In 2014 Modi scripted history, when he led his party to an absolute majority in Lok Sabha. This was followed by back to back successes in Haryana, Jharkhand, J&K and Maharashtra. Media began to term Modi as invincible as the Modi juggernaut continued to roll and win states for the BJP. A sense of complacency began to grow in the party. Some of BJP’s leaders actually began to believe the Media’s narrative that the party and its charismatic, development-oriented leader was invincible. That they chose to do it, in spite of their better sense that the electorate is not beholden to any party or candidate was displayed adequately in the drubbing that the BJP got in Delhi votes. BJP’s ekla chalo re policy that had done wonders earlier, now seemed to be falling apart. By antagonizing the opposition (and even allies) at all times, the BJP had unwittingly aided in coalescing opposition parties together. In Bihar, Lalu and Nitish cemented their ties, shrugged away differences and formed a Mahathugbandhan that vanquished the BJP recently. It had been the same story in Parliament, where BJP members, confident of the majority they commanded, tended to treat opposition members as minor irritants. Instead of serious attempts to engage with the opposition, BJP members openly derided the opposition for their numerical inferiority. The decision to reject (on however sound, technical grounds) the demand for LoP from Congress should be seen in this light. The washout of the monsoon session should be seen as a consequence of this policy of antagonizing the opposition.
Indian electorate has traditionally always shunned extremist views. Communists might have had pockets of influence here and there, but on the whole they were unsuccessful, even though many non-Communist parties (notably the Congress) moderated Communist views and clung on to power. At the height of Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan, the BJP grew its tally, but failed to replace or displace Congress administrations. It was only when, Vajpayee, seen as a Dove in an otherwise hawkish party, moderated the Hindutva element that the BJP widened its base. Indian politics, in that sense has always been Centrist. Congress and Congress allied administrations have tended to be Centre-left oriented, while the BJP/NDA administrations have tended to Centre-right. The success of UPA/NDA dispensations in the coalition era has been in the fact that they have been able to take support from diverse political groupings to get their agenda going. The BJP, with its absolute majority, initially ignored the importance of getting cross party support, something for which they have paid the price in terms of legislative process getting stalled. They have been labelled as arrogant and haughty, epithets that do not serve well in Indian politics.
Not so long ago, there was another BJP man who was occupying the Prime Minister’s chair. His popularity and acceptability across the divide was legendary. In spite of his evident relationship with the RSS and the Sangh parivar, he was as admired among the Communists, the Congressis and the Janata Parivar groupings as he was among the BJP and its allies. That man was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Here was a man, who even Congress leaders, begrudgingly admitted was as it good as it gets. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was scathing in his criticism of the opposition, but ensured that personal connect was unsullied by the caustic barbs exchanged in the Parliament. Even though Vajpayee’s relations with Sonia Gandhi could be termed tumultuous at the best, he never shied away from reaching out to her to ensure that consensus, if required was reached. And that is what made Atal Bihari Vajpayee a statesman. He was as likely to get along with Sitaram Yechury, as he was with Sharad Pawar. Vajpayee might have been disgusted by their style of politics, but he was able to embrace pragmatism by transcending the veneer of ideology. In this, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was aided no doubt by the superb work done by floor managers such as Pramod Mahajan. All in all, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pramod Mahajan ensured that the lack of their electoral strength did not hamstring their agenda for governance.
When the photos of Modi sipping tea with MMS and Sonia Gandhi flashed on newspapers a few days ago, it gave a feeling of sense finally beginning to dawn on BJP. The BJP needs Congress if it is to deliver results that it has promised to the country. It is unlikely that the BJP will command an absolute majority in the Rajya Sabha, the Bihar debacle seems to have ensured that. In that light, BJP must court the Congress and get the legislative train running on track. It must swallow its pride and the mandate that people have given it, only to enable it to better meet the aspirations of the electorate. Mr. Modi, even though he know how much the Lutyens establishment detests him, must make moves to increase his likeability amongst the political elite. Undoubtedly, a shrewd politician as Modi has surely understood that. Hence, the multiple references to Nehru amidst amongst several other conciliatory statements that Modi made during his constitution day speech. It is in Modi and BJP’s interests to keep the Congress on its side, not only does it make legislative business easier, but it also enables greater acceptability for Modi’s agenda in the country.
BJP must realize that it needs to move beyond the electioneering mode. It is then that your attacks on the Congress, your mocking the Shahzada and your asking for historical wrongs (Nehru as against Patel) to be corrected are seen as being entertaining and even appropriate. However, as the governing party, BJP must be seen as a unifying force that creates consensus. BJP is no longer in the opposition. It will need to drive a positive agenda and prove as a sustainable, long term alternative to the Congress-Leftist alliance that has ravaged the nation for 7 decades. Ironically, it will need Congress’s support in meeting its own objectives.