Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When will the BJP start proposing; rather than only opposing?

The BJP’s national executive meet currently on at Surajkand is going along predictable lines. A lot of leaders are meeting and a lot of leaders are making predictable “we oppose this; we oppose that” kind of statements. The only headline that emerged from the 1st day of that meeting was what appeared in the TOI “BJP to oppose FDI even if back in power”. Not one clear voice has emerged on what the BJP’s proposals are on various issues. We know all about what they oppose, but we don’t know anything about what they propose to do. All that we hear is anti-Congressism. The Congress is bad; the congress is corrupt; the congress is anti-people. Fine, we heard all that. Now can we please hear something about what the BJP is; rather than what the Congress is or isn’t?

But this is nothing new really. The BJP’s entire poll strategy has always been to criticize the Congress while staying coy about its own game plan. The current campaign running in Gujarat proves this point. While the Congress is harping on the good work its governments had done in the past when it was ruling the state; the BJP is going hammer and tongs on the Congress’s misdeeds. It’s not talking of one progressive thing its government has done in the last ten years. One would wonder if the party cannot find enough good things to talk about even in Gujarat – the state they believe to be the showcase for good governance and where they have achieved good economic growth under Modi. But then, criticizing others, rather than focusing on their own strengths, is ingrained into the BJP’s genes.

Take the opposition of the BJP has towards FDI in multi-brand retail as an example. There are enough stories about how the party was actually in favor of FDI in retail. There was apparently a cabinet note mooted in the NDA period; there was also mention of 26% FDI in its poll manifesto in 2004. But today, the BJP is not only opposing the FDI, it is also going so far as to threaten potential investors with a “we will cancel the policy if elected” statement. What we are not hearing is what the BJP’s views are of growing the retail sector. Do they have a game plan for building the supply links from the farm to the fork? Are they OK with Indian domestic retail giants expanding and grabbing a larger share of the retail market? Have they got an alternative plan to cutting out middle-men margins in the whole process? How also do they explain their CMs (Modi most prominently) going all out to woo FDI while at the same time opposing it where it suits them? Isn’t it similar to Mamata Banerjee opposing FDI whenever the Congress proposed it, but at the same time, proposing FDI in Railways on her own?

It’s the same story with the diesel price increase. We’ve heard the BJP’s opposition to the Congress decision. It’s anti poor, anti middle-class blah blah. But what we are not hearing is what the BJP would have done in a similar situation. Would they have cut taxes so as to reduce prices? If they did so, how would they compensate for the loss of tax collections? Would they have increased taxes elsewhere like they have done in Goa to recover losses on petrol price cuts? We still don’t know what the BJP’s view are on managing the fiscal deficit. We still don’t know their views on handling the trade deficit; on increasing exports; on reducing fuel imports; on managing gold imports; on anything.

It is because of not having any positive agenda of its own that the BJP is unable to grow its constituency. In states where the Congress and BJP are both weak (UP, TN), the BJP has no chances of making any inroads. Why should the people of these states vote for the BJP? They don’t even know the BJP views about anything. Likewise in states where the Congress is present but the BJP is not (AP, Kerala, Assam, Bengal, Orissa etc), they don’t have any hopes of opening their account for the same reason. Fed up they may be with the Congress, but that doesn’t help the BJP. For the people cannot turn to the BJP; they don’t even understand the BJP.

One would wonder why a party of such sharp shooters as Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj would not be able to figure this simple truth out. But then, like I said earlier, it’s in the BJP’s genes to oppose, rather than to propose. That is why they lost power so quickly in 2004. All that they did in their six years was to show that the Congress rule was bad. That’s also why they were unable to show any smart GDP growth. The GDP growth achieved was higher in the period before the NDA rule, and after the NDA rule. In some ways, the BJP’s approach to politics is like Mamata’s is. She is a great opposition leader; for she can oppose anything. Maybe her style inspired Yashwant Sinha to say that “we are the opposition, so we will oppose”. This position doesn’t even require the party to propose something. The last time they proposed something (even though highly destructive as an idea) was to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya. Even this simple proposal got them the votes. They reached their highest Lok Sabha tally of 182 at that time. Since then however, the party has been in decline; not surprising considering that it has gone back to its days of opposing rather than proposing.

The big problem in always opposing is that the party invariably gets caught in its palaver. When it pointed a finger at the Congress for politically motivated coal block allocations, it got trapped itself since it had done the same. In Maharashtra, as NCP faces charges of corruption in the irrigation department, the India Against Corruption activist who brought this all out has pointed a finger at Gadkari himself. Not surprising then that Kejriwal and Anna are equal criticizers of the BJP now as they are of the Congress.

The real truth is that the BJP is in no position to ascend to power in 2014 if it continues with its “only oppose, don’t propose” approach. At its national executive meet, it would be better if the party worked at developing its own agenda, rather than criticizing some other party’s. It would serve itself much better if it did a little analysis of its last 20 years – since the Babri demolition in 1992 – and understood what has worked for it and what hasn’t worked since then.

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