For much of the past year, the Bharatiya Janata Party gave the appearance of being in deep slumber — this even as the world all but crashed around the scam and scandal-hit United Progressive Alliance. With the principal Opposition party seemingly unable or unwilling to take on its chief adversary, the vacuum was being filled by a host of non-political actors. However, last week saw the BJP hit the political tarmac in a burst of iridescent energy. With Baba Ramdev's Ramlila maidan protest blowing up in the face of the Manmohan Singh government, Sushma Swaraj jived to celebratory music on the lawns of the Rajghat. Simultaneously, BJP spokespersons hauled the Congress over the coals and yesteryear's poster woman Uma Bharti returned with the mandate to re-ignite Uttar Pradesh. It is anybody's guess, however, if all of this adds up to a refurbished, battle-ready BJP. Indeed, there is a desperation evident in the way it has latched on to the yoga guru, hoping no doubt that when the time comes, Baba Ramdev will walk into the sunset, bequeathing his vast constituency of supporters to the BJP.
This is a serious miscalculation because what Baba Ramdev has done is to seize the oppositional space that, as matters stand in Parliament, rightfully belongs to the BJP. It was Lal Krishna Advani who first made a case for the repatriation of overseas black money. Yet in an unbeatable irony, the BJP allowed the issue to be hijacked by Ramdev. The party's national executive meeting in Lucknow did not throw up a single fresh or innovative idea; instead the party showcased Atal Bihari Vajpayee and recycled many of the old shibboleths. Surely, the BJP does not expect Ms Bharti to wrest U.P. by rabble-rousing on Ayodhya, an issue that no longer resonates with voters, young or old. Consider the BJP's electoral performance. It won only a total of five seats in the recent Assembly elections. It has had only one good showing in the two years since the UPA returned to power — in Bihar. But then, the party owed its phenomenal success there more to the political stock and charisma of Nitish Kumar than to any achievement of its own. The BJP has currently only three dependable allies — the Shiv Sena, the Shiromani Akali Dal, and the Janata Dal (United). The immediate challenge before the party is to expand its own base while striving to bring on board estranged alliance partners. None of this will be possible if it hitches its wagons to Baba Ramdev, who admittedly touched a chord when he spoke on black money. Yet he also thought nothing of inviting the infamous Sadhvi Rithambara to share the stage with him. The BJP has one of two options: either it reinvents itself to meet the aspirations of the new generation or it speaks in a bygone idiom and plods a lonely path.