Coping up with post-defeat scenario is difficult for political parties, but this phenomenon is neither new nor confined only to India. So, if the Congress, SP, BSP, TDP, RJD etc are facing an existential crisis and their workers are feeling exasperated, they may need to look at history to maintain their morale. All the more so since all these parties have suffered successive electoral debacles in the last five years or so.
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had to pass through a similar phase in the years between 2004 and 2014. In between this period the party had to change its Prime Ministerial candidate twice––first from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lal Krishna Advani, then from the latter to Narendra Modi.
Of all the persons it was Advani, considered as a hardliner then, who created a storm within the Sangh Parivar when he wrote and spoke something “unimaginable” during his visit to Jinnah Mausoleum during a visit to Pakistan in June 2005. The party patriarch ended up praising Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, as a ‘secular’ leader.
Top BJP leaders like Yashwant Sinha minced no words to denounce him. All this had happened within an year of Advani taking over the rein after the silent side-lining of Vajpayee.
As if that was not enough, the saffron party faced another major crisis within a couple of months after the 2009 Lok Sabha election. It expelled former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh after he wrote a book “Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence".
Many in the Sangh Parivar felt that like Advani, he too had ended up praising Jinnah though the book actually tried to put the blame of partition on Jawaharlal Nehru.
Unlike in the earlier post-Independence years, today almost all the parties in the opposition camp have tasted power. So the leaders as well as the rank and file have got accustomed to the power culture. Adjusting to the new situation is somewhat more difficult.
Take the case post the May 13, 2004 defeat of the National Democratic Alliance government. If many in the Congress were hopeful of defeating the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha poll, there was hardly anyone in the saffron camp who had predicted the rout of the Vajpayee government in 2004. Between May 13 and May 22, 2004 the saffron party had witnessed high drama. Senior leaders had indulged in a blame-game. Sushma Swaraj actually threatened to get her head tonsured (shaved) if a woman of ‘foreign origin’, Sonia Gandhi, was elected as the Prime Minister by the Congress MPs.
By 2010 the BJP’s stock had fallen so much that there was hardly any regional party which wanted to have an alliance with it. Even its two time-tested allies – the Shiv Sena and the Shrimoni Akali Dal – would indulge in frequent arm-twisting.
Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal United, the third oldest partner of the NDA, did not hesitate a moment when on June 12, 2010 he cancelled a dinner party hosted by him at his official residence for the top echelon of the saffron party. They had assembled in Bihar’s capital to attend the national executive meeting of the BJP.
Curiously, this development took place when Nitish was running his government with the support of BJP.
Those who were supposed to attend the dinner included Advani and several BJP chief ministers. Advani and Modi were in fact put up at the state guest house and not at the hotel where the national executive was held.
A week after this humiliation, on June 19, Nitish returned Rs 5 crore donated by the Gujarat government for the victims of the 2008 Kosi flood. Nitish was upset because the Gujarat government gave an advertisement highlighting this ‘support’ to the flood victims of Bihar.
Four months later, the Bihar chief minister contested elections in alliance with the BJP –– but on his own terms. He did not allow Narendra Modi to campaign in the state. The NDA returned to power winning 206 out of 243 seats in November 2010
Though the number of BJP MPs then was more than double of what the Congress had now, the party was completely marginalized. Once again it was the Bihar chief minister who tried to exploit the rift within the BJP. He flagged off the Jan Chetna Rally from Shitab Diara, the birthplace of Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan on October 11, 2011. An isolated Advani had to toe Nitish’s line as Modi, who was emerging as the prime ministerial candidate, took no interest in this Advani-Nitish show.
Nitish did not stop there. On June 16, 2013 he sacked all the 11 BJP ministers from his cabinet and snapped ties with it. Four months later the saffron party officially elected Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate and its fortunes started changing.
Those were the days when the BJP was at its lowest ebb. In all the elections in UP between 2004 and 2012, the party had performed disastrously. It had lost power in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Things started changing in late 2013 after nine and a half years of despondency.
For the present opposition parties in India there is a lot to learn from the ten-year period in which the BJP faced serious crises.
Rahul Gandhi has resigned from his post. Yet he still thinks that his stand against Modi is right. In contrast, the top BJP leaders, for example Advani and Jaswant Singh, in their days in opposition did something strange––praised the very man against whom their own philosophy revolved, that is Mohammad Ali Jinnah.