Over 5,000 delegates to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s annual national council meeting will gather at Indore on February 18 and 19, to ratify the election of Nitin Gadkari as party president, authorise him to appoint his team of office-bearers, reconstitute important party panels, and, hopefully, help find a new direction for the BJP, which suffered a debacle in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
Preceding the two-day session is a daylong meeting of the national executive committee, comprising 200-odd members, where the agenda for the council and resolutions would be finalised. It seems the leadership has decided to focus on price rise and security issues related to Kashmir, naxalism, Pakistan and China in the context of the political situation in which the BJP as the main Opposition has yet to find its feet.
To try and connect to the aam aadmi, the party brass have decided to stay in a tented township, named after the former president Kushbhau Thakre, being readied in a 90-acre area on the outskirts of the city, BJP vice-president M.A. Naqvi said.
Mr. Gadkari’s new mantra for the BJP is ‘Politics for development.’ While its ideological issues relating to Hindutva are not to be forgotten, the effort would be to look hard at issues that concern the people and are in line with their aspirations. The party is especially worried that a large chunk of its urban middle-class support base seems to have shifted its loyalty to the Congress, and the view is that an effort must be made to correct this situation.
As one party leader put it on Saturday, after a long time some new and younger faces on the podium will mark the generational change in the BJP. Along with Mr. Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley as leaders of the Opposition will get the top slots. L.K. Advani as the party veteran and chairman of the parliamentary party will, of course, continue to enjoy an eminent position.
The outgoing president Rajnath Singh and the former presidents Murli Manohar Joshi and M. Venkaiah Naidu will also be given due importance.
Mr. Gadkari has let it be known that he does not like the idea of opposition for opposition’s sake. He does not see it as the duty or obligation of the Opposition to oppose everything the government does. Perhaps he is acutely aware that when Mr. Advani ran the party’s parliamentary strategy from 2004 to 2009, the main tactic was to stall Parliament on any possible excuse. That clearly proved counter-productive.
At that time, the party’s criticism of the government’s handling of terrorism was reduced to the demand that the Prevention of Terrorism Act be brought back. Contrary to that strategy, at the recent Chief Ministers’ conference, delegates from the BJP-ruled States paid handsome compliments to Home Minister P. Chidambaram on being quick to respond to States’ demands related to security issues.
One leader said the party might be forced to “think beyond caste politics” that has influenced its strategy for decades with diminishing returns, especially in the Hindi heartland States.
Would the BJP emulate Rahul Gandhi’s tactics? The answer was a resounding “No,” but party leaders admit that things might be changing in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the BJP must be ready to revise its strategy accordingly.
The three-day conclave is to end with a public rally where the party, to use Mr. Naqvi’s words, will “blow the conch” to herald the “political struggle against anti-people policies of the UPA government.”