Chetan Bhagat, Oct 9, 2010, TOI
Before i begin, i would like to make the usual disclaimer about writing a political column: I have no bias towards any party. The only party i support is the ‘we-do-a-good-job’ party. My views are as an observer of trends, and recent indicators do show that the BJP is in a stronger position than ever before. But can it come to power? Well, it is possible.However, converting that strong position to being in office will take a few steps which i’ll try to outline below. I do this mainly because a strong opposition brings out the best in the ruling party, which in turn is best for the country.
First, i must say the restraint shown by the BJP after the temple verdict is impressive. Think about it; the judgement essentially proved the BJP right. It is an issue the BJP spearheaded over the past few decades at the cost of significant negative PR, losing almost all moderate voters and gaining a sticky communal image. The BJP and its best friends the RSS, VHP and other saffron-lovers didn’t do a fist-pumping exercise. There weren’t victory marches or celebrations. No, the BJP and company kept quiet and maintained, for the first time in their history, poise.
It is difficult to do that when you are in the opposition. A victory like this would be tempting to highlight especially for party workers sitting idle at ground level. A feast for the priests, a yagna lots of PR-friendly options were there to gain instant attention.
So why didn’t the BJP do it? More than that, how were they able to control their feisty friends in saffron?
The answer is simple the BJP is, and knows that it is, in a stronger position than ever before.
The self-goals by the Congress have helped it to a large extent. Unchecked spending in the budget led to massive inflation; the Commonwealth Games mega-corruption scam where the accused are still shielded; the vacillating on Kashmir, are just a few mistakes made by the ruling party. Add a top leadership that controls everything but says nothing classic signs of non-accountability and it isn’t a pretty picture. The scale has tilted in BJP’s favour, which in any case had only a 4 per cent lower vote share than the Congress in the previous election (hence a mere 2 per cent switch to the other direction is enough to change the game).
But self-goals or unforced errors are not the only things that make people switch their vote. People need to be attracted to the BJP rather than come to it merely because of being repelled by the Congress. To give an analogy from a different world Apple had a history of attacking Microsoft. While it did give Apple some cult fans, it never made Apple a serious threat. It is only when Apple made significantly better products that people made the switch. Today, Apple is bigger than Microsoft in market value.
So what would be the better product offered by the BJP? First, they will need to clarify their core values and goals in brief. Manifestos are too long and archaic. The core values should fit on the back of a visiting card, or fit in an SMS, and be easy to understand. A possible set of core values can be full accountability and communication; zero tolerance for corruption; youth representation and secular, inclusive, pro-business growth.
Second, the core values should be backed by action. Accountability and communication can come from making it mandatory for all sitting MPs to make their work diaries public on an online platform. Zero tolerance for corruption can come from proactively and publicly weeding out corrupt elements within their own party well before trials prove them guilty. Youth focus can come from a formal youth recruitment drive and reserving a significant percentage of tickets for youth candidates. All these actions would require the kind of politics India may not have seen before but is definitely ready for.
Third comes a somewhat cosmetic but still important point. Leaders must come across as aspirational to the youth, which means everything is important qualifications, communication skills, charisma, grooming and, yes, fitness and looks as well. While this may come across as shallow, these traits make a person media friendly, and the power of the media cannot be underestimated.
Finally, there has to be an end to psycho-like behaviour rabid speeches just don’t inspire confidence. Hate-speech makers are akin to an actress doing an item number in movies they attract attention but they lose credibility for a long-term career. Decide whether you want the lead role or the item number.
Pretty soon the Commonwealth games will be over and Parliament will reopen. The real fireworks will be seen then if the opposition unites to get the guilty punished. Taking a leadership role in that exercise, the BJP can finally shed its old skin and emerge in a prettier avatar a modern, secular, moderate, right wing party. It is then we will finally have a real opposition. It is then that temple bells will finally ring, waking up the smug rulers we have today. It is then we will have a chance of having not just a Ram Janmabhoomi, but a Ram Rajya (now that’s a useful catchphrase). Are you up for the challenge, BJP?