Monday, May 14, 2012

Nitin Gadkari and 2nd term

Too much being written and said about Nitin Gadkari and his possible 2nd term in social media. Sadly the unkindest cuts have come from people, office bearers of organisations or media columnists who declare themselves as staunch BJP supporters. Before coming to 2nd term, let's have a look at how Gadkari fared in his first term and conditions in which he took the leadership.

After 2009 LS debacle, BJP looked not only like a house divided but also looked like someone within would bomb it to oblivion. Vasundhra Raje was sulking in Rajasthan after overseeing a campaign which saw BJP nearly whitewashed in state in LS polls. Khanduri was removed under pressure since BJP lost all 5 seats there. Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh were all feeling left out and in a mood for an open rebellion. In terms of seats, BJP had been washed out in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Assam, Delhi and done badly in Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP in relation to what was expected and past performances. Parliamentary performance in LS and RS between 2004-2009 was worst BJP show for years. It won't be unfair to say that party was in self-destruct mode.

RSS had no choice but to step in. RSS too was going through a generational change in leadership. Many BJP leaders were considered to the top post. Some refused to take the tough job while others were objected to by either RSS or BJP leadership. A decision to bring younger leadership was already taken. While Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were chosen as leaders of the party in LS and RS, the Party President was still not decided. It was then that Nitin Gadkari was chosen as a consensus candidate.

Many things have happened since then. Let's see at the positives.
To start with, Nitin Gadkari set upon to put the house in order. While Vasundhra Raje was pacified in Rajasthan, Yashwant Sinha was given the respect he deserved. Same with Murali Manohar Joshi. Jaswant Singh was brought back into the party after being unfairly expelled earlier. Over a period of time, fences with Gopinath Munde were mended. Uma Bharti too was brought back into the party.

A Party President's value is generally done on basis of performance in elections. In Bihar, Nitin Gadkari with Arun Jaitley and Dharamendra Pradhan worked with local leaders over campaign strategy and ticket allocation. By agreeing shrewdly to JD-U's opposition for Modi, BJP ensured Laloo could not make the contest Hindu vs Muslim. Result was a stupendous performance. While BJP had no role in WB, TN, Kerala, it did lose some ground in Assam. In the meantime BJP swept local polls in Urban Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Gujarat. Even in Rural Maharashtra, BJP increased number of seats from what they won last time. In Uttarakhand, Gadkari smartly brought back Khanduri and BJP won 31 seats against earlier surveys of total washout with 7 seats. Same in Punjab. Compared to 2009 and contrary to public perception, BJP did manage to win 8 seats. After long, Goa got a single party power under BJP. BJP has been making smart gains in Andhra Pradesh specially in Telengana belt,.

In last 3 years, BJP has put up a sterling performance in Parliamentary debates and proceedings.BJP kept up the pressure within Parliament on 2G and CWG issues. BJP has been able to corner the government on corruption, price rise and other important issues. BJP's stand post Ram Janmabhoomi HC judgement was praised by critics too. Even the last India Today polls showed BJP gaining. A lot of ground still to be covered but still better position than in 2009.

Coming to the negatives. First and foremost to everyone's mind is UP elections. How many seats did BJP lose? 6. How worse was the performance from 2009 elections? Well, just about the same. While one can blame Nitin Gadkari for taking false decisions (like Kushwaha, where he erred in beliving local inputs), one can't blame him for not trying. Unlike 2007 VS and 2009 LS campaigns, this year UP campaign did see worker motivation at a high. Time is ripe to build on it. Another accusation hurled at him is his 'mishandling' of Karnataka. How exactly do people expect him to handle it? He could have braved it out like Congress and let Yeddyurapa stay but strongest opposition was from party seniors. Fact is Gadkari has been doing tight rope walk on this issue which honestly now is now a ego issue. Imagine his condition, for electoral success if he brings in a corruption accussed he is criticised, and if he removes someone accussed of corruption, he is criticised. Same on Jharkhand RS nomination. Fact is BJP didn't have numbers and Mishra was propped by MLAs across parties. BJP never had numbers to put up their own candidate. So MLAs could support whoever they wanted. For that matter even 2 Cong MLAs had supported Mishra. Neither media nor Cong supporters hauled Sonia over coals for this.

One can debate endlessly on gains and losses. My personal view is he has done the best given the circumstances in which he took over. He ensured that the party does not slip into coma as it looked like in 2009. Yes, he might have made some mistakes but show me a man who hasn't erred. Some people talk of stature. But how many remember the BJP Party President in period 1998-2000 when BJP had most electoral success nationally? It was Late Kushabhau Thakre, never counted as a man of stature by the media or party supporters (not party members). To win elections, you need a public face. But much more than that you need someone who can handle the party cadre and get them to work on the ground. In BJP's case, you also need someone who can get RSS ecosystem to be working zealously and seamlessly with the party. BJP failed in doing that in 2004 and rest is history because just a public face does not guarantee electoral success.

Coming to current political situation, one can not predict if and when government will fall. Everyone can sniff mid-term polls. Having a Party President yet in a transitory state during elections isn't a smart thing to do. Most parties maintain status quo in organisation structure during an election year because new people need time.

Hence in current situation, Nitin Gadkari getting a second term is the best available option with BJP. If the proposal is presented and approved during National Executive Council meeting in May in Mumbai, it would again draw up criticism from some quarters. While one agrees that supporters have right to voice their views, supporters too need to know that once Gadkari is made the chief, the party will go to battlefield with him at helm. You can choose if you want to join (with full faith in him) or sit on the fence and continue giving free advice.

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