. But last week came confirmation that its political instincts haven’t entirely been blunted.
For the BJP, however, the boot is on the other leg. As yesterday’s meeting at LK Advani’s residence confirmed, it is the NDA today that is at risk of seeing a split in its ranks over the strategy that the alliance wants to adopt over the presidential election.
The Janata Dal (United), a constituent of the NDA, disfavours a contest against Pranab Mukherjee, and has been dropping dark hints that it is positioning itself to move away from the BJP. In any case, JD(U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been taking potshots at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, particularly against the ongoing effort to project the latter as the possible prime ministerial candidate for the next general elections.
Even the BJP’s old-faithful ally, the Shiv Sena, did not make it to yesterday’s meeting, evidently displeased with the BJP’s handling of the politics of the Presidential election.
And although the BJP had indicated that the NDA would be able to finalise its strategy for the Presidential election at yesterday’s meeting, the meeting only served to expose the disunity in its ranks, and the lack of coherence in its strategy. Worse, in its effort to reach out to newer allies, it now has Mamata Banerjee squarely in its sights, and is looking to get her into its camp.
In other words, going by current planetary alignments, the BJP is at risk of losing its political synergy with Nitish Kumar – and is courting the demonstrably fickle Mamata Banerjee.
All this is symptomatic of a larger failing within the BJP. For all the criticism that the Congress-led UPA government receives for the “policy paralysis” that afflicts it, the BJP and the alliance it heads remain just as paralysed, even on the somewhat less consequential decision of whether to put up a contest for the presidency.
As Firstpost had noted earlier (here), for a while now, even diehard BJP supporters have been frustrated by the party’s inability to capitalise on the countless corruption scandals in the UPA government and the many missteps of the ruling alliance.
The events of the last week only validate those frustrations, born of a realisation that the BJP has lost the will to win. So long as the Congress was on the defensive, the BJP did nothing more than sit back and gloat. Instead of setting the political agenda, it was waiting for the UPA to self-destruct. But by week’s end, the Congress, which was put to a monumental political test, had retrieved the momentum somewhat. And if anything, it is the BJP that today looks like a conflicted party leading an unwieldy coalition.