It is a principle of politics that the fortunes of the ruling dispensation and the principal Opposition should be inversely related. Apparently not so in the case of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The final break between the United Progressive Alliance and estranged ally Trinamool Congress ought to have worked as a booster shot for the BJP which hasn’t had much to celebrate lately. Yet a day before UPA-Trinamool relations reached the anticipated denouement, Nitin Gadkari was assuring the Manmohan Singh government that his party would do nothing to destabilise it. The BJP chief might have been an avuncular elder feeling all protective about his wayward ward than a bitter adversary buoyed by the prospect of seizing victory. Mr. Gadkari’s perplexing answer to why the BJP was not at the forefront of the agitation against the government’s new economic measures was that his party was quite happy to take the backseat to the Left and the Samajwadi Party. A sober, reflective BJP is entirely out of character. It is odder still that the metamorphosis should have occurred at the precise moment when the Congress was at its most vulnerable.
The BJP boisterously disrupted the monsoon session of Parliament over Coalgate, ignoring the Opposition consensus on fighting the government on the floor of the House. Party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley declared that they would prefer “magnificent isolation” to compromising on critical national interests. It cannot be that the BJP does not see Manmohan Singh’s economic measures as seriously damaging the national interest because it has expressed itself rather strongly against them. Mr. Gadkari is simply making a virtue of necessity in refusing to take this opposition to its logical end. The BJP cannot topple the government as long as it is being propped up by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Even if SP chief Mulayam Singh were to pull the plug at a later date, there is no certainty that the numbers will stack up against UPA-II, given the political resistance to facing an early poll. BJP stalwarts are unlikely to have forgotten the loss of face suffered by the party as a consequence of the UPA-I government winning the July 2008 vote of confidence. Quite aside from all this is the principal Opposition’s lack of battle readiness. A victory in the Gujarat Assembly election will unarguably restore the killer instinct except Narendra Modi’s resurgence will come with its own set of problems: any hint of a larger role for him will halt the NDA’s expansion plan which is a pre-requisite for the BJP to face the big battle.