The Telegraph
Tuesday , July 6 , 2010
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BJP spies people-connect in bandh
Party goes full throttle for Sangh

New Delhi, July 5: The apparent success of today’s shutdown in key states has raised the BJP’s hopes for a revival of fortunes, 14 months after the general election defeat.

The party is buoyed by feedback that it has succeeded in connecting with the public nation-wide for the first time since 2004, after years of futile struggle to free itself from its India Shining baggage.

The BJP appeared particularly happy with reports that the greatest impact of the general strike had been seen in Delhi and Maharashtra, both ruled by the Congress, and in Uttar Pradesh, where the Opposition party thought it was in terminal decline.

The Congress seemed a trifle rattled as the day ended, after having asserted that a “ragtag” Opposition and an “enfeebled” BJP were no threat to the durability of the UPA or the credibility of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi played on the classes’ fears about political hold-ups. “The bandh is intended to disrupt, to obstruct and to cause inconvenience. It is anti-public in interest, masquerading as a public interest activity,” Singhvi said.

The Left celebrated the success of the “hartal” but its statement reflected its dilemma about doing long-term business with the BJP on economic planks, within Parliament or outside.

“The Left parties, in consultation with secular Opposition parties, will chalk out plans for further intensifying the movement against price rise,” a joint statement by the Left parties said.

For all its enthusiasm now, the BJP had needed a lot of persuasion from Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United) to join the shutdown call.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari had initially been reluctant, fearful of alienating the business and service classes, and made an excuse about having a pre-scheduled party programme to attend in Mumbai, Dal (United) and CPI sources said.

Sharad, however, bluntly told him to reflect on the kind of message that would go out across the country if the largest Opposition party distanced itself from a pro-people agitation against price rise. He reminded Gadkari that in 1973 — the last time the entire Opposition had called a national strike — the Jan Sangh (the BJP’s earlier avatar) had volunteered to be part of it.

Gadkari agreed, and the BJP pulled out all the stops to make the programme a success.

It helped that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, increasingly worried about Gadkari’s lack of “pro-activism” and focus, conveyed that he would have to “pass this test”.

Every senior leader was directed to become a “worker” for a day, take lathi blows and court arrest, if necessary. Party leaders were asked to sink their rivalries for a larger cause. The new state presidents were told this was the first test of their “worth”.

Although no BJP leader was wounded, the party boasted a galaxy that was detained by the police: Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Gopinath Munde.

Sources spoke of being “stunned” by the “spontaneous” show of solidarity in large parts of Delhi where the BJP had ceded political space to the Congress after the 1997 polls. The new Delhi BJP chief, Vijender Gupta, seemed to have regrouped the business community, which had rooted for Manmohan in 2009 but now fears the UPA’s embrace-the-West economic policies could hurt its interests.

New Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Surya Pratap Shahi marshalled the party’s urban supporters to organise a protest directed as much at Mayavati’s “authoritarian” ways as at the Centre’s policies.

In Maharashtra, the cadres of the BJP and ally Shiv Sena got “doubly motivated” after chief minister Ashok Chavan moved the Supreme Court against the shutdown.

The BJP notched a second success by getting Sharad to visit its party headquarters and address the media with Gadkari, reinforcing the message that its alliance with the Dal (U) would hold.

“Usually, the Opposition takes a Parliament-to-street route. This time, it will be from the streets to Parliament,” a source said.

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