The national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party met at Raipur soon after the Congress carried out a similar exercise in Shimla. The agenda was not merely to decide election strategy but to settle the Ayodhya issue, which predictably returned to the limelight as elections are due in five states later this year. This was the first time Ayodhya was discussed at the highest level in the party since the National Democratic Alliance came to power in 1998. But the party did a neat flip-flop from its Palampur position 14 years ago when L.K. Advani proclaimed Ayodhya as the electoral mascot of the party. But as the BJP is aware, it is in the party’s own interest to rein in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other affiliates. The issue must remain alive but by overplaying it, the BJP will only give more fillip to the Congress and its strategy of seeking to unite secular elements.
Thus the BJP continues to tread a fine balance; in forums such as the national executive meeting, it continues to harp on its undiluted agenda — Article 370, uniform civil code, and banning of cow slaughter — but it remains aware of the compulsions of coalition politics. Ayodhya and the Ram temple do not have much support among its allies, which ruled out the legislative option.
The national executive meeting also saw the BJP thresh out possible poll planks. In the recent elections, the BJP has focussed on Hindutva (Gujarat) and terrorism and security (Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland). For the state elections later this year, the BJP has for the moment ruled out Hindutva, and stressed on governance and development. Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin would form a viable poll issue only for the Lok Sabha polls. It could help the BJP win J. Jayalalithaa’s and Mayavati’s support. With that, NDA could manage to cross 272 in the Lok Sabha.
The executive meeting also focussed on the party’s recent endeavours to present itself as a united, effective and motivated party to the electorate. These meetings and others are regular features in the party’s attempt to hone its organizational network. Well aware that internal dissension and factionalism had cost it the elections in Himachal Pradesh, the party’s efforts have been two-pronged — to fine-tune its organization in line with the Ganeshan committee recommendations and to employ the energies of the sangh parivar, as it had done in Gujarat, for the assembly elections this year.
Ironically, the Ganeshan committee borrows several leaves from the Congress book in suggesting a reversal of the BJP party organization. Rather than elections at the lowest level onwards, the committee has advocated the adoption of a top-down approach, with office-bearers appointed on the basis of consensus. The committee also suggested that the party president be equipped with more powers to deal with indiscipline.
At the Raipur executive meeting, the party unveiled an ambitious 25-point Mission 2004 that focussed on clear-cut work division between office bearers, recruitment of full time chunav sahayaks for every constituency, and massive “Jana Sampark Abhiyan” and “Gaon Chalo-Ghar Ghar Chalo” campaign to reach into the interiors. Mission 2004 also outlined a plan to draw in the minorities by exposing the politics of pseudo-secular parties.
The emphasis on party structure, the BJP hopes, will serve it well in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it’s riven by groupism. In Chhatisgarh, the state unit is yet to recover from the inroads the Congress made into its ranks. The national executive meeting provided a message not merely to the BJP’s allies and the opposition, it also served to remind other sangh affiliates of the BJP’s privileged position in the parivar. In its decision on Ayodhya and its Mission 2004, the BJP clearly enunciated its differences with the narrow Hindutva platform of the hardliners. More crucially, as the party made the right noises on the leadership issue, it reaffirmed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s position as the party’s undisputed leader.