Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BJP turns a new leaf: Party president Nitin Gadkari is seeking to give the outfit a new image

IIPM Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri on Internet Hooliganism

BJP President Nitin Gadkari’s strategy to increase the party’s vote bank by 10 per cent in the forthcoming elections and wrest power from Congress is leading to a major revamp in the party’s focal policies. Gadkari’s eyes are set on Dalit and Muslim voters, traditionally been Congress supporters. The party is hoping to break free from its rabid Hindutva image and don a more liberal mantle. The BJP is no longer looking at Lord Ram as its saviour but has shifted focus to Ambedkar.

With the Ayodhya issue in deep freeze, the party is hoping to tell the Muslim voter that it is not inimical to the community. So, on December 6, the party chose to indulge in showy celebrations of Ambedkar’s death anniversary. The party’s Dalit MPs went as far as writing to the PM to accord national monument status to the birth and Mahaparinirvan sites of Ambedkar. This has helped the party send across two messages, one to the Dalit voters and the other to Muslims.

Gadkari wants to reach for the voters’ hearts through service and development activities. Hence instead of Mandir-Masjid the party is making electoral issues out of development and good governance. The BJP chief has given the party two slogans: “Politics for development” and “Antyodaya” (the development of the marginalised). For the latter he has set up a special cell in the party and directed workers to ensure the implementation of at least one development project through government agencies, in their areas.

To stop the Congress on the road to the Parliament, the party will be helmed by senior leaders in its attack on the UPA government on corruption and inflation. Party workers from various units and cells will play footsoldiers in the attack.

Gadkari wants the cells to reach out to the blocks and lower levels to make a connect with the public, especially the marginalised, through positive work. The BJP organisational set-up includes six fronts and about four dozen cells. These include fronts for youth, women, farmers and minorities. Of these, except the youth front, none had received special attention in the past while the cells were headed by loyalists of the party top brass. But under Gadkari not only are these been taken seriously, they are also being pressed into connecting with the public at the grassroots. Thus while the youth front has been handed an agenda to promote nationalism, the minority cell will run a campaign against terrorism. Similarly the farmers’ front will raise a hue and cry against what the party perceives as the “anti-farmer” policies of the UPA government. Naresh Sirohi, national general secretary of the Farmers Front, says, “Through dharnas, demonstrations and seminars we will caution farmers against the anti-farmer bills set to be introduced by the UPA so that farmers can teach the government a lesson in the 2014 elections."

Besides increasing the party’s vote bank, Gadkari is also looking to further the social and geographical reach of the BJP. Hence the party’s aggressive push towards uniting labourers, farmers, weavers, fishermen and artisans. After farmers, the greatest numbers of the marginalised are weavers while fishermen account for eight to 30 per cent of the voters in coastal areas. The party hopes to reap rich political dividends by uniting these disparate communities. To unite labourers the party has taken an historic step in the form of setting up the Bhartiya Janta Mazdoor Mahasangh while different cells have been set up for weavers, artisans and fishermen. The country has about 40 crore workers in the unorganised sector while 75 per cent of the country’s weavers live in UP, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Manipur: states where the party isn’t in a commanding position. Thus working amid these communities is sure to give a boost to the party’s vote bank.

P Murlidhar Rao, national secretary of the party, which has spent the last two decades campaigning against liberalisation and globalisation, has been given charge of the party’s fishermen, weavers, artisans and traders cell. Rao says, “Weavers, fishermen and traders form a large part of the country’s population. Yet after Independence the Congress has not paid any attention to them. Not only do we aim to unite them, we will vociferously raise their concerns and force the government to make favourable policies."

While Gadkari has seen some success in strengthening the party, groupism still dogs BJP. The animosity between the leaders of the Opposition in the LS and RS is not hidden from party workers. The party chief is now forced to have the two conduct joint press conferences in Parliament.

According to political analyst Dr Subhrakamal Dutta, “BJP has been considerably weakened by infighting. Differences among the top brass have prevented the BJP from playing the role of an effective opposition in Parliament. This has sullied its image.”

Gadkari is making efforts to capture power in 2014 though a large chunk in the BJP is miffed at him for having sidelined the party’s former core issues. He is however giving the party a new image and direction.

“We've connected with people on a large scale”

What are the party’s preparations for the 2014 polls?

The party is on the right track under Nitin Gadkari’s leadership. Through constructive work, we have been able to connect with people on a large scale. We are working for those who stand on the fringes of society: Dalits, farmers, weavers, fishermen and artisans. The party’s top leaders and functionaries are visiting suburbs and villages to enthuse workers. For the first time, report cards are being prepared for office bearers. We are presenting to the people a comparison of the UPA and NDA’s work.

What kind of comparison?

During the NDA regime, under Atalji, a transparent and effective mechanism was in place which put a check on both inflation and corruption. But in the UPA’s second term there has been a string of scams while prices have sky rocketed. While Atalji’s policies were pro- poor, the UPA is anti-poor. We are taking these differences to the public. It is understanding us, so much so that more than the Opposition it is the common man who is raising his voice against the government.

A charge that has stuck to the BJP is that thanks to the egos of top leaders, the party is unable to play the role of an effective Opposition.

This is a baseless allegation. There is coordination between the leaders of the Opposition in both Houses.

Groupism is weakening the party.

The leadership spectrum has grown. Earlier Atalji and Advaniji were supreme and they would take decisions jointly. The party’s growth has seen new leadership emerge. Things have changed. At the party forum there is an effort towards collective decision making. Under Nitin Gadkari’s leadership, the whole party is geared towards achieving its goal.

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